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British Columbia has a wonky, diagonal north/south borderline that falls somewhere between longitudes of 115° in the south and 120° in the north. Near Beauty Creek (the fictional setting of Cambium Blue) it's 119°. Since this geography moulded the novel (and me) as much as my lifetime of reading, I have built my list around BC books/writers. When I'm working on a novel (and when I'm not) I read a lot of nonfiction but novels are my first love, so I am always all over the place with books.
I plucked these titles from my shelves because they have shaped either my writing life and practice, or my understanding of this diverse place I call home, or both.
Swamp Angel, by Ethel Wilson
This BC classic was first published in 1954. This was the first novel by a BC woman, about a BC woman, that I’d ever heard of. And not just any woman but a woman leaving her husband to live in the interior of BC. A woman leaving her husband to become. I snatch up old copies at yard sales and pass them on.
Peggy Herring reimagines West Coast history in her new book, Anna, Like Thunder, and in this recommended reading list, she shares titles that share the same questions that she explored as she was writing the novel.
Anna, Like Thunder is fiction based on fact. In 1808, a Russian trading ship ran aground off the coast of Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula. According to historical record, the 22 people on board the St. Nikolaiwere captured, enslaved, and traded up and down the coast until rescued 18 months later. But the record also recounts that a Russian woman on the ship—Anna Petrovna Bulygina—refused rescue only a few months into the ordeal. She called the Makahs with whom she was living “kind and humane people.”
This novel explores Anna’s decision and asks questions about the early days of contact between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people—and how the historical record portrays those encounters using language, tone, and specific voices chosen to tell the stories. Through Anna’s eyes, we witness the effects of the misguided and disruptive Russian imperial policy on the inhabitants and their land.
My research demanded that I look deeply into my own Russian heritage and, with respect to protocols, that I also reach out to the communities aff …