Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Trail Of The Conestoga

One item on my list for my "Year Of Reading Ambitiously" is "a book that takes place in your hometown."  I had to stretch a little bit to find something that qualified, but I figured a book set in the earliest days of Waterloo County was close enough!

Were it not my self-assigned "required reading," I may never have picked this book up, but I'm glad I did.  The Trail of the Conestoga by Mabel Dunham tells the story of the migration of Mennonites from Pennsylvania to what is now Waterloo County in the early 1800s.

It was the author's bio on the back cover that caught my attention.  Mabel Dunham was a librarian of the KPL and started the children's section there.  She was the first president of The Canadian Federation of University Women, and the particular edition of the book I bought was published to mark the 50th anniversary of the KW chapter.

There was something undeniably 1940s Canadian about this novel.  Beyond its musty smell, it's packed with little history lessons thinly disguised as back-and-forth banter between characters ("Why, it's Isaac Brock!" / "Who's that?") and morality tales spun so thick you trip over them.  Dunham's choice to focus on the Mennonites' reasons for and history as conscientious objectors would have been an interesting and bold addition to a novel first published in 1942, right in the thick of the second World War.  She consistently portrays females as strong, wise, and patient and takes a passive-aggressive approach to the issue of gender roles.  (Love this gem: "...she pressed her lips together and held her peace.  To begin a conversation was a privilege she usually accorded her husband, whom the good St. Paul had set up in some uninspired moment as the head of the household.  She was quite satisified so long as she had the last word."

This book is charming.  I was thinking about recommending it as a title for my book club to consider.  Unfortunately, it's not in print anymore.  A quick search on amazon shows that used copies are selling for a pretty penny.  (This makes me all the more proud of my $2.00 purchase from none other than the MCC's Thrift on Kent!)  So I guess I'll just offer up this book on loan for anyone who wants to read it.  I think librarian/author Mabel Dunham would approve.

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