This spring we've made it our mission (even more than usual) to celebrate new releases in the wake of cancelled launch parties, book festivals, and reading series. With 49th Shelf Launchpad, we're holding virtual launch parties here on our platform complete with witty banter, great insight, and short and snappy readings to give you a taste of the books on offer. You can request these books from your local library, get them as e-books or audio books, order them from your local indie bookseller if they're delivering, buy them direct from the publisher or from online retailers.
Today we're launching The Kissing Fence, by B.A. Thomas-Peter, which Genevieve Graham calls "A compelling story of faith and loyalty, abuse and adversity, and the hope for a better tomorrow."
The Elevator Pitch. Tell us about your book in a sentence.
The Kissing Fence uses a fictional account of real events in BC, following the struggle of two generations of Doukhobors to explore what happens when culture, values, and identity are lost, and what causes someone to change course in order to recapture them.
Describe your ideal reader.
The ideal reader for The Kissing Fence has a preference for absorbing history from literature, is interested in stories of psychological transition, is socially and politically aware with a leaning towards social justice.
What authors/books is your work in conversation with?
The themes of The Kissing Fence are common to many popular books. For example, in respect of social upheaval there is Beneath Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan. Regarding overcoming of adversity connects with The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom. The theme of moral courage in the face of injustice follows the story of Resurrection, by Leo Tolstoy. The psychological impact of family separation and Residential Schools echoes Indian Horse, by Richard Wagamese. To a lesser extent, The Kissing Fence has some romantic interest in challenging circumstances, which resonates with Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Márquez.
What is something interesting you learned about your book/yourself/your subject during the process of creating and publishing your book?
The book began as a contemporary tale of someone who had lost their moral compass, who then tries to recover it when things go badly. The story of Doukhobors in Canada was to just be the backstory of this character. However, it was such a strong story and so relevant to my original purpose—as well as the human condition as we now experience it—that it is given equal weight in the storyline.
Why do you think the story of The Kissing Fence is relevant, not simply to mid-twentieth century Canada, the central characters or the Doukhobors, but to all of us is the present day?
It is a story of how we as individuals become what we are, from generations ago and how our sense of self and place in the world is corrupted with the destruction of lineage and continuity. We see this plainly enough among displaced peoples and Indigenous cultures around the world, but it is true of all of us. If we look carefully we can find that thread, drawn through years, decades, and generations before us, which influences the choices we make everyday.
The threads are increasingly difficult to see in the modern world where individuality, opportunity and greed soar. For the Doukhobor people, they value community, responsibility and obligation above individual gain. The choices we make are less and less guided by the implicit measurement of history, the values of institutions, generations or even family. Sometimes it seems that we are no longer motivated or constrained by what might affect, for good or ill, the community we live in. Instead we nurture the entitlement of acting in our own interests, rejoice in our cunning manipulation of facts and the manufacture of viable ‘truth’. It has become common to resist the influence of expectation that might be imposed on us by what is right and wrong for others and our community.
Without the burden of moral or community expectations, financial and material success is possible, and perhaps even more likely, but what do we become when we seek and achieve this? Along with this ‘success’ comes profound human failure, loss and confusion of an existential kind. The question in my novel is, what does it take to see this kind of failure coming and avert the disaster of existential crisis. What stops us from letting go of what we think is important, in favour of what is important?
An important part of any book launch are the thank you’s. Go ahead, and acknowledge someone whose support has been integral to this project.
The Doukhobor people, who shared and trusted me with their stories, were an inspiration. My field research included visiting Doukhobor sites in and around British Columbia. I conducted and recorded interviews with Doukhobor leadership and representatives of both Orthodox Doukhobors and Freedomites, toured the New Denver Dormitory, and met survivors who were children incarcerated in New Denver as well as several whom managed to evade capture. Talking with those who endured these events and who are now providing leadership to their communities was both humbling and like participating in a masterclass of conflict resolution. I cannot thank them enough.
What are you reading right now or next?
Looking forward to a time sitting down with Robert Amos’s books on the paintings of E. J Hughes! Soon I should read Life of Pi (Yann Martel) and Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen).
1950s, New Denver: Pavel and Nina are among 200 Russian Doukhobor children separated from their families and community, and placed in a residential facility in the Kootenay region of BC. Forcibly removed from their homes by the RCMP, the children attend mandatory school. They must speak in English and observe Canadian customs and religious practices. Seeking to protect the younger children and suffering mistreatment at the hands of the officials, Pavel and Nina struggle to keep their culture alive and remain resilient.
2018, Vancouver: After more than ten years in business, William has rejected his Doukhobor heritage and is now adept at juggling the demands of his business importing sporting goods. Surrounded by the material wealth he has amassed, William feels justified in enjoying his prosperity--even if he is emotionally distant from his wife and barely knows his daughter—he has made sacrifices to succeed in life as well as making some shady deals. When a cycling accident ends with William in the hospital with a concussion, doctors discover a mass on his brain. He is rushed into surgery, but instead of improving after his operation, William's life starts to tumble out of control: he loses his grasp on the illegitimate side of his business arrangements, an affair threatens his marriage, an employee turns up dead, and then the police come knocking.
These two stories converge as Pavel and Nina leave New Denver and struggle to build a life outside the dormitory walls, while William begins to question his own values, motivations, and accountability. A powerful and emotional novel, The Kissing Fence examines generational trauma through one family's story of obligation, justice, and belonging. A story of conflicting cultural tensions that questions how we define success, identity, and our community.
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