Though a stroke has left her mute, the story Hazel MacPherson has to share is unforgettable. As a talented nurse in the early 1950s, she went north to Moose Factory to help fight the epidemic of tuberculosis that was ravaging the Cree and Inuit peoples. Each week the boat brought new patients from the James Bay, Hudson Bay and Nunavik communities to the little hospital. It was a desperate undertaking, fraught with cultural and language difficulties that hampered the urgent, sometimes reckless, efforts of the medical staff. But Hazel is soon distracted from the tensions of the hospital by an enigmatic drifter named Gideon Judge, an itinerant umbrella mender searching for the Northwest Passage.
From her own hospital bed, the older Hazel struggles to pass on to her grandniece the harrowing tale of her past in the North, including the fate of Gideon and the heartbreaking secrets she left behind.
Christine Fischer Guy’s fiction has appeared in journals across Canada and has been nominated for the Journey Prize. She reviews for the Globe and Mail, contributes to Ryeberg.com and themillions.com and teaches creative writing at the School for Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto. She is also an award-winning journalist. She has lived and worked in London, England, and now lives in Toronto.
"In her haunting debut novel, Christine Fischer Guy transports us to 1950s Moose Factory, where the beleaguered staff of the local hospital are fighting to stem the tide of tuberculosis among the indigenous peoples of the North. At the heart of the novel is Hazel MacPherson, a promising young nurse who finds herself increasingly drawn to the surrounding wilderness, made manifest in the person of a troubled drifter.
"Like her heroine, Fischer Guy is equally at home within the walls of the hospital and without. In language rich with sensual detail, she brings Hazel’s dualized experience into sharp focus, evoking the ghostly beauty of an x-ray one moment, the living presence of the Moose River the next.
"The Umbrella Mender is a gorgeous book – a moving meditation on human frailty, a sensitive portrait of conflicting cultures brought together in an uneasy truce, and a heartbreaking tale of unsanctioned love." – Alissa York, author of Fauna and Effigy
"The Umbrella Mender is a gem of hope, denial and blind faith. Nurse Hazel MacPherson’s travels, both physical and spiritual, haul you toward true North, and do their very best to leave you knowing every inch of the trip as if it were worn under your skin and marked deep in your lungs, the shadowed scar visible only by x-ray. Wonderfully, carefully written, this is a book you will not soon forget." – Russell Wangersky, author of Whirl Away and The Glass Harmonica