About the Author

Linda Leith

Linda Leith was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. One of the most international of Canadian writers, she has lived in London, Basel, Brussels, Paris, Ottawa, Budapest and Montreal, where she founded the hugely successful Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival. She has a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of London, England, and is the author of seven books, including the literary memoirs Writing in the Time of Nationalism and Marrying Hungary, as well as three critically well-received novels, Birds of Passage, The Tragedy Queen, and The Desert Lake, all published by Signature Editions. She has also been published by Vehicule Press and ECW Press, as well as XYZ Editeur and Lemeac (in French), and Rad (in Serbian).

Books by this Author
Desert Lake, The
Excerpt

How could Josh do this to her? She had trusted him.

She looked around her, feeling an impulse to get up and move, but there was nowhere to go.

"What would you like to be able to say in Chinese?" Joie had her hand on Barbara's arm. She was sitting beside Barbara and had a dictionary in front of her.

There was something formidable about Joie. She seemed not only contented but wise. If she herself were in trouble, she would know just what to do. Of course, she probably never did get herself in trouble.

And if Barbara were to throw herself on Joie's mercy, ask her what to do?

No. That wouldn't work. She would resent anything Joie would say. She could feel herself bristle at the very thought of advice from Joie. Advice from anyone, for that matter. Barbara was going to have to figure this out for herself.

"Barbara?"

Barbara tried to concentrate, shook her head. It had never really occured to her that she might want to communicate in Chinese. French and English, OK. That was her daily life. But Chinese? Barbara could not think of a single word.

"There must be something you want to be able to say," Joie insisted.

Barbara couldn't think of what to say to Joie. Strong characters had this effect on Barbara. Joie was right, surely. There must be something Barbara would want to be able to say.

But what? Why couldn't she think of anything? Barbara felt hopeless. Why was she here? She would never have agreed to come here without Josh.

"Danger," she said finally, in desperation, pointing to the first word on her notebook page. Joie peered at the word. "Danger," she read. Only then she continued reading. "And an opportunity."

Barbara closed her notebook, but it was too late.

"Danger and an opportunity?" Harry repeated in a very loud voice. "There's a whole debate about that."

People in the seats nearby turned around to see what he was talking about.

"Yes. What is that all about?" Joie asked, her finger moving down a dictionary page. "Don't tell me, Fu! I want to see if I can find it. Yes, here it is!" she exclaimed finally. "Wei ji."

Madame Fu clapped her hands.

"Wei is danger," Joie read, flipping the pages. "That much is for sure. And ji can be translated as opportunity. Or," she read, "as a crucial point. Chance. A pivotal moment. Crisis, in short."

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Marrying Hungary
Excerpt

The boys were aged thirteen, twelve, and eight in the summer of 1990. Andy and I sold our car, rented out the house on the Lakeshore Road and moved some of our private belongings into a storage area we built in the huge garage. We packed Hector, the yellow Lab, off for his flight to Prague and Budapest, and set off on our own journey through New York and Vienna, where we spent most of the day before boarding the connecting flight to Budapest; it was evening when we landed in Budapest.

Sándor had hired a vehicle big enough for us and all our luggage. We dropped our belongings off at the villa in Buda where we were renting an apartment, and headed out to dinner with the cousins. The talk was all in Hungarian, loud and excited. My wide-eyed boys and I were tired and withdrawn, both overstimulated and bored. The dark-stained wood and heavy furnishings of the wine-cellar restaurant, the gypsy musicians, the rough wine and heavy food were all too much for me. I'd been a fool to come back here, I decided that night, falling into bed in a state of exhaustion.

I woke in the dead of night. Andy was asleep beside me, the boys together in the bedroom next to ours. I was conscious of strangeness. The air was strange, not unpleasant, but strange. The room was large, the ceiling high, and the French windows open. It was a mild summer night, and the very air felt foreign, or perhaps there was simply more air than I was used to. We were near the top of the Hill of Roses, so named by the Turks for the roses that flourished on the hillside centuries earlier and that flourish there to this day. There was a faint, unfamiliar smell indoors, too—floor wax, perhaps, or furniture polish. We had rented the apartment fully furnished and equipped, and the duvet was light, the new sheets crisp against my skin. A light from the street slanted through the wooden blinds. I was enchanted.

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Tragedy Queen, The
Excerpt

Vince Carlson prides himself on knowing a lot about middle-aged women. Young women are easy enough, but they bore him. They have no character, no money, and no proper sense of gratitude. What interests Vince is the affluent middle-aged married woman who's already half in love with danger.

Put five women in front of him, all of a certain age. Two are terminally innocent. One has become a shrew. Another one is sure to be a nympho. Which can be useful, but the nympho is about as uninteresting as the young woman she wishes she still were. At least one of them—one woman out of the five—is just out of reach. And ripe for the plucking. She's the one Vince will zero in on.

There are tidy lawns to the right of him, barrels of petunias to the left of him, ancient, sweeping maples and apple trees in front of him. This place could fool you. Norman Rockwell country: all picket fences and family values, flower beds and gingham. If you don't watch yourself, Vinski my lad, you could end up here overdosing on Harvest Crunch.

But look closer, and it's a hair's breadth from Gomorrah. Take that short, ample woman over there, carrying her blue recycling bin from the side of the road back up her driveway. White pleated shorts, long-sleeved madras blouse hiding securely restrained breasts. She walks briskly, as though she's busy, with an almost imperceptible limp. Straight, mousy-coloured hair trails over her shoulders.

She's probably worn her hair like that since she was thirteen. In the sixties, when Vince was in high school about a mile from this very spot, lots of the girls used to wear their hair long and straight like that. Yet, judging by the dimples on those thighs, this is a woman whose own kids must be in high school by now.

Who does she dream about? When she's lying awake in bed, folding laundry, standing in line at the bank—who does she think about? The man next door? Her best friend's husband? Unlikely. Her own husband has commuted into Montreal for the past twenty years, and has caught the 5:16 home every weekday evening. Her dreams are of a riskier man. The star of a movie she saw when she was seventeen. The voice behind a song she can't get out of her head. His name hardly matters. Even his looks hardly matter. What matters is unpredictability. And a streak of ruthlessness.

The briskness is for the neighbours' benefit. When she's in her immaculate white kitchen, she sits down at the table where The Gazette is spread out in front of her, and she puts her head in her hands. She wants a job. Or meaning. Or a lover.

Coming back feels right. There's a kind of inevitability about it that appeals to Vince. He realizes he's been working up to this.

Moving in with a woman has lots of advantages, as no one knows better than Vince. But often it means putting up with the kids—teenagers, most likely, or worse, adult kids with an eye on the family fortune.

Moving into an empty house is even better. The house he rented in Dollard from the Xavier woman was a kind of dry run. In Dollard he not only had the house; he had his freedom, too. He made the most of it, using the house as a warehouse for the goods he'd scared, hiding the TR6 in the garage until he'd found the right buyer, making his deals in private, and basking in the luxury of having no one around to ask irritating questions.

The Xavier witch didn't take it lying down, of course. Vince enjoyed watching her struggle, especially when she practically bankrupted herself with legal fees trying to nail him. And she couldn't get him out, not even when she swore she had to move back into the house herself. Vince owed her five months' rent when he got the letter from his mother's lawyer two weeks ago. It was that very afternoon he picked up The Chronicle and noticed the ad for this house on the Lakeshore. It felt as though all the pieces of a puzzle were falling into place. That's when he poured the sugar into the witch's steam iron. She'll be surprised when she finds herself smearing caramel over some pricey silk dress. As his parting shot Vince punched holes in the bottom of a dozen cans of sardines and left one inside every closet in the house.

He didn't mention a word of any of this to pretty little Carrie. It was enough for her to know he'd lived in the area as a kid. On Golf Avenue, actually. Oh yes, lovely street. She'd found that reassuring, added it to the short mental list that would convince her she could rent the house to him, pocket the first month's rent as her fee, and get on with the more lucrative business of selling. She'd only agreed to rent the house because the owner was her next-door neighbour; rentals were a waste of her time, especially in this recession-wracked economy, in a buyers' market, in a middle class suburb littered with Montreal Trust signs, Royal Lepage signs, Century 2l signs and several of the kind of A vendre signs you can buy at the hardware store when you don't want to see another real estate agent for as long as you live.

Pretty Carrie wasn't going to ask any more questions than necessary. And the ins and outs of Vince's career, so to speak, are none of her business. If he doesn't tell her he used to be a lawyer, she'll never find out he was disbarred, let alone that he was jailed. It's not her business, none of it. Vince has the lease inside his black leather jacket. The house is his now. They'll never get him to pay another penny. And they'll never get him out.

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Writing in the Time of Nationalism

Writing in the Time of Nationalism

From Two Solitudes to Blue Metropolis
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : literary
More Info
Excerpt

The story I have to tell begins in the glory days when Hugh MacLennan published Two Solitudes in 1945 and Mavis Gallant, Brian Moore, and Mordecai Richler emerged on to the international literary scene in the 1950s. It's a story that moves into a long decline in English-language Montreal fiction that started in the 1960s, when nationalism was on the rise, and lasted more than three decades. This is a literary story, in other words, and a literary story best understood in the context of the time.

It's a personal story, as well. I am not from Montreal, but I am more at home here than anywhere else, having lived here for most of the time since immigrating with my family in 1963. I became interested in Quebec, and sympathized with Quebec's frustrations and aspirations. When I started teaching and writing about the work of Montreal writers in the late 1970s and 1980s, I focused on writers working in French as well as in English, and I discovered that Montreal's English-language writers had now disappeared from sight. I got involved in working to create the context in which it would be possible for them to thrive. I myself became a writer, and when I got to know other writers, a couple of us crossed town to work with French-speaking writers. By the late 1990s, I was part of a small group convinced that Montreal needed an international literary festival that would bring together writers working in English and French and other languages. I called it Blue Metropolis.

The story I have to tell continues to evolve, as new writers, new books, and new events appear on the scene every season. It's a story worth telling, for it has a good shape, with a glorious beginning, a disheartening middle, and a better ending than any of us could have predicted. The Anglo Literary Revival is what we were working for all along, even if we never imagined it would happen.

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