Tag Archives: David Bergen

The Age of Hope

Several months ago a magazine editor asked me to write a book review. I could choose Dora Dueck’s What You Get At Home or David Bergen’s The Age of Hope.  I hadn’t read either at the time and the editor knowing about my Steinbach roots, seemed surprised I opted for Dueck’s book since Bergen’s is partially set in my hometown.

 david bergen age of hopeI didn’t choose The Age of Hope, because while David Bergen is an excellent writer, crafting unique protagonists and memorable scenes with his well-chosen prose, I tend to prefer books where I can connect with the characters and in the past, I have rarely identified with the people who populate Bergen’s novels.  His stories make me sad and often make life seem hopeless.

 I have now read both books. Dueck’s collection of short stories was a delight. I enjoyed her strong female characters and evocative writing. But in contrast to the other David Bergen books I have read The Age of Hope drew me in completely. I came to really care about Hope Koop and I simply couldn’t put her story down. I’m trying to figure out why.

Maybe it is because I knew the woman on whom the main character is based. I went to school with her children and lived in Steinbach when she did. David Bergen says in a National Post interview that the heroine in The Age of Hope is based on his mother-in-law Doris Loewen. He does make it clear his character Hope Koop who lives in a fictional place called Eden, took on a life of her own and in some ways she became quite different from his mother-in-law. However, like Doris, Hope was born in 1930 and married a man who owned a car dealership in a rural community that he eventually lost in a financial crisis, thus precipitating a move to Winnipeg.

Perhaps the book engaged me so thoroughly because there were many things in it that reminded me of Steinbach, like Hope’s home on Reimer Avenue, the Holdeman Church where her parents’ funerals were held, and the fact she did her grocery shopping at Penner Foods.  I was always looking for recognizable people, places, situations and events in the story.

Another thing that intrigued me was how Hope wanted to be an independent woman, someone with a role and interests other than that of housewife and mother. She tries to learn Russian, enter law school and read great novels, anything to give her an identity of her own.  Hope made me appreciate how fortunate I was just a generation later to have the opportunity to not only be a wife and mother but have a full-time career and pursue personal interests, as well as serve on boards and committees in Steinbach. This was something few women of Hope’s generation were free to do in the community. 

I was also pleased that in the last part of the book Hope is afforded a measure of contentment. During her life, she has struggled with mental health, experienced poverty and her children have lives that are unconventional and often hard for her to understand.  She has been prevented from having a meaningful relationship with her grandchildren. Yet in the last years of her life, she finally has some joy. She gains the courage to come to the defence of a co-worker and a cousin in an abusive relationship.  She travels to France and revels in her freedom after her husband dies. She even has a brief romance.  The Age Of Hope did not leave me feeling hopeless.

 what you get at home dora dueck If you haven’t read The Age of Hope or What You Get At Home I can recommend them both. They have also both been nominated for Manitoba Book Awards.  

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There is Winnipeg Mennonite Fiction

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O Henry, Alfred Hitchcock and David Bergen

On Friday night I went to see my niece Amanda perform in a drama.  The Winnipeg Mennonite Theatre had adapted four short stories by O Henry for the stage–While The Auto Waits, One Thousand Dollars, The Last Leaf and The Gift of the Magi. Even though I had taught two of the short stories on which the plays were based to my high school English students, I didn’t really know anything about their author O Henry.

I read O Henry’s biography in the program with interest. His real name was William Porter and he was an alcoholic who landed up in prison for embezzlement. He wrote short stories under a pseudonym in order to support his family. His wife died of tuberculosis. He continued to drink heavily and ended up dying of health problems caused by his severe alcoholism, thus leaving his daughter an orphan.  Interestingly O Henry’s stories are all about doing the ‘right’ thing, making choices that benefit those you love, not trying to be someone you’re not, and willingly  making sacrifices for the good of others. O Henry’s  own personal life seems pretty far from the ideals he touted in his stories. There was a real disconnect between the artist and his art. 

I based the film unit in one of my high school English courses on the work of Alfred Hitchcock. The students and I learned all about his life. A faithful husband he remained together with his wife Alma till his death, even though in Hollywood such long-lasting marriages are rare. He and his wife worked together and were excellent partners whose relationship was characterized by some as idyllic. When Hitchcock received his lifetime achievement award his wife was the only person he thanked and he thanked her for many different things. Yet one of the major themes of Hitchcock’s films is that a happy marriage in an unattainable ideal. Hitchcock’s own marriage seemed almost the opposite to the marriages he portrayed in his films. There was a real disconnect  between the artist and his art. 

 

In 2009 I published a review of Canadian author David Bergen’s book The Time Between in which I noted the disconnect between the grim, dark, troubling, often sordid lives of the characters in his books and Bergen’s own life. Morley Walker in a 2005 piece in Quill and Quire remarks on the same thing. How can this writer who is so disciplined and dedicated to his family, work and community populate his novels with such troubled and dysfunctional characters?  There is a real disconnect between the artist and his art. 

There are authors, film makers and visual artists whose work reflects their own life experiences. This doesn’t seem to be the case for Bergen, Hitchcock or O Henry.  Does art imitate life? Apparently not always the life of its creator. 

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