Voices from Abroad

Reviewed by Jena Morris-Boissonneault

Arriving at the Ralph Connor House on Sunday, I was amazed by the beauty and antiquity of the mansion. The writers were set up to speak in the corner of a sitting room that adjoined another, smaller living room.

Writers Kitty Fitzgerald, Méira Cook, and Ulrikka S. Gernes with Thin Air director Charlene Diehl at Voices from Abroad. Photo by Jena Morris-Boissonneault.

Writers Kitty Fitzgerald, Méira Cook, and Ulrikka S. Gernes with Thin Air director Charlene Diehl at Voices from Abroad. Photo by Jena Morris-Boissonneault.

Kitty Fitzgerald was the first to read. She stood at the microphone, pink streaks in her curly hair. She read from her book, Pigtopia. The story was about a boy named Jack Plum, who, she revealed, she struggled a lot with in terms of finding his voice. Jack’s voice (and life) was indeed very unique and I found that with Fitzgerald reading her own story, the book truly came alive.

Méira Cook was lovely and very down to earth. I should say, however, that I found all three of these exotic women to be down to earth. Cook read from her new novel, Nightwatching, and told us about its main character named Ruthie. Cook really captured the voice eleven-year-old Ruthie, including the girl’s humorous ignorance to certain aspects of adult life. I also found it very interesting how vivid Cook’s descriptions were because she situated her story in South Africa, where she grew up – though she said it had been at least 35 years since she’s been there last. She said it’s her spatial memory that helps her remember the feeling and appearance of the neighbourhoods in South Africa.

Ulrikka S. Gernes was an amazing reader. Even when she spoke to her audience it was like poetry. She explained to us, while looking over her shoulder and out the window behind her, that she enjoys being near a river. She said, “You’re not far from anywhere when you’re near a river.” She read some of her poems first in English, and then in Danish. The English poems had beautiful imagery and she gently moved her right hand in front of her as she read, mimicking the steady flow and rhythm of her words. When she read the same poem in Danish, the flow of her mother tongue was like nothing I’ve heard before. She told us that “poetry uses a different voice because it remembers it used to be song, so it is connected with music in a way.” With the way she read—in both languages—I couldn’t agree more.

Jena Morris-Boissonneault