Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015


Share |

Many years ago I read a book called HEALING THE FAMILY TREE by a psychiatrist, Dr. Kenneth McAll. I won’t go into the theories he presents in the book (it’s still available, for anyone who’s interested) except for one, which struck me at the time, and which, given the matter of my last post, I thought I’d share.

Firs, a likl backgrung. I believe community is synchronic and diachronic, useful terms I learned doing a little linguistics many years ago. Humankind is not only we who live together now; it’s also our ancestors, those who went before and made the world we live in. By discoveries and explorations, by their study of the natural world, by devising laws and constitutions, by creating art and crafts, science and architecture, commerce and industry, agriculture and animal husbandry, they have contrived our circumstances, for good or ill.

And there’s not a little ill. We inherit prejudice, bad dietary habits, notions of entitlement, lousy ecological behaviours, migraines, the sickle cell trait and the tendency to all manner of disease. We inherit things like bellicosity, as vividly attested to by Malcolm Gladwell’s account in OUTLIERS of the code of honour in the Appalachians.

Kenneth McAll took the human connection through time a little further. Among many other down-through-time influences, he suggested – and this part of his book makes fascinating reading – that the Bermuda Triangle, into which planes and boats have, over time, mysteriously disappeared, covered exactly that geographic area where the slave ships, en route to the Americas, stopped, brought their cargo up on board, and hoisted over the side any captives who would fetch less on the auction block than the investors would recover from insurance if these human beings were ‘lost’ or died en route.

Dr McAll was a practical Christian man. In 1975 (I think – I’m working from memory here), he had masses said all over England and, I think, in Bermuda as well, for the repose of the souls of these numberless murdered Africans.

It might be interesting to look at the incidence of catastrophes in the Triangle since that time.

I’ve had a habit for a while to pray for every human being, for anyone who’s had to bear this “mortal coil”. These days I pray especially (small prayers, on the wing) for those who lose their lives violently, in airplane crashes, in collisions with bullets and bombs, in devastation from the skies, in floods and tsunamis, earthquakes and avalanches, by their own hands or at the hands of others.

Which brings me to two odd coincidences, both literary encounters. Having come back to Toronto from our oddly delayed visit, I read a YA novel called TIME’S MEMORY, by Julius Lester, a prolific award-winning author of books of fiction and non-fiction for children as well as adults. An African-American and a Jewish convert, he is Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. This story is about a nyama or spirit named Ekundayo, who comes to the USA on board a slave ship, sent by Amma, the Dogon creator god, with a special task.

Here is what Ekundayo’s descendant and his (white) wife, Ellen, have to say on the penultimate page of the novel:

“…nyama along the coast of West Africa acquired the power to govern winds and rains, and they send hurricanes across the oceans and into the Northern Hemisphere, exacting their revenge for what the Soul Stealers did. The spirits of the aboriginal people of the Northern Hemisphere are warming the air and the seas and melting the icecaps.”


Now I am reading Isabel Allende’s DAUGHTER OF FORTUNE, in which the sage, Tao Chi’en, tells the heroine, Eliza that “It was impossible for him to imagine his own life apart from the long chain of his ancestors, who not only had given him his physical and mental characteristics but bequeathed him his karma.”

So there it is.

Do I believe the actions of my ancestors dictate my fate? No, but who they were and what they did have most decidedly influenced my life. Do I believe in duppies? Dogs, who predict earthquakes with considerable success, apparently see them. What about dead people cooking up storms? Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. Earth is mad enough about how we’ve messed with her, and she’s doing a good job of hurricanes herself. But if I were a disgruntled duppy who’d been summarily separated from my body by some malign creature, I daresay I’d pitch in and give her a hand!

And there is that inexplicably shattered car window in our Civic.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Related item from our archives

Pamela Mordecai

Pamela Mordecai has been many things: a teacher, a trainer of teachers, a TV host, a diplomatic wife, an anthologist, a writer of poems, stories and textbooks for children, and a writer of criticism, fiction, poetry and plays for those challenged by age. Born and raised in Jamaica, educated there and in the U.S.A., Pam has lived in Toronto for the past 15 years.

Go to Pamela Mordecai’s Author Page