Anne Michaels Reads From THE WINTER VAULT

Anne Michaels steps to the microphone and I am enchanted by her mass of dark curly hair. Her voice draws me in with the weightiness and scope of her subject matter. This is no ordinary author reading. She’s not talking about a simple plotline and a quick read. This is a book to be savoured slowly and tenderly with each well-chosen word. The sensual images draw the reader in and bathe you in a dreamy cloud of emotion that lingers long after the book is closed.

I feel badly that I haven’t yet finished THE WINTER VAULT, but I find many others at the reading who also haven’t finished it. It’s a slow read, one that raises many emotional, moral and philosophical questions. It takes time to digest, to ruminate and figure out where we stand. The author tackles these tough issues head-on, but with intimate gentle language that engages the reader.

THE WINTER VAULT is a personal story, a love story, set in a larger historical context in three different settings, Ontario, Egypt and Poland. The historical contexts are the building of the St. Lawrence Seaway in the 1950s, the building of the Aswan Dam in the 1960s and the rebuilding of Warsaw after the Second World War.

The moral and philosophical questions she raises are enormous: science vs. emotion, engineering vs. culture and humanity, the personal history of many vs. the legacy of an important person, authentic vs. recreated landscapes, replicas of cultural heritage vs. sites of heritage significance left ‘in situ’, true memory vs. rewritten tourist ‘history’, progress vs. stagnation, home vs. transience. And more.

I feel a personal connection to her questions from my work as a Historical Planner with the Ministry of Transportation in the 1980s-90s. The ‘mitigation’ solution for heritage resources never felt ‘right’ to me though it was the engineering solution to inconveniently located archaeological, natural or built heritage sites. Many years earlier in 1964, a visiting anthropology professor I met at a party invited me to come to Egypt and join a physical anthropology project. As the Nubian people were being displaced from their home for the building of the Aswan Dam, anthropologists were seizing the opportunity to take physical measurements of them. I felt squeamish and never went. Last year I wrote a poem about it.

Aswan: A Road Not Taken

The theme of The Winter Vault
reminds me of a night.
Was it ’64? maybe ’65.

A house party on Davenport.
Along the curve
towards Avenue Road.

Drinking too much.
Hopping over rooftops
Across the abyss, not noticing.

Some visiting professor
tries to persuade me to
come to Egypt.

The Aswan Dam is coming.
Nubians being relocated
-displaced actually-
A chance to measure
skulls and bodies.
For science.
No ethics approval required.

I apologize, stuttering something about
Grad school in the fall.
And wonder these years later:
what if I’d gone?

Copyright © 2010, Ruth Zaryski Jackson


Mary said...

Your observations about the weighty issues covered in Anne Michaels' book, the Winter Vault, are compelling. It would seem the woman had quite an impact on you, especially as the diminishment of the Nubian nation brought back memories for you from way back.

It's on my list of must reads. Thanks.


Ruth Zaryski Jackson said...

Thanks Mary. I've added the poem the book inspired.

Kathleen Pooler said...

Ruth , your post on Anne Michaels' book is very compelling and inspirational.Words are so powerful and your poem speaks volumes. I will add THE WINTER VAULT to my own list! Thanks for sharing!


grandma b said...

Thank you Ruth for sharing this post with me. I have finished the book now, actually went back and nearly started it over again after hearing Anne read. It was not easy for me. I guess I have too much on my mind.

Ruth Zaryski Jackson said...

I'm glad my post inspired you. She is an interesting writer and clearly a poet first.

Ruth Zaryski Jackson said...

Thanks for stopping by. Maybe we can discuss the book sometime.