Monday, May 29, 2023

Hamilton Reads selection '"Nothing the same, Everyting Haunted"

"Hamilton Reads is program put on by my local library each year to high lite  a book for the whole community often with a local connection.  "Nothing the Same, Everything Haunted" (1921) is a book of black humor.  The hero survives the Nazi era.  There is an tie in to the indigenous who have also been oppressed.  The link is Karl May.

Karl May was a German author who although never traveling to North America wrote a series of popular books about "cowboys and Indians."  Surprisingly these books were popular with Adolf Hitler.  The protagonist is Motl, a Lituanian Jew, like ancestors of the author Gary Barwin.

We are introduced to Motl who had visited Switzerland where on a mountain top he lost his testicles that were frozen and buried in the snow.  We next encounter him years later back in Lithuania when the Nazis are attacking.  Motl had led a lackadaisical life, immersed in reading about the cowboys.  He is really a pretend cowboy, but when he meets up with Esther he takes a different view of life and wants to retrieve his testicles.  As the author explained with all the destruction around him he wanted to create life making the retrieval his quest.  The two encounter all sorts of obstacles and along the way teaming up with an indigenous man. 

Leaving out a lot of details many years later he ends up in Toronto with a side trip to visit indigenous sites and friends.  Many of the details reflect a black humor and the twisted mind of a pretend cowboy.  Obviously the Nazi era was one of mankind's most horrifying and shameful passages of history, but one of the best weapons against such things is humor.

The local branch offered a presentation from Gary that was a little different than expected.  For one thing Gary is a musician and brought along a friend known as  Tiny Bill Cody.  First we heard a Jewish song played on a sort of clarinet/saxophone instrument.  Later Tiny Bill Cody played a song written for the book called "The Ballad of Motl."  He also sang a yodeling song which ties into a Switzerland section.  He sings impressively  "I will Survive" which fits the theme of the book.

To the left Gary Barwin with musician Tiny Bill Cody.

Gary read some passages of the book and explained he had the idea from talking to relatives with a Lithuanian Jewish connection, but as he started researching he changed some details and added others.

In real life one of Gary's heroes used a poem's rhythm to navigate through a mine field and he used the idea for one of the adventures.

Gary has written 25 books that range from poetry, fiction and children's books  He has won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour.  Has also had poems and articles published in such magazines as Reader's Digest and The Walrus.  He has also earned a Ph. D in music composition.  He has also taught creative writing at colleges and universities.  He lives in Hamilton Ontario.

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