Sacred Ground – Danny Kucharsky – Review

Let me say up front that I like cemeteries.  You can visit the famous, bone up on your history, enjoy a quiet walk, take in architectural details and read up on other people’s lives.

So I was quite pleased to receive a copy of ‘Sacred Ground / On De La Savane -Montreal’s Baron de Hirsch Cemetery‘ by Danny Kucharsky and published by Vehicule Press.

Mainly historical, Sacred Ground looks at 100 years of existence of the Baron de Hirsch cemetery in Montreal. Giving a brief but overall look at the Jewish presence in Montreal we read that the first Jewish cemetery was established in 1775 although the first person to be buried there was in 1776 was a gentleman named Lazarus David, who had originally purchased the land and created the cemetery.

The book provides biographies of some of the more famous inhabitants on the grounds including the Yiddish poet Jacob Issac Segal , the ‘Princess of Yiddish Literature’ Rachel Korn as well as a writer well known throughout the rest of Canada, A. M. Klein.

The book republishes a sampling of obituaries collected by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Ottawa. They range from the straightforward “He drowned in Cartierville” to the intriguing “The twenty-seven-year-old Clark Street resident  was mistaken for a bank robber and shot by a police detective. He was employed by the Canadian Hat Manufacturing Co. as a designer. He came to Canada seven years ago.” One of the oddest is “Strean, the “longtime president of Chevra Shaas congregation”. and  “prominent contributor to the Jewish community…died as a result of unjust criticism by a small group of Chevra Shaas member.”

Examples of headstone inscriptions are also given, my favourite being ‘A truly unusual man” for  the simplicity and forthrightness of the words.

The book is illustrated with photographs by D. R Cowles. A few photographs are scattered through the book but a small portfolio is located in the centre of the volume. Tinted and printed on a better quality of paper stock the photographs are both beautiful and haunting. They do suffer from the small format of the book but are a welcome addition.


Advance Copies

Publishers and writers always hope for reviews of their books to appear just as books are released into the bookstores.

In order to make certain that book critics and reviewers have time to read and evaluate the volumes advance copies are often sent off to various media outlets.

The odd thing about these copies is that they usually carry a disclaimer that reads like this:

‘Uncorrected proof; not for sale. Substantial changes may be made before the book is printed. If material is to be quoted in a review, please check against the final published book or contact (insert name of press here) for verification.’

These advance copies range from printed sheets ring bound with a printed light cardboard covers to close facsimiles of the final product.

I  wonder if these advance copies which may see ‘substantial changes’ before publication are a reason that writers wonder if the reviewer read their book.

Maybe they didn’t.

We had a chance to read an advance copy of Bill Gaston’s ‘The Order Of Good Cheer’ published by the House Of Anansi Press.

Whether or not any changes occur, the version we read was excellent. The book is really two stories, one set in 1607 on the East Coast of what would become Canada and the other set now on the West Coast. The element that links the two are Champlain’s feast nights from which the book’s title is taken. How can you not enjoy a book that celebrates moose nose as a dinner dish.

In the odd way that one book leads to another I found a copy of this narrative poem The Order of Good Cheer by Andrew Merkel published in 1946 by the Abanaki Press in Lower Granville, Nova Scotia. A beautiful little book with illustrations by Robert Chambers. I see www.davidevesbooks.comAdvance copy of The Order Of Good Cheer has a copy listed for $17.

For those of you (and until now myself) who have no idea who Andrew Merkel was, this from the Dalhousie University archives. Merkel, born in New York in the mid 18880’s, came to Nova Scotia as a boy, became a journalist, historian and poet.