CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 6 . . . .November 12, 2004
Escape is a historical novel that takes place in the small town of Amherst, Nova Scotia. Amherst seems like an odd location to place a revolutionary icon like Leon Trotsky. However, according to John Reid's research and simply because fact is always stranger than fiction, it is a fact that Trotsky had been imprisoned in a Nova Scotia camp for "enemy aliens" during the First World War. What is not known, however, is why the Communist provocateur and his family were released and allowed to return to Russia on the eve of the revolution. The story begins in an archive in the Ukraine. An archivist hands a Canadian academic a document and simply tells him that it might be interesting for his research. Although initially uninterested, he has the 128 page document copied and is soon immersed in a tale of remarkable coincidences, courage, luck and tragedy. The document reveals that Leon Trotsky's son Lev had made his way to Amherst in the hope of seeing his father. He hears a boy speaking Russian and decides to ask him for help. The boy is a Ukrainian immigrant named Alexi, and he agrees to help. He takes Lev to meet his parents, and they concoct a plan for Lev to get into the prison to see his father. One thing leads to another, and a complicated escape plan is hatched. Trotsky escapes from prison, but Alexi, not Lev, was spirited off to Russia and was forced to live his life thousands of miles away under the Communist dictatorship. It wasn't until he was an old man that he was allowed to re-immigrate to Canada to be re-united with his family and the now old man who had changed his life forever.
The idea of a researcher finding this remarkably tragic document creates a perfect venue for Reid's story. However, the writing is colorless, and readers will be frustrated by the wooden nature and limited character development of the major players in the story. It is very hard to care about the tragedy that unfolds when we have no solid reasons to empathize with them. As well, they will be disappointed with how little is learned about life in Canada during the First World War. We are only given stereotypes that we are expected to patently admire or naturally despise. Alexi's life in the Soviet Union is also barely revealed. The extraordinarily heartrending tale that Reid created could have been magnificent if better written and adequately developed. I am disappointed it is so ordinary. Perhaps some teachers will be able to rescue it in their classes.
Recommended with Reservations.
A regular book reviewer for the Winnipeg Free Press, Ian Stewart teaches at David Livingstone School in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.