________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 14 . . . . March 2, 2007


Mazo de la Roche: Rich and Famous Writer. (The Quest Library; 27).

Heather Kirk.
Montreal, PQ: XYZ Publishing, 2006.
196 pp., pbk., $17.95.
ISBN 978-1-894852-20-3.

Subject Headings:
De la Roche, Mazo, 1879-1961.
Authors, Canadian (English)-20th century-Biography.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Karen Rankin.

** /4



In December 1886, Martha Clement and two children boarded a Winnipeg-bound train in Grand Forks. Martha needed to see her family. Back in Cherry Creek, after the hot Christmas dinners had been digested and the warmly remembered relatives had been visited, the chill reality of Martha Clement's difficult position set in. Where was the penniless woman to spend the winter? Where were her children to stay? The many brothers and sisters of Martha and James Clement had their own families to support. Their houses were mostly full. They had their own problems to deal with… Thankfully, Martha's sister, Louise (Willson) Lundy [Mazo's grandmother, with whom Mazo lived], who lived just a short train-ride away in Newmarket, felt that the two little female cousins, Caroline and Mazo, just nine months apart, would get along fine and be less trouble than one. They did and they were. When Martha Clement boarded a westbound CPR train and went back to Grand Forks that spring, she took her son but left Caroline behind. During the next three years, Caroline flourished under the loving care of her Aunt Louise. The two little girls came together like two drops of water. It was just as though they had always been together, they were so completely companionable, so completely seemed to fill each other's needs. Most of the time they lived in an imaginary world of Mazo's making. Mazo had created this world when she did not have a child her own age to play with, and now she shared it with Caroline. Caroline couldn't create, but she could follow. She was wonderful at following the creator, and at imagining! She could imagine herself anything at all, and that of course helped Mazo's imagination greatly. Any situation that Mazo imagined, Caroline was in it, heart and soul.


Heather Kirk begins her biography of Canadian Mazo de la Roche on the day in 1927 that de la Roche wins a huge American writing competition for her novel, Jalna. As a result of this win, the 48-year-old author was catapulted into riches and international fame. She went on to write 15 more books that spanned a century in the lives of the Whiteoaks, a fictional Ontario family. Mazo had always been a private person, but after the Jalna win, she became almost secretive. She and her life-long companion, Caroline Clement, made a point of withholding information and even disseminated facts that were "pure fiction." For instance, when Mazo adopted two children at age 52, she and Caroline told friends a number of different stories as to the children's origins, ranging from the children being "left badly off by a dear friend of [Mazo's]" to the children being Italian orphans of parents killed in a car crash. Upon de la Roche's death in 1961 at age 82, Caroline burned all of de la Roche's diaries. Kirk relates the details of Mazo's family and living arrangements over the years. She also draws a number of connections—that are at times rather trivial—between what is known of Mazo's life and the characters and events in her 25 novels, five plays, two "fictionalized biographies," etc. However, because of the paucity of personal information available, readers will learn little concerning the feelings and opinions of one of Canada's most famous storytellers from this biography. The few insights Kirk is able to provide into Mazo's true personality are interesting and not always flattering. For instance, her adopted daughter, Esmée—still alive today—says that Mazo "discarded her like an unwanted toy when she ceased to be a cute child." The manner in which Kirk explains Mazo's lineage—through, for example, recreated dialogue and a visit by Mazo and her cousin, Caroline, to a family gravesite—is somewhat confusing. The addition of a traditional family tree would have made these facts far more accessible to readers. At the end of the book, there is a two-column "Chronology of Mazo de la Roche" starting in 1812, 67 years before Mazo's birth, with "Mazo de la Roche and Her Times" in one column and "Canada and the World" in the other. The inclusion of these lists may be useful to students doing a language/history paper, but it is rather mystifying at times since many of the people and events referred to in the 23-page chronology are never touched upon in the biography. Kirk's biography of de la Roche may inspire some students to read more of the "Whiteoaks of Jalna" series.

Recommended with reservations.

Karen Rankin is a Toronto, ON, writer and editor of children's stories.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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