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