CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 12 . . . .February 8, 2008
Southern Cross: A Novel of the South Seas.
Los Angeles, CA: The Ward Ritchie Press, 1951/Montreal, PQ: Drawn & Quarterly (Distributed by Raincoast Books), 2007.
255 pp., hardcover, $27.95.
Nuclear warfare in art.
Islands of the Pacific-In art.
Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.
Review by Sylvia Pantaleo.
Southern Cross, a wordless novel, was first published in 1951. Hyde was incensed with the U.S.'s continued testing of atomic bombs in the South Pacific following the horrific destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.
Told in 118 wood engravings, Southern Cross tells the story of a Polynesian island that is evacuated by the U.S. Navy in order for further atomic bomb testing. Hyde conveys the idyllic life on the island as harmonious and peaceful; the Indigenous people coexist with the environment in a quiet and respectful manner. However, one fateful day, life on this paradise island is disrupted by the sound of zooming planes overhead. One powerful woodcut depicts the silhouette of a battleship on the horizon, obstructing the sunrise – a foreshadowing of how the native people's life will be forever changed by the arrival of the Navy. American sailors invade the island and present a plan to evacuate the inhabitants. Although the sailors convey concern for the island people, the Americans' disingenuous nature is clearly evident and in stark contrast to the familial and communal values of the natives.
It is not enough for the Americans to occupy the island, but a drunken sailor attempts to "own" one native woman. The ensuing fight with her husband results in the death of the American. The native couple and their child seek refuge in the forest. The body of the American is discovered, and a search for the couple follows. However, the family is successful in avoiding capture, and the evacuation of the island concludes.
Hyde depicts the navy lowering a bomb to the ocean floor; the subsequent wood engraving shows an image of the sword of Damocles hanging precariously by a single thread. The symbolic image powerfully communicates the impending threat of annihilation to the family and serves as a warning to all others about the potential of weapons of mass destruction. Further wood engravings depict the blast, subsequent radiation, and the death of the child's parents and other island and ocean creatures. The indeterminacy of the last image of the child sitting alone by his dead mother symbolize an uncertain future for all who live in our world where some continue to pursue war.
The layout design of the book highlights the woodcuts; the verso (left-hand side) of each opening is white, and Hyde's black artwork is featured on only the rectos (right-hand side) of each page. The craftsmanship of the wood engravings is remarkable; Hyde's intricate designs created textures in the woodcuts that convey movement, emotion and detail. The black and white images tell a powerful and timeless story of stolen innocence by the powerful.
The new issue of Southern Cross contains the original introduction by Rockwell Kent and two essays by Hyde. The first essay at the beginning of the book describes the concept and creation of the book, and the essay at the end of the book provides a brief history of woodcut stories/books. The book also features a cover band, an addendum, and a new introduction, written by David A. Berona, a woodcut novel historian.
Sylvia Pantaleo teaches courses in language arts in the Faculty of Education, the University of Victoria, in Victoria, BC.
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