________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 16 . . . . April 4, 2008


The Master of Jalna.

Mazo de la Roche.
Montreal, PQ: XYZ Publishing, 1933/2007.
401 pp., pbk., $24.95.
ISBN 978-1-894852-28-9.

Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.

Review by J. Lynn Fraser.

*** /4

Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights explored the inter-relationship between the individual, the land surrounding them, and nature. The Master of Jalna focuses on the trials of the Whiteoak family and their home called Jalna as the forces of nature, land, and the Great Depression subject them to heartache. Financial crises threatens the Whiteoaks, and Renny, the family member pivotal to this novel, is trying to ensure that both the Whiteoaks and Jalna survive.

     As in the Brontë novel, and, for that matter Macbeth, external conditions mirror the psychological and emotional conflict of the main characters:

A silence came between them….All the things she had ever heard of his seemed nothing to go on. She glanced at him furtively, as he sat sunk  in his chair, master of himself, sensuous, at ease. He had closed his  eyes and was listening to the swich of a newly risen wind and a distant tremor of thunder.
The distance thunder seemed to make their isolation complete. …The shadow of a branch was thrown against the wall, every leaf minutely cut,  as in a silhouette.

     Another example of the interrelationship is seen in the chapter ‘Death of a Poet' in which the symbolically named family member, ‘Eden,' dies. After his death, bitter cold weather surrounds the family. The language used by the author offer solid examples of metaphor, allusion, alliteration and other devices. They make writing emotionally true for the reader while giving good examples of how such devices work in language.

     Drawing young readers' attention to broader themes can make this novel, written over 70 years ago, relevant to contemporary young readers. This novel can aid a broader discussion of: what is the value of family, does land define a family or a people, is home purely an emotional or psychological construct? As the author wrote:

Well, if things kept on as they were, on a steady decline, it would not be long before he was in the same pass as Maurice, selling off Jalna in paltry lots until the house would stand like a leaky old battleship surrounded by the small craft of a summer resort… At the thought a voice from the house seemed to cry out to him to save it from such ignominy.

     Although the novel was originally published in 1933, economic crises are always with us, and their effects can be binding or divisive for a family. This book can serve as a discussion of the universals that affect individuals and the family.

     This novel is an easy read with a family tree in the front of the book to aid in understanding the inter-relationships of the various family members.


J. Lynn Fraser, a freelance writer whose articles appear in national and international magazines and newspapers, has also written two nonfiction books for children.

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

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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