CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 20. . . . June 6, 2003
B.C. author Diane Swanson has won many awards for her previous books, including the Orbis Prize for Outstanding Non-fiction for Children, the Mr. Christie's Book Award, the B.C. Book Prize, and the Silver Birch award. She continues her high standards of excellence with her exploration of tunnels. On first thought, tunnels might seem to be only boring holes in the ground. However, in her eleven brief but fascinating chapters in Tunnels!, Swanson investigates intriguing aspects of ancient Egyptian tombs, the inherent dangers tunnels pose to the people who use them, how tunnels have been used by criminal masterminds in their nefarious schemes and by ordinary people wanting to escape tyrannical political regimes, in war, and the extraordinary skill and daring that goes into building the precarious underground constructions. Tunneling for coal has always been a dangerous job, and Swanson tells readers how deadly coal mining can be in her chapter on the 1958 Springhill, Nova Scotia, disaster, which trapped 174 miners in a deadly cave-in. Modern road tunnels through mountains are believed perfectly safe, and yet, in 1999, a truck inexplicably caught fire in the 12 km. Mount Blanc tunnel. The key tourist and truck route linking France and Italy was closed for three years before it could be certified safe. Tunnels also seem to be a favored by criminals. In 1976, Swanson reports, adroit tunneling was instrumental in a Nice, France, bank robbery that garnered $10-$12 million for the thieves who are still enjoying their ill-gotten loot today. Not to be outdone, modern drug barons are becoming increasingly sophisticated in tunneling beneath the border towns that dot the US-Mexico frontier. Even though tonnes of cocaine, heroin and marijuana have been seized, customs officials admit that they are only scratching the surface of the illicit trade. One of Swanson's most exciting chapters takes readers to Lima, Peru, and the 1996 takeover of the Japanese Embassy by the daring Shining Path Marxist guerrilla group. The Peruvian government refused to negotiate with the murderous guerrilla leaders. In a tale that might be straight out of a James Bond film, army engineers dug five secret tunnels that led to strategic locations in the embassy compound, thereby allowing soldiers to rescue the hostages after a wild shootout. There are also tales of brave Berliners tunneling under the Berlin Wall to escape the repressive Cold war communist regime; Union soldiers escaping the brutal conditions of Confederate prisoner of war camps during the American Civil War; and the intricate tunnel communities built by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. A wide range of students will enjoy Swanson's underground journey that takes them from King Tut's time to the modern age. Its straightforward clear narrative style lends itself to younger readers, and the diverse high interest nature of the chapter topics will draw the attention of middle school students. It's a fun read.
Ian Stewart, who teaches at David Livingstone School in Winnipeg, MB, is a regular contributor to CM and the book review pages of the Winnipeg Free Press.
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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.