Nfld. & Labrador

A forgotten era: N.L. author highlights '20s and '30s St. John's in debut novel

David Michael has released his debut novel, Love Will Out, which centres around a dramatized version of the love story between his Christian Maronite Lebanese father, and Polish-Jewish mother.

Love Will Out, released in June, 1st in planned 4-book series

A man standing outside smiles while looking directly into the camera.
David Michael has released his latest novel, Love Will Out, a dramatized version of the love story between his parents, in 1920s and '30s St. John's. (Submitted by David Michael )

A novelist in Newfoundland and Labrador is thrusting culture and family to the forefront of his debut work, set against a backdrop of 1920s and '30s St. John's.

David Michael's novel Love Will Out centres on a dramatized version of the love story between his Christian Maronite Lebanese father and Polish-Jewish mother.

"It's unusual," said Michael. "Maybe the only family like that in Newfoundland. There are a lot of Lebanese, a lot of Jewish, but we're the only one where they intermarried.

"It tells their story, but it basically starts with my grandparents in the 19th and 20th century, when they came over from Poland, escaping the Russians. My Lebanese grandparents, the same type of story. The two families came to St. John's."

Given that his parents met and eventually married in St. John's, the city plays a significant role throughout the story. According to Michael, however, the community depicted in the novel is vastly different from the city residents know today.

"Water Street was basically a lot of Jewish businesses, and New Gower Street was pretty well all Lebanese," said Michael. "My relatives had stores all along New Gower Street, family stores and grocery stores. They had [those] types of businesses there. Unfortunately, all that was torn down when they built City Hall, so there's none of that left.

"It was like The Gangs of New York on a smaller scale," said Michael. "There were so many different nationalities. I remember walking down Water Street and hearing all kinds of different tongues."

A stone building with a sign marking St. John's City Hall in the foreground. Flags are in the foreground.
Michael's relatives had businesses along New Gower Street that were torn down when St. John's City Hall was built. (Paul Daly/CBC)

That isn't to say his upbringing was carefree, however.

"It was pretty rough," said Michael. "It was harsh, it was rough, but it had its aspects of glamour as well, because there was money here. In the '20s, St. John's was a thriving community. It wasn't until the Depression came and the cod fishery collapsed, then Newfoundland had a very hard time."

While Michael does not claim to be a historian, he felt compelled to write about the often overlooked era in Newfoundland history, albeit in a dramatized fashion.

"From what people have been telling me, there's not a lot written about that," said Michael. "I wanted to write about it, but I didn't want to write it as non-fiction. It's better dramatized, turned into a novel. I thought I would have more fun writing it, and I think people would have more fun reading it, because it's more interesting that way, to me anyway.

"What do they say? 'Don't let facts get in the way of a good story,'" Michael said with a laugh.

Michael says the novel is the first in a four-part series, dramatizing various periods of his life and family history, including his adventures in Paris while earning his master's degree.

"I'm going to keep on writing until my brain kinda gives out," said Michael.

LISTEN | David Michael discusses his debut novel
David Michael's debut novel is inspired by his own parents' stories of the Lebanese and Jewish communities of St. John's in the early 20th century.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nick Ward

Reporter

Nick Ward is a journalist with the CBC bureau in St. John's. Email: nick.ward@cbc.ca.

With files from Weekend AM

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