The Next Chapter

Marina Endicott's latest novel looks at the dangers of helping those who may not want to be helped

The Difference is inspired by a true story about a Nova Scotia merchant ship that sailed the South Pacific in 1912. The novel is about a young woman who takes a boy from a remote island and makes him her son.
Marina Endicott is the author of The Difference. (Sinisa Jolic/CBC)
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Marina Endicott is the author of several critically acclaimed novels, including Open Arms, Close to Hugh and Good to a Fault, which was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and was featured on the 2010 edition of Canada Reads. Endicott grew up in Nova Scotia and now lives in Edmonton.

Her most recent novel is The Difference, which is inspired by a true story about a Nova Scotia merchant ship that sailed the South Pacific in 1912. The novel is about a young woman who takes a boy from a remote island and makes him her son.

She stopped by The Next Chapter to talk about writing The Difference.

What's wrong with benevolence?

"I grew up in Nova Scotia. I had a piano teacher who had been born and brought up on a clipper ship. She told me the story about her mother who, on her honeymoon voyage, went into the South Seas and stopped at an island where some people rode out to trade with the ship. They had a little boy with them. My teacher's mother took a shine to this little boy and bought him for four pounds of tobacco.

It seemed cowardly not to try and figure out... how people who believed that they're doing benevolent acts could get things so wrong.​​​​- Marina Endicott

"I told myself I would never dare to try and write a novel about this story. It's too difficult and too complex for someone who's not from the Pacific — or not that boy — to try and tell that story. For a long time, I stuck by that. But then I was lucky enough to go to New Zealand with the Commonwealth Prize. When I was there they asked if I would go to Tonga and do some teaching. I had the most wonderful 10 days in Tonga teaching little kids and doing high school workshops.

"These boys were like the little boy that my teacher's mother had taken away. It seemed cowardly not to try and figure out how that could have happened — and how people who believed that they're doing benevolent acts could get things so wrong."

What defines us

"I called the novel The Difference because I wanted to think about difference — the ones that we perceive and that are very hard for us to get rid of in our thinking.

I wanted to think about the difference between cultures — and who we consider human and who we consider not human.- Source

"I wanted to think about the difference between cultures — and who we consider human and who we consider not human."

Marina Endicott's comments have been edited for length and clarity. 

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