The Next Chapter

Treasa Levasseur reviews Lawrence Hill's debut novel

The latest stop on columnist Treasa Levasseur's literary road trip is Winnipeg, as depicted in Lawrence Hill's first novel, Some Great Thing.

The latest stop on columnist Treasa Levasseur's literary road trip is Winnipeg.

Our Road Trip segment sends Treasa Levasseur to explore towns and cities across the country... through the pages of some great Canadian books.

Treasa Levasseur has crisscrossed the country, both as she tours as musician and as she reads, as the Road Trip columnist for the Next Chapter. Her latest stop is Winnipeg, where she picked up Some Great Thing by Lawrence Hill.

He tells a few intersecting stories in this novel. The protagonist is a fellow named Mahatma Grafton, who is the son of Ben Grafton, a left-leaning, African-Canadian Winnipegger and a former railway porter. Mahatma Grafton is a Winnipegger who goes away to school and returns to work at a newspaper in Winnipeg during the time of the great Franco-Manitoban crisis of the early 1980s, when the whole thing came to a head. The positioning of the main character, this black guy, with an Indian name, in Winnipeg in 1981, with all the stuff that comes with that, it is just a fascinating centre from which to view that place. I found it was a neat pair of glasses to put on. 

I would say there's an autobiographical feeling to it. In the author's note, Lawrence Hill talks about it being very much of his own personal truth, being a journalist but realizing he wanted to write books, and this book being a ground for him to come of age. This is a coming-of-age book as well, in terms of the main character, Mahatma Grafton. He didn't know what he was going to go, getting the job, and then realizing even though he was trying to deny his heritage of this political father, this champion of human rights. He realizes he is very passionate about human rights, very passionate about championing the underdog and he finds himself in this book. I read it twice and it was even better the second time. 

Treasa Levasseur's comments have been edited and condensed.