Sunday, April 12, 2015

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

I was hit in the heart by Emma Hooper's debut novel Etta and Otto and Russell and James… and I can still feel it pulsing there--warm, comforting and wise.

The story shifts back and forth between two time periods: rural Saskatchewan of the depression era, up to and including World War 2 France, and contemporary Canada, 60 years later. The main characters are easy to identify because they are listed in the title. Otto and Russell grow up as close as brothers. They fall in love with Etta, who loves them both. When Etta is 82, with her mental health failing, she leaves her prairie home and starts walking to the Atlantic ocean, over 3,000 kilometres away. Alone.

James is the only character who also is depicted on the cover of the edition I read. He's a coyote who starts following Etta like a dog, and then becomes her companion. Their conversations with each other are just one of the reasons why I love this book so much.

If you were to imagine a combination of elements from The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (by Rachel Joyce) and Freddy's War (by Judy Schultz) and And the Birds Rained Down (by Jocelyne Saucier), plus the dog from The Back of the Turtle (by Thomas King), you might approach something like the magic of Etta and Otto and Russell and James.

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