The Toronto Star
Sunday, April 21, 2002, p. D14
Non - British journalist Jon Ronson showed unfortunately perfect timing with the post-Sept. 11 release of his first book Them: Adventures With Extremists (Simon & Schuster, 330 pages, $36.50). It's a highly personalized account of his travels in search of those who hate: "them." Ronson, armed only with unheroic irony, hangs around with one of Britain's more notorious Muslim fundamentalists and visits a jihad training camp; fires weapons with a Ruby Ridge survivor and learns about black helicopters and the New World Order; gets chased by men in dark glasses while attempting to observe a Bilderberg Group meeting in Portugal; attends a KKK gathering and witnesses a bizarre pagan ritual conducted by political and corporate big shots in California's Bohemian Grove. "Ronson always seems to display underlying good taste," Star literary critic Philip Marchand wrote in January. "He knows righteousness is not a substitution for perception and understanding."
Stephen Henighan performs a fair bit of Toronto-bashing- well, he takes it to the city's CanLit movers and shakers, anyway, whom he accuses of ignoring scribblers from the outlands- in his arch but engaging collection of essays and criticism, When Words Deny The World: The Reshaping Of Canadian Writing (Porcupine's Quill, 211 pages, $19.95). A novelist and story writer who teaches Spanish-American literature at the University of Guelph, Henighan revels in his self-assigned role as aggrieved outsider. The core of the book is Henighan's plea for Canadian fiction writers to pursue mass-market approval not by turning their backs on the mysteries of their own land, but to achieve universality through devotion to local detail. He savages such international bestsellers as Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient and Anne Michael's Fugitive Pieces, and boasts of being among the first to publicly declare the waning of Timothy Findley's once formidable talents. Henighan clearly isn't out to win new friends, but the book gained an admirer in The Star's Marchand, no toady to the CanLit pantheon himself. "This is criticism that is non-academic, readable, respectful of genuine literary accomplishment and merciless toward pretence and muddle," Marchand wrote last week. "How badly we need it."
The kidnapping and gruesome murder in Pakistan of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl put a very human face on the perils of war reporting, as did the serious injuries suffered just weeks later by The Star's own Kathleen Kenna when her car was hit by a grenade in Afghanistan. Among those who felt those sad events keenly was another Canadian journalist, Ian Stewart, who was working as West Africa bureau chief for the Associated Press in early 1999 when he too became a casualty of strife in a strange land. Covering the savage civil war in Sierra Leone, Stewart and other journalists were, like Kenna, ambushed while travelling in a car. A blast of rebel gunfire killed an AP photographer; Stewart was left with a bullet in his skull. Freetown Ambush: A Reporter's Year In Africa (Penguin, 306 pages, $33) is really two stories- the adventures of a roving newshound on the front lines and the more heroic, ongoing struggle of Stewart to recover from his brain injury. "Stewart admits what many correspondents hardly ever have the guts to face in more self-serving memoirs: that every journalist has their breaking point when faced with a non-stop parade of degradation, poverty and brutality," reviewer Derek Raymaker wrote in these pages.
He may be gone from the stage, but the legacy of Mike Harris will always be linked to the place name Walkerton, just as a vainglorious cavalry general is tied forever to the Little Big Horn. Walkerton is no longer an Ontario town, but a painful example of personal failings, of government neglect, of the public good sacrificed to ideology. Canadian Press reporter Colin Perkel chased the Walkerton contaminated water story since its first residents fell ill in May, 2000. In Well Of Lies: The Walkerton Water Tragedy (McClelland & Stewart, 237 pages, $34.99), Perkel packs the story's many elements into one sustained narrative- the brothers Koebel; the impact on area residents; the effect of Tory government cutbacks; and the cathartic role of the Walkerton Inquiry under Judge Dennis O'Connor. The book is "required reading for all who care about democracy and the environment," said Star reviewer Kate Harries.
Uniform subject(s): Books; Journalism and journalists
Length: Medium, 575 words
Copyright © 2002 Toronto Star, All Rights Reserved.
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