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    Book Club in a Bag

    Off the Shelf - Kingston by Starlight by Christopher John Farley

    by Jasna Tosic - 0 Comment(s)

    Who is on the top on the most-piratical-scale: those who fly under the black flag, or the colonial governors who run their own fiefdoms, or the European governments who legalize slave ships? Or, perhaps the men who abandon their families to dire poverty?

    In Kingston by Starlight, Christopher John Farley uses humor and history to challenge our acceptance of civilization’s moral centre. As he describes in the afterword, called “Conversation”, he steeped himself in Jamaican lore about female pirates memorialized in songs and tales. Then he soaked up all the stories and records in historical documents. Finally, he let the creative juices flow to entice us into the “truthiness” of the life of Anne Bonny.

    Anne Bonny started life in Ireland in a dysfunctional, not entirely legal family at the end of the seventeenth century. Over the course of her early years, she was serially abandoned by members of her family, as well as societies on both sides of the Atlantic. In horror of her “inevitable” fate of falling into prostitution, she created her own destiny on a pirate ship – disguised as a man, of course. Pirate ships were cursed if a woman were aboard, so Bonny had to be vigilant lest her real nature be discovered.

    Like other women who escaped the strictures of social norms by joining male enterprises in disguise, Bonny succeeded as a pirate. Exercising extreme discretion about her person helped Bonny take great care in executing her responsibilities on the ship.

    While pursuing the golden dream of a valuable ship’s cargo, the crew of colorful characters considered any ship with food and drink well worth capturing, even at risk to their own lives. And when fortune finally shone on them, the thrill of one more adventure lured them to the harsh judgment of the colonial legal system.

    Caribbean piracy is the stuff of fables, and Kingston by Starlight adds to this tradition. In our own age Somali piracy is not at all romantic; similarly, in the eighteenth century piracy was greatly feared. Perhaps this novel adds a speck of understanding regarding our own world.

    Judith Umbach

    Off the Shelf - They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children

    by Jasna Tosic - 0 Comment(s)

    To read the first part of They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children is almost unbearable. So why recommend it? Because what the children suffer is actually unbearable. Yet children bear the brunt of forcible recruitment into adult fighting, and unless we do something about it, what we won't bear, they will. This is premise of Dallaire’s second book.

    Dallaire speaks from his painful experiences as a professional soldier facing child soldiers shooting weapons. “Shoot or not to shoot?” is the question Dallaire is spending the rest of his life trying to eradicate. He cannot rest while adults on every continent (saving the uninhabited Antarctica) regard children as a cheap, easily manipulated weapons system. He insists on the term “weapons system” to make us who are at peace understand the comprehensiveness of the identification, recruitment, drugging, training and exploitation of children. Not absolving “Western” countries, he points to the clandestine use of children by drug gangs and organized crime. And he points out that although Canada was one of the first signatories of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, there is no legislation to implement it, allowing us to ignore its provisions.

    The second part of Dallaire’s book is much easier to read. Here he outlines what he is doing to help military forces, NGOs and governments develop an effective process for preventing the recruitment of child soldiers. Even during peace, rehabilitation is traumatic and difficult in most post-war zones; only crippling the economics of using children can end their abuse by adults. A telling example is the continuous effort by arms manufacturers to make weapons light and easily used – but bullets are still relatively expensive. Dallaire proposes, among other ideas, an arms control protocol restricting ammunition.

    They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children focuses its advocacy on Canadian youth, the 18 – 35 year olds. He urges them to vote and he urges them to act. He even provides a framework, through the Child Soldiers Initiative www.childsoldiersinitiative.org. His motto is “Zero Force: Even One Child Soldier is Too Many”. Hard to disagree.

    Judith Umbach