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Bannock, Beans and Black Tea    by John Gallant & Seth Gallant order for
Bannock, Beans and Black Tea
by John Gallant
Order:  USA  Can
Drawn & Quarterly, 2004 (2004)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This beautifully bound little book (with a built-in ribbon bookmark) is a memoir of a childhood in the 'small Catholic village' of St. Charles in the east end of Prince Edward Island. In the graphic art foreword, the narrator's son Seth remembers that his father told the stories in this book often, in his own youth. Though Seth tells us that much of the humor from the verbal storytelling is lost, leaving the stark reality, an ongoing wry undercurrent does come through.

John Gallant remembers a father who contributed little to the family, a very religious mother (whose parents were Acadians), and a parasitical village priest. He and his siblings were often cold and hungry, and worked hard from an early age (many of John's endeavours sound truly entrepeneurial for someone so young!) The title refers to the food most available, supplemented by what they could hunt, trap and gather. I love the story of the town of Souris (French for 'mouse') named after a 1700s plague of rodents, who consumed the crops and then drowned in the sea.

Occasionally John Gallant notes things to be thankful for in that hard existence, in retrospect - like 'No danger of being shot while on spring break in Florida.' Amongst simply told accounts of a baby who died from the cold unnamed, times of near starvation, and the loss of a loved sister to whooping cough, linger a few happier memories. For example, John speaks of gatherings where, in the absence of any musical instrument, the call would go out for a 'jigger', who 'beat out a tune with his foot while humming a little melody composed of nonsense words such as Tiddle-liddle-liddle'.

In his conclusion, the author regrets opportunities missed through his lack of basic education (his parents could not provide the clothing needed to go to school) and tells us that today's young people should reflect on the effort his generation expended 'to give them a society to make them happy'. I recommend Bannock, Beans and Black Tea to you as a bitter-sweet memoir of a time not that far past.

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