Joan MacLeod
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Buy *Homechild* by Joan MacLeod online

Joan MacLeod
127 pages
June 2008
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Homechild is a shout in the dark before history swallows the last human remnants of a policy that sanctioned child migration from Britain to Canada from 1860 to 1930. Over eighty thousand children were separated from family and sent to factories and farms, literally indentured child laborers.

Years later, Alistair is in his 80s, his neighbor Dorrie another victim of this heartless enterprise, their long lives blighted by the painful experiences of indentured childhood, second-class citizens in the homes where they sheltered. As the family gathers in a dilapidated farmhouse, the farm lying fallow for years, crotchety Alistair grumbles about life in general - his daughter, Lorna, in particular.

Lorna has come from Toronto for a brief visit, divorced, with a teenaged son residing temporarily with his father. Lorna has little patience for her aging father, his bitterness rankling after the death of his wife ten years earlier.

The gathering includes the elderly Alistair; sister-in-law Flora; neighbor Dorrie; Lorna; her brother Ewan; and Dorrieís son, Wesley. Then there is the otherworldly Katie, Alistairís sister, whom we meet in the opening act in 1922, wandering a field, speaking about her brother Jackie sent across the sea to Canada, and their motherís abandonment of the siblings.

Their personal history dissolved by time, Alistair and Dorrie have hardly spoken of this painful topic to their families, although there have been sporadic reunions in Britain, their legacy one of isolation and lost opportunity for communication. Acting out their petty squabbles, the fractured family reassembles. Alistair, more than any, has suffered the long-term effects of his childhood trauma and anxiety over little Katieís fate.

The cracks in the familyís foundation are obvious, Lornaís Aunt Flora the peacemaker attempting to smooth the hurts of generations. When Alistair is felled by a stroke during Lornaís visit, the barriers crumble, past horrors finally revealed by a frail old man. Alistairís story is revealed in trenchant scenes, a man reluctant to relive a time in his life for which he has no frame of reference other than despair.

Using the papers Dorrie has saved about the great migration of child laborers, lists of those transported to Canada, Lorna begins looking for Katie. A fruitful search ensues, Katie, in her 70s, eventually contacted. In a shattering final scene, brother and sister are finally face to face, Alistair clinging to the memory of his sister as a six-year-old girl while the flesh-and-blood reality stands before him.

In brief bursts Alistair speaks his truth, coming full circle to the most meaningful person in his life while a stunned family tries to understand their fatherís need for silence all his days. This is a truly tragic story, a shameful past that tore families apart, innocent children the greatest victims of historyís mistake.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Luan Gaines, 2008

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