marcel barang

Still fishin’ – an open letter

In English, Reading matters on 27/11/2010 at 11:31 pm

 

It’s taken me quite some time to go over it in small increments in quiet hours, but I read your latest book from cover to cover, Alan, and liked it very much.

I think it reads much better than the one I helped you put together a few years back, perhaps because it focuses on boats and, even more so, on men, outstanding men in their trade, which is ‘the BC fishing industry’ you’ve ‘revisited’ through basically a string of the articles cum photographs you are top-of-your-trade famous for: their accomplishments, their dreams, their disappointments, their fears, their wounds – layers of life to rival or nurture fiction. Of course, hadn’t you brought me that book, I’d never have thought of picking it up or reading it, but then, here we are.

What I admire most in your way of writing here (having had nothing to do with its sprucing this time around) is how sparing you are with words: there’s no idling in your pages, no mumbo jumbo even when it comes down to arcane bureaucratic edicts, no big theorizing, no loose adjective – you tell a story, many stories, with vigour, with aplomb, with facts, and those terms of the trade (coho, chinook, sockeye, hake, salmonberries) that enchant me even before I google them for substance and enlightenment.

Besides, my compliments to your editor: I only noticed three typos, one inconsistency (‘dike’ p91, ‘dykes’ p100), a couple grammatical mistakes and one needless repetition over 260 pages, which is better than average these days, I’m told, with books of this kind.

All told, I’m not sure that the BC fishing industry strangulated by mounting, erratic government regulations has much of a future, as many of your respondents clearly fear and the quiet desperation of your very title seems to suggest, but you put the best case for a lengthy agony and, chronicling with gusto the signs of impending recovery – as one can observe unfailingly just before death –, you give a flavour of tragedy to what is after all the daily toil of honest people seeking to make a living (a killing?) out of the earth’s bounty as untold generations of their forefathers have done before them: but such are the times, and the writing’s on the wall of warming, depleted waters.

Also, beyond what I know of your personal history, reading this book has made me more conscious of the importance of ‘First Nations’ in local fisheries in particular and in the Canadian scheme of things in general – an important difference with your amnesic cousins down the map.

And while I’m at it, I might as well state here how precious your friendship has been to me, Alan, who have taught me among many things how to pronounce the words ‘salmon’ and ‘debut’ in your mother tongue, and how much I appreciate your dropping by at a phone call’s notice once or thrice a year over the decade or so we’ve known each other, for lengthy chatty sessions to synchronise our respective tides, leaving behind more often than not copies of the New Yorker for me to peruse – sessions all the more therapeutic for me who live mostly in loneliness than for you whose trade is to meet people and make them talk, even though I’m no skipper, ship-owner or angler amongst men.

Of course, that it seems to be Mahomet always coming to the mountain both flatters and shames me. Next time around, I’ll be the one catching the Chao Phraya Express to your momentary port of call. Deal?

  1. Marcel:
    Thank you for the great review. Hell, thank you for reading a book that is such a remove from your usual fare. But then that is not entirely the case. As you know on my first visit to Thailand in 2000 I stumbled on a copy of Atsiri Thammachoat’s Of Time and Tide brilliantly translated by you. It remains the best novel that I have read on the marginalization of commercial fishermen that is happening all over the world. It was also the work that prompted me to get in touch with you and return to Thailand where I have found one more life to add so several that I have found over the years.
    So thank-you for your translations and for the review and yes I will take you up on that visit, probably in February.
    Alan

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