Our Homesick Songs is the story of a family and a community breaking apart. First, the fish left, and without the fish, the people left. Many moved west to work the oil sands of Alberta. The Connors tried to stay by sharing a job in Alberta. Aidan, the father, would go for a month, then Martha, the mother would go the next month, a strain for their marriage and their children. Cora and Finn remain at home in an empty village with only a few older villagers remaining. Cora uses the pages of library books to turn the empty houses into places she would like to visit someday, Italy, Russia, the Netherlands. Then, she runs away.
For Finn, the youngest, it seems obvious that if he can only bring back the fish, his sister, his parents, and his community will come back together. They are linked and he believes he can fix them, in part because he has caught a fish after they disappeared and in part inspired by folk legends told by his accordion teacher.
That folklore is where Finn looks to for solutions is a reflection of his culture. His father was a fisherman, so is he, as much as one can be after all the fish have left. HIs mother made nets and his sister plays the violin while he plays the accordion. Folklore and tradition are central to their lives.
Our Homesick Songs is a beautifully written book that demonstrates the beauty of simple language. Don’t get me wrong, I love the writers who choose the perfect word–even if it means having to look it up. I remember in “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon,” Rebecca West describes Lake Scutari and used the word “inspissation.” Because I knew her writing, I knew it would be worth my while to look up this unfamiliar word–that the word would be perfect in meaning in a way no other world could be. But I also love those writers who use words that a ten-year-old like Finn would use to make prose that reads like poetry. That is the kind of writer Emma Hooper is.
Chapters are just a few sentences long and some of them begin with “and.” There’s repetition that builds this forceful flow of words. The folkloric tradition is strong, fairy tales are not full of big words and they ask us to suspend our disbelief. Would a fourteen-year-old girl go off the wilds of Alberta to scare bears? Perhaps not. But then, can a young boy sing back the fishing industry? This is a folkloric story, a plainsong magical realism and it is beautiful and hopeful.
Our Homesick Songs will be released August 14th. I received an e-galley from the publisher through NetGalley.
- Our Homesick Songs at Simon & Schuster
- Emma Hooper author site
- Official Our Homesick Songs playlist on Spotify