Etta and Otto and Russell and JamesBook - 2015
A beautiful novel that reminds us that it's never too late to see the things you've longed to see, or to say the things you've longed to say
Eighty-two-year-old Etta has never seen the ocean. So, early one morning she takes a rifle, some chocolate, and her best boots, and begins walking the 3,232 kilometers from Saskatchewan to Halifax.
Her husband, Otto, wakes to a note left on the kitchen table. I will try to remember to come back , Etta writes to him. Otto has seen the ocean, having crossed the Atlantic years ago to fight in a faraway war. He understands. But with Etta gone, the memories come crowding in, and Otto struggles to keep them at bay.
Russell has spent his whole life trying to keep up with Otto and loving Etta from afar. He insists on finding Etta, wherever she's gone. Leaving his own farm will be the first act of defiance in his life.
As Etta walks farther toward the ocean, accompanied by a coyote named James, her past and present blur. Rocking back and forth with the pull of the waves, Etta and Otto and Russell and James moves from the hot and dry present of a quiet Canadian farm to a dusty burnt past of hunger, war, passion, and hope; from trying to remember to trying to forget.
This is a gorgeous literary debut about an elderly woman's last great adventure walking across Canada--a beautiful novel of pilgrimage, of fulfilling lifelong promises, of a talking coyote called James, and of unlikely heroes.
From the critics
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Meet Etta. She is 82 and has never seen the ocean so one day she decides to walk to Halifax, 3232 km away. She takes her best boots, and leaves a note for her husband, “I’ve gone. I’ve never seen the water, so I’ve gone there. Don’t worry. I’ve left you the truck. I can walk. I will try to remember to come back. Yours (always), Etta.”
Meet Otto, Etta’s husband. He still suffers (occasionally) from nightmares of WWII, and misses Etta terribly. He knows she doesn’t want him to follow her so he doesn’t, and nearly starves before he picks up one of the recipe cards Etta left for him and learns to cook their favourite things for himself. He doesn’t tell anyone (at first) that Etta has gone. Not even his best friend.
Meet Russell, Otto’s best friend since childhood. Brought up as Otto’s brother, Russell shared Otto’s chores even with a lame leg, shared his schooling (they went opposite days so someone could do chores at home), and everything else – except for WWII, and for Etta, their former teacher. Russell loves Etta too, and maybe she loved him back, but she married Otto. Russell sets out in his truck to track her and bring her home before she forgets them completely.
Meet James, Etta’s travelling companion and confidante. James finds Etta when her boots start to leak blood and goes with her to buy sneakers. He keeps her from forgetting who she is and keeps her warm at night, and she saves him by carrying him when he breaks his leg in a trap. James is a coyote.
Etta becomes something of a folk heroine as she walks, and the men who love her take their own journey in searching for her. The pace and mood of this novel is that of a light wind over prairie wheat - languid, thoughtful, and beautiful to behold.
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