From Pottersfield Press Fall 2014 Catalogue:
From award-winning author Steven Laffoley comes a compelling tale of love and loss, despair and hope, based on real people and real events, that brings to life one of the most extraordinary stories of our time — The Halifax Explosion.
1917. The Great War has given rise to unprecedented prosperity to staid, Victorian Halifax. It has also given rise to an explosive desire for change. Medical student and daughter of a prominent Halifax family, Elizabeth Beckett dreams of bringing equality to woman in an age when men alone control the world of work and politics. She fights for suffrage to give women a voice in the politics of war. At the same times, sugar refinery worker Danny Cohen dreams of leaving Halifax and a deadly war machine that he sees as only serving the wealthy. He fights to make the money he needs to help himself escape. When their lives collide, their dreams and their views of the world are challenged by the promise of love. Yet their different views on the world prove too explosive. They are torn apart by the collision of their disparate dreams. Elizabeth returns to her suffrage movement for women. Danny escapes to Boston for a better life.However, when two ships collide in Halifax Harbour on December 6, 1917, and the greatest explosion the world had ever known is unleashed on the city, their eyes are opened to new truths. Elizabeth is swept up in the chaos that follows the Explosion and works courageously at a local hospital, overrun with the horribly injured, with dwindling medical supplies and worsening conditions, only to face a once-in-a-generation snowstorm that promises to take away whatever hope remains. Without fresh medical supplies, hundreds will soon die.
Meantime, desperate to return home, Danny hears of a medical relief train leaving Boston and conducted by Christopher H. Trueman, a man with with dark past, who promises to make Halifax in record time. Danny manages to make the train, only to face a snowstorm that stops the train in its tracks. Without action and personal sacrifice, the train may never make it.
Filled with a cast of unforgettable characters — from Boston mayor James Michael Curley to Group of Seven painter Arthur Lismer — The Blue Tattoo tells the sweeping story of the lives caught up in the unbelievable horror of The Halifax Explosion.
I recently went on a cruise to New England and Canada. One of the ports of call was Halifax, Nova Scotia. There I went on an excursion to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Time there was limited so I really only spent time at the Titanic exhibit. (Halifax is where they brought the bodies for identification and the museum had Titanic artifacts that survived, as well as the stories of those who perished). The tour guide of the excursion also told us of the Halifax explosion of 1917. While I was in the Maritime Museum gift shop I saw this book and I had to buy it. I wanted to know more about it but have trouble reading non-fiction books. Since this was a novel I knew I would get through it without difficulty.
Laffoley describes the devastation very well. I saw a clear picture of the destruction, the wounded and the dead. I would get choked up and would have to take breaks because the images and heartache were a lot to read. But it was important to understand the scope of the explosion.
Laffoley was also good at showing the reader the before story of each ship, the SS Mont-Blanc and the SS Imo, without being technical and boring. We saw the point of views of the men on board both ships, their feelings, and seeing what lead to the two ships colliding.
I did easily lose track of some of the characters, or in this case historical people. Many appear briefly, and others continued their story as they were important to the recovery. I wish there had been a character list or that I had wrote down my own to keep track of them.
I would have loved a detailed author’s note about his research, as well as what was fact and where he took artistic liberties.
I liked that the timeline of events was manly centered around the disaster. There was a small Act to show the reader the romance between Elizabeth and Danny. I liked Danny and Elizabeth as individuals but the romance was – eh. It was clichéd and rushed, but also not the main point of the story.
Putting that subplot aside it was still a good historical novel. I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to learn about the Halifax Explosion.
3.5 out of 5 Ships.
More about the artist, who appears as a character in the book, Arthur Lismer.
Arthur Lismer’s ‘Sorrow’ painting depicts aftermath of Halifax Explosion
CBC viewers get a rare look at “Sorrow”, one of Arthur Lismer’s Halifax Explosion-era paintings that had been lost for 75 years.
Some very descriptive quotes that stood out to me:
Page 124: Duggan glance over his shoulder and saw what he swore were the eyes of Satan, two lurid spurts of flame rising skyward, chasing a monstrous cloud that rose two hundred feet or more into the air. It was at that moment, beneath the unblinking green eyes of Satan, there came a thunderous howl.
Page 279: And though I feel an unfathomable exhaustion, I feel compelled to keep at it, as though to give up working would be to concede to the chaos so cruelly visited upon us.