Mazo de la Roche: Rich and Famous Author

In the mid-twentieth century, Mazo de la Roche was the only Canadian novelist of world renown. Her series of books about the fictional Whiteoak family of Jalna were read by millions in almost every corner of the globe. As a child I found her books in libraries and used bookstores and marveled at the stylized covers and eventful lives of the wealthy protagonists. She is now enjoying a renaissance and Mazo de la Roche: Rich and Famous Author is part of an extensive series of biographies of notable Canadians. I suspect that this series is aimed at younger readers, but this isn’t made explicit. Regardless of the intended audience, several aspects of Rich and Famous Author are troublesome. Most off-putting is the fictionalized interludes in which author Heather Kirk imagines important episodes from Mazo’s life. Just because this is not aimed at a scholarly or academic audience doesn’t mean that readers won’t read non-fiction without a little docudrama thrown in. Recreated scenes are not the best way to make past lives compelling to the contemporary readers and they are almost always suspect and sloppy as history. Few of my questions about the author were answered: What was the nature of her lifelong relationship with her cousin, Caroline? Who were the mysterious children that Mazo and Caroline adopted? What were the circumstances of her mysterious psychological illness? Within some of these questions lies an absorbing story of Mazo’s life and work which were both unusual for a woman of her era. XYZ is republishing the Jalna series. Read the novels and dream up your own biography. (Kris Rothstein)

by Heather Kirk, $17.95, 196 pgs, XYZ Publishing, 1781 St. Hubert St., Montreal, QC, H2L 3Z1, xyzedit.qc.ca


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