- Eastern Encounters: Canadian Women's Writing about the East 1967–1929 by Shoshannah Ganz
This book uncovers the history of Asian influence on Canadian culture, the history of Canadian engagement with Eastern ideas, and, importantly, the often-overlooked voices of those women writers whose work, in varying ways, [End Page 194] shows the prevalence of discourses about the East in early Canadian literature. In doing so, the book makes a valuable contribution to literary studies. It shows the extent to which women writers in Canada's early years were shaped by the East – through their reading about, or travels to, China, Japan, or India – and how they in turn helped shape narratives about the East here in Canada.
Some authors in the study are already well known to Canadian readers and literary scholars (Sarah Jeannette Duncan and Nellie McClung), and others are less so (Mrs. Howard Vincent, Ellen Agnes Bilbrough, Anna Leonowens, Onoto Watanna, and L. Adams Beck). By including texts that range from the canonical to the unpublished, the book underscores its argument that discourses about the East were in wide circulation in early Canada. Even the chapters on Duncan and McClung provide fresh insights on their work, and all of the chapters foreground how wonderfully complicated these women were – in the ways they understood themselves, in the ways they understood those around them, and in the ways they presented themselves to their audiences. As the book shows, these writers occupied different social positions, achieved different levels of public attention and interest, worked in different literary genres, held different attitudes towards their Eastern subjects (ranging from admiration to disdain), and so responded to the deeply entrenched racist ideology of the day in different ways.
The book moves gracefully through its discussion, providing appropriate explanation of context where necessary and narrowing its lens where appropriate to deepen the analysis. The chapter on Onoto Watanna, for example, both summarizes the history of Canada's early relationship with Japan, including the significance of the opening of Japan's ports in 1854 and the resulting craze in the West for anything related to Japan, and it offers a lengthy description of the foundational Japanese text A Tale of Genji, thoughtfully considering the implications of Watanna's choice to use a slightly varied version of a character's name from that ancient text. Everything here is grounded in impressive careful research.
Given the book's very specific scholarly interest, the introduction is perhaps broader than one might expect it would be, providing readers with a general overview of Canadian literary history and an introduction to relevant literary theory, particularly post-colonialism, feminism, and genre theory. This approach makes sense when the author reminds us that the book is addressed also to a readership in Asia that might be unfamiliar with key aspects of Canadian literary history. What the introduction does do very well is show the complexity of Canada's political and social position with regard to the East, a complexity that the book deftly illustrates is present in the literary texts it explores.
In all, Eastern Encounters provides compelling insight into the ways in which the Canadian imagination was shaped by and against Eastern cultures and traditions. [End Page 195]
Department of English, University of the Fraser Valley