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Two feuding families and the harsh landscape of Newfoundland: these are the key elements of writer Michael Crummey’s newest novel. It’s a fanciful story based on folklore of the region and filled with quirky characters. They inhabit a dark and cold world and struggle to eke out a life despite the elements and often, each other. Please join us for a conversation with writer Michael Crummey about love and survival on the coast of Newfoundland
- Michael Crummey poet and storyteller. He is the author of novels, "River Thieves" and "The Wreckage." He won the Commonwealth prize for Canada for "Galore."
Read an Excerpt
From Galore by Michael Crummey. Copyright 2011 by Michael Crummey. All rights reserved. Excerpted here by kind permission of Other Press.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. In Michael Crummey's third novel, he takes us to a magical world. It begins with a beached whale on the coast of Newfoundland and follows the often tragic lives of the people who have chosen to live and raise families on the unforgiving coast of Labrador.
MS. DIANE REHMHis new book is called "Galore" and we will take calls. He is here in the studio. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Good morning to you, Michael, it's good to have you here.
MR. MICHAEL CRUMMEYGood morning, Diane, it's great to be here.
REHMI went to my globe to see exactly where Newfoundland and Labrador are.
REHMGolly day. Describe that land for us.
CRUMMEYWell, most of the novel actually takes place on the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador is the mainland part of that territory. And Labrador itself is known affectionately, I think, as the land God gave to Cain. It's very far north, very unforgiving, very cold.
CRUMMEYNewfoundland is a little further south, but it's an island. It's off the coast of Canada, but it's basically out in the middle of the North Atlantic. Saint John's is closer to Ireland than it is to Toronto, for example. And it's known as the rock, basically because that's all that's there. There's very -- I think there are two places on the entire island that are half decent for farming. Outside of that, it's work just to have a garden.
CRUMMEYSo the only reason people ever settled there was for the cod fish and it was a fishing culture from about the early 1600s right up until today. It's been a fishing culture and -- but a very difficult place to make a go of it. The fish were fairly unpredictable, so there were -- it was a feast or famine sort of thing, especially in those early years.
REHMWhat about your own family? How did they get there?
CRUMMEYWell, I actually don't know. I didn't know until probably about 10 years ago that my name is an Irish name. Newfoundland was settled pretty much 50/50 by West Country English and by Irish and it was an original settler population of about 20,000 people and 98 percent of the people there now, a little over half a million, are direct descendants of those 20,000. So it's a tiny genetic pool as well as a genetic isolate, something like the Amish or the Hutterites in that way.
CRUMMEYBut I actually have no idea where Dad's family came from. I think my mom's family was originally from Wales, but that's a guess. Dad's family, we know that his grandfather worked and fished in Newfoundland, but where he came from, if he was born in Newfoundland or if he came from Ireland or England, we don't know.
REHMTell me about the story, which is multi-generational in nature, and about the title "Galore."
CRUMMEYWell, my idea when I started with this book -- I had written a couple of novels that were based on particular historical events in and around Newfoundland. And with this book, I wanted to do something quite different. I was interested not so much in the history of the place as in the folklore of Newfoundland. And Newfoundland was an oral culture for most of the last 350, 400 years and there's an incredibly rich store of material in that folk culture.
CRUMMEYTall tales, superstitions, all of the knowledge people had, everything was passed on from generation to generation by their own culture. And I kind of think of the folklore of Newfoundland as the cultural DNA of the place. It's what makes Newfoundlanders who they are, it's what makes them unique in the world.
CRUMMEYSo I decided what I would do is I would write a novel in which I went to the archives and the library and just spoke to as many people as I could and I wanted to collect the most outrageous, most outlandish stories I could find and stuff them all into one book. A kind of a cultural or spiritual history of the place, I guess, is what I wanted.
CRUMMEYMy original idea was I wanted all of Newfoundland to happen in this one tiny, fictional output that I created, which is a crazy ambition, which I had to abandon eventually, but I got a lot of it in there, I think.
REHMWas the whale story part of the folklore?
CRUMMEYWell, yes. The book opens with this man appearing out of the belly of a whale. (laugh) When I was doing the research for this book, I was collecting a lot of fantastic material and I had lots of ideas for storylines, but I had no idea how a book like this would start. What would be the inciting incident and how would this get off the ground? And I was standing in the kitchen one day and I was thinking about the song I grew up singing in school called "Jack Was Every Inch a Sailor." And it's a song everybody in Newfoundland knows and is forced to sing at some point in their lives.
CRUMMEYAnd I've since found out that it's actually an old English dancehall ballad, but it's become kind of national song in Newfoundland. And it's about a whaler who gets swept overboard and is swallowed by a whale. And then, of course, there's the biblical story of Jonah and the Bible was an essential element of these out-port communities. Religion was a big part of those lives and I liked how that story touched both of those elements, the folklore and the biblical side of it.
CRUMMEYSo I just decided at that moment, standing in my kitchen, I'd start with a guy coming out of the belly of a whale.
REHMAnd the title?
CRUMMEYThe title is something I had from the beginning and there are a number of reasons for it. I mean, as you've mentioned, it's not a particularly happy book when you look at the lives of the people. And it's -- it was a very difficult life for many of these characters, but there was an expansiveness to the storylines and to the folklore that I was using that made me think that "Galore" was the proper title.
CRUMMEYThere's a sense of abundance and a richness in that, but the thing about "Galore," it's one of the few Irish Gaelic words that's actually made it into English usage and a lot of the book is about the back and forth between those two cultures, the Irish and the English, to create something new, the Newfoundlander. So I liked it for that reason and it also, of course, has the word lore in the title.
REHMOf course, we think of Newfoundlanders as being Canadian, basically.
REHMBut not really?
CRUMMEYYeah, it's a -- that's a fairly recent development. Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949, so both of my parents were born Newfoundlanders and became Canadians in 1949. And the vote to join Canada, the referendum, was a very, very close one. The original vote, there were three options, one was joining Canada, one was joining the United States and one was returning to independence, which Newfoundland had given up when it went bankrupt in the 1930s.
REHMIt simply gave up?
CRUMMEYThe only democracy in history, I think, to have voted itself out of existence. And there were lots of reasons for that, the Depression had a huge impact, but Newfoundland also was hugely involved in the First World War. It was a British colony for a long time, so it jumped into the war, borrowed a lot of money from Britain in order to finance its part in the war. And it was one of two countries ever to pay back its war debt to Britain and that had a huge impact.
CRUMMEYSo in the '30s, it was -- the place was destitute and they sort of had a vote in which they gave up control to a panel appointed by the Brits. And the Brits, I think, were quite anxious to get rid of Newfoundland. They really wanted Newfoundland to join Canada so they wouldn't have to be in this position again, so there's a lot of talk that the vote, the Confederation vote, was rigged.
CRUMMEYThe final -- in the first vote, independence won, joining Canada came second, joining the States came third and there wasn't a clear winner. So they decided to have a runoff between the top two. The final vote was, I think, was 51 percent to join Canada, 49 percent for independence. And a lot of people still to this day think that that was rigged somehow.
REHMA rigged vote.
CRUMMEYAnd who knows? But the fact that people feel that strongly about it still speaks to how strongly they felt about that. So there were a lot of people who I think never felt like Canadians. And I think that's waning now, but it was very strong for a long time.
REHMWhat would have been the feelings of difference between Newfoundlanders and Canada?
CRUMMEYI think partly because Newfoundland is an island that is so far away from the rest of mainland Canada, the culture that grew up there was really quite unlike cultures in the rest of the Americas, in North America. The roots were the same, of course, the English and the Irish, but I think in some ways, Newfoundlanders had more in common with the Quebecois, with the French who settled in Upper Canada, as they called it.
CRUMMEYThey were -- the Quebecois were separate because of their language and they had a distinct culture that grew out of that. Newfoundland was separate because physically, they were separated from the rest of North America. And there was a distinct culture that grew up there just in terms of the kinds of language and accents that people used and their sense of who they were in the world, I think, was built on that sense of themselves as a place apart. And I should say ourselves, I guess, being one myself.
CRUMMEYSo that's been a difficult transition, I think, to feel like a true Newfoundlander and a Canadian as well. I think a lot of people have really struggled with that.
REHMHow do people in Newfoundland currently make a living?
CRUMMEYWell, the situation in Newfoundland right now is very odd because in some ways, it's a boom economy. There's oil, offshore oil, there are some huge mines in Labrador that are bringing in more money than Newfoundland's ever known. Newfoundland's always been a have not province, as they refer to it in Canada. There are provinces that are have provinces that help out the others, the have not provinces, Newfoundland's always been a have not and just recently, Newfoundland has become something closer to a have province and actually giving money to other provinces to help out.
CRUMMEYAnd that's all oil and mining. There are still many people involved in the fishery, but the cod fishery, which was the reason anyone ever settled there to begin with, that's done. They've been fished out.
REHMMichael Crummey, his new novel, his third, is titled "Galore." It has won many prizes. When we come back, he's going to read for us all about that beached whale. Stay with us.
REHMAs I said earlier, Michael Crummey's new novel "Galore" is a multi-generational story. It's set in a fictional Newfoundland port, Two Town Paradise Deep and Gut...
CRUMMEYThe Gut, yeah.
REHM...the Gut. Michael, read for us from the beginning of the novel, if you would.
CRUMMEYSure. "He ended his time on the shore in a makeshift asylum cell, shut away with the profligate stink of fish that clung to him all his days, the Great White, St. Jude of the Lost Cause, Sea Orphan. He seemed more or less content there, gnawing at the walls with a nail. Mary Tryphena Devine brought him bread and dried capelin that he left to gather bluebottles and mold on the floor. 'If you aren’t going to eat,' she said, 'at least have the decency to die.'
CRUMMEYMary Tryphena was a child when she first laid eyes on the man, a lifetime past. End of April and the ice just gone from the bay. Most of the shore's meager population, the Irish and West Country English and the Bushborns of uncertain provenance were camped on the gray sand, waiting to butcher a whale that had beached itself in the shallows on the feast day of St. Mark. This during a time of scarcity when the ocean was barren and gardens went to rot in the relentless rain and each winter threatened to bury them all.
CRUMMEYThey weren't whalers and no one knew how to go about killing the leviathan, but there was something in the humpback's unexpected offering that prevented the starving men from hacking away while the fish still breathed. As if that would be a desecration of the gift. They'd scaled the whale's back to drive a stake with a maul, hoping to strike some vital organ, and managed to set it bleeding steadily. They saw nothing for it then but to wait for God to do His work and they sat with their splitting knives and fish prongs, with their dip nets and axes and saws and barrels.
CRUMMEYThe wind was razor sharp and Mary Tryphena lost all feeling in her hands and feet and her little arse went dunch on the sand while the whale expired in imperceptible increments. Jabez Trim waded out at intervals to prod at the fat saucer of an eye and report back on God’s progress. Mary Tryphena was asleep when the men finally rushed the shallows, her father shouting for her to fetch Devine’s widow.
CRUMMEYShe left the beach as she was told, walking the waterside pathway through Paradise Deep and up the incline of the Tolt Road. She crossed the headland that rose between the two coves and carried on into the Gut where her grandmother had delivered Mary Tryphena's brother that morning. The landwash was red with blood by the time she and the old woman made their way back, a scum of grease on the harbor's surface.
CRUMMEYThe heart and liver already carted up to King-me's Rooms on fish barrows, two men harvesting chunks of baleen from the creature's jaws with axes, the mouth so massive they could almost stand upright inside it. Women and children floated barrels in the shallows to catch the ragged squares of blubber thrown down to them. Mary Tryphena's grandmother knotted her skirts above the knee before wading grimly into the water.
CRUMMEYThe ugly work went on through the day. Black fires were burning on the beach to render the blubber to oil and the stench stoppered the harbor, as if they were laboring in a low-ceiling warehouse. The white underbelly was exposed where the carcass keeled to one side, the stomach's membrane floating free in the shallows. The Toucher triplets were poking idly at the massive gut with splitting knives and prongs, dirty seawater pouring from the gash they opened, a crest of blood, a school of undigested capelin and herring and then the head appeared, the boys screaming and falling away at the sight.
CRUMMEYIt was a human head, the hair bleached white. One pale arm flopped through the ragged incision and dangled into the water. For a time, no one moved or spoke, watching as if they expected the man to stand and walk ashore of his own accord. Devine's widow waded over finally to finish the job, the body slipping into the water as she cut it free. The Catholics crossed themselves in concert and Jabez Trim said, 'Naked came I from my mother’s womb.'"
REHMMichael Crummey, reading from his new novel "Galore." What a story. And you are saying to me that that story, at least in part, is part of the folklore...
CRUMMEYI think the thing that really struck me when I was doing the research for this book -- and I think I'd always seen it growing up there, but it really came home to me when I was doing the research that Newfoundlanders, particularly in these tiny out ports, they seem to live between two worlds. And on one side was this incredibly dangerous physical landscape, the ocean that they made their living from, but on the other side of it was this kind of Netherworld that was created, I guess, to kind of explain all of the things in their lives that they had no control over or things that they didn't understand.
CRUMMEYSo it was full of things like witch lore and fairytales and superstitions and ghost stories. And to those people, those two worlds were equally real. They didn't make a distinction between the physical world, one you could touch as something real and this is something that was just stories. To them, that was equally valid and something that affected their lives just as much as the physical world did. And I was trying to recreate that sense in this book.
REHMYou heard one story about a man who everyone thought was dead.
CRUMMEYRight. You're talking about Mr. Gallery, I guess. Yeah, well, Mr. Gallery arose from a number of different sources. His relationship with Virtue, his wife, I actually got from a folksong which had been collected back in the 1940s, I think. And it was about a man who comes to his sweetheart's house late at night drunk and demands to be let in and she refuses and he accuses her, of course, of having another man inside with her.
CRUMMEYAnd in the morning, comes back contrite and says, you know, I know you're good woman and you didn't let me in because of your virtue, which makes me love you all the more. And they got married and lived happily ever after. And, of course, I thought, there's more to that story than that. That's not where that story ends. So Mr. Gallery sort of grew out of that and then, of course, the priest got involved. And I was looking for a way for the -- for Father Falen (sp?), who's quite a character, to be involved with Virtue in -- through the course of the first half of the book.
CRUMMEYAnd having Mr. Gallery reappear after his -- what he gets up to was one way to do that. And he lives with his wife and the priest for years as a ghost.
REHMYou heard from friends about a family with a daughter who was covered with warts.
CRUMMEYYeah, this is an interesting -- when I was working on this book, I really thought I was writing a book about the past because the Newfoundland today is nowhere near or nothing like what the Newfoundland my parents grew up in was even. And I had kind of thought that that world was gone, in a sense. But the thing that amazed me most was how -- you just have to barely scratch the surface of this world of SUVs and flat-screen televisions and cell phones and it's all just underneath.
CRUMMEYAnd I was talking to some friends about this book that I was trying to write and Tim, who's my age, said, oh, I should tell you about my sister. And, you know, she had -- as a young girl, was covered in warts and doctors couldn't do a thing for her. And his mother heard of a woman on the other side of the island who had a reputation as a wart charmer, tracked her down by phone. And the woman on the phone wanted to know the girl's name and her age and then she said, I'll take care of this. And Tim's mom said, can we send you some money or something? And she said, no, no. I'll take care of this.
CRUMMEYAnd the next morning, when she woke up, all of the warts were loose in the bed sheets around her and there wasn't a mark on her body to say they were ever there. And Tim said they had to shake the warts out of the bed sheets and there was about enough to fill a quart jar. And my first -- when he finished, I said, of course, can I use that? And so that became an episode in the book. But I was amazed. I mean, this is not someone telling a story about something that happened to their grandparents...
CRUMMEY...or their great-grandparents.
CRUMMEYThis is a guy my age who grew up in the ghouls just outside St. Johns.
CRUMMEYSo a lot of that world, it's kind of like a phantom limb. You know, it's not visible or present anymore, but we can still -- that twitch is still there and we still are shaped by that somehow.
REHMThere is a certain animosity that develops between the two main characters. Tell us about why that animosity is such an important part of this story.
CRUMMEYWell, as I mentioned earlier, Newfoundland was basically settled by Irish Catholics and West Country English Protestants and it was about a 50/50 split in that original settler population. And there was a fair amount of animosity that came over from the old countries with that. At the time that Newfoundland was first being settled in larger numbers in the 1700s, Catholicism was actually outlawed, so it was illegal for Catholics to practice.
CRUMMEYSo there wasn't the same level of violence at all in Newfoundland, but there was a lot of hard feelings. And so my idea with the two main families, the Sellers and Devines, one is the Catholic family, one is the Protestant family and there's a lot of animosity between the matriarch and patriarch of those separate families and that colors each generation that follows.
CRUMMEYBut there's so much back and forth sometimes clandestine between those two families that by the end of the novel, although they retain their separate names, it's basically the same family. And it was -- I wanted that to be a metaphor for Newfoundland itself, which started out with these two completely separate groups, but now has become something different in the combination, which is Newfoundlander.
REHMMichael Crummey, talking about his third novel, it's titled "Galore." And one of our producers has reminded me that many Americans may know Newfoundland from the airplane window as it's the closest place for an emergency landing from Western Europe to North America, a very bleak place.
CRUMMEY(laugh) A fairly bleak looking place, yes, but also starkly beautiful and one of the things that's replacing some of what was lost with the cod fishery is tourism. And there are a lot of people...
CRUMMEY...from Canada and the United States and from Europe who come to see the place because it is quite unique geographically as well. It's -- the island's actually made up of pieces of different -- two different continents, part of Africa and part of, I think it's North America. And there's a fault line that runs through the entire island. There's a mountain range on the West coast, archipelagos of islands on the northeast coast, so it's really quite a spectacular place to look at. Bleak in its way, but quite beautiful as well.
REHMAnd if you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. Let's open the phones. We have a caller from Greensboro, N.C. Good morning, Debbie, you're on the air.
DEBBIEGood morning. Yes, I was calling because actually, my -- the majority of my living family is in Newfoundland. I've been there once, but I'm just so excited to hear about this novel. I can't wait to buy it for my mother.
CRUMMEY(laugh) Where in Newfoundland are they?
DEBBIEI have family -- some are in St. Johns, but the majority are in Placentia.
CRUMMEYIn Placentia, which is a beautiful spot. And that was originally...
CRUMMEY...Placentia was actually originally settled by the French. That's also a strange part of Newfoundland history. There was a lot of back and forth between the British and the French for years and years. And there's still part of Newfoundland that's called the French Shore and places where people speak French as their first language. Tiny, tiny, but still there.
DEBBIEThe dialect is something that I find just -- I love to listen to the Newfoundland dialect. I can hear a little bit of it in your voice, but when my grandfather would talk to me on the phone, just they have a whole different language.
CRUMMEYYeah, it's true. And because of their isolation, one of the really interesting things is that language that they brought over from Europe with them in the 1700s or early 1800s that has since died out in Europe is still active in Newfoundland. So the language is, in some ways, much more medieval in Newfoundland than it is in the places where it originally came from.
REHMDebbie, thanks for calling. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." It's interesting to me that you include some really quite graphic medical issues in this book, including some problems with childbirth.
CRUMMEYYeah, one of the things that I've always been amazed by is how little these people had in the way of resources and how little they had to fall back on when things went wrong. These communities had no access to medical care usually. And I was really, in the book, wanting to give a sense of what it was like for a physical body to go through what these people went through. You know, just the daily acts of living, but then these extraordinary things.
CRUMMEYAnd childbirth was -- if you go to any old cemetery in Newfoundland, you will find dozens and dozens of these tiny gravestones for children who died in childbirth or shortly afterwards. And a lot of women died in childbirth as well because there was nothing much people could do when there were complications. And I was trying to get across a sense of how horrifically things went sometimes, you know.
CRUMMEYMostly in these communities the older people were relied on. They'd been around enough to see most stuff and had come up with some ideas on how to treat some things. And occasionally, there was somebody who was really gifted. Devine's widow in this novel, for example, is looked at as kind of a witch, but it's mostly that she's very smart and very intuitive and has learned how to take care of people physically, as much as it was possible to in those days, and she's all they had before the doctor arrives for doctoring.
REHMNow, leap forward. If I were to go to Newfoundland now, would I see development, would I see large buildings?
CRUMMEYSure. Newfoundland is still kinda between worlds there. On the Avalon Peninsula, which is where I live and where the capitol city of St. Johns is, that's where the boom is happening. And St. Johns is a city. It's a small city. I think the entire -- there might be a 150,000 in St. Johns' area, but there are huge building developments, now suburbs. Outside of the downtown, it'll look like just about any city in North America now, which not all of us are happy about, but that's the way it goes, I guess.
CRUMMEYBut once you move into the rest of Newfoundland where these tiny communities still are dotted along the coastline, they -- it's like going to a different world in some ways.
REHMWhat kind of housing, for example?
CRUMMEYWell, a lot of it is just one-story bungalows now. The old -- there are still places where you'll see the old salt boxes, which was the way -- what everybody lived in for a long time, these one and a half or two-story boxes, which are actually quite beautiful, so -- but it's -- there isn't a lot still in those communities. You know, it's just a straggle of buildings around a horseshoe of a cove, usually, is what happened.
REHMBut with the money coming in, I would presume you're going to see more.
CRUMMEYWell, we're actually dealing with the opposite, which is that because there's no fishing, which was the only reason those communities were there, they're actually -- we're losing them.
REHMMichael Crummey, the book is titled "Galore." Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMWelcome back. We'll go right to the phones for questions, comments for Michael Crummey. His new novel -- his third is titled "Galore." To Tony in Cleveland, Ohio. Good morning, you're on the air.
TONYGood morning, Diane.
TONYI once fell in love with a beautiful woman over discussions of "The Diane Rehm Show."
REHM(laugh) That's wonderful.
TONYIt was. Michael, I wonder, are you familiar with the band, Big Sailor?
CRUMMEYI think you mean Great Big Sea. Is that right?
CRUMMEYDo you mean Great Big Sea?
TONYNo. It's a band called Big Sailor. They sing the heart and soul of St. Johns and they're wonderful.
CRUMMEYAnd are they from St. Johns?
TONYThey're from St. Johns.
CRUMMEYOh, well, okay, no, I haven't heard of them.
TONYI'm really very surprised because they're actually famous here in Cleveland.
CRUMMEYRight. Well, which is why, I think, you're thinking of Great Big Sea 'cause they're the most famous band out of Newfoundland, I would say, and the ones with the largest reach. And they're -- when you talk about them singing, I mean, it's three guys singing in harmony. It's really quite spectacular. And they have a real mix of a modern feel with traditional tunes.
TONYYeah, mine is more of a band. I've seen them in concert. They're quite Irish.
TONYVery folksy, very nice.
CRUMMEYYeah. Well, I'll have to look for them.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling, Tony. Here's an e-mail from Steven who says, "I completed my undergraduate education in Montreal over a decade ago and recall so-called Newfies often being the object of jokes among many of the Canadians I met.
REHMThe ribbing never seemed malicious, but was certainly not flattering. Given the author's mention of the quirkiness of Newfoundlanders, I wonder whether your guest thinks these jokes stem from that or from something else. There was no group that was immune from such ribbing, but I've always wondered where these opinions of Newfoundlanders came from."
CRUMMEYWell, I think it's a mix of things. There's certainly -- I think Newfoundlanders were unlike anyone else that Canadian's knew of, so -- and there's a quirkiness to them that -- that's certainly true, but it's a sore point for Newfoundlanders. The Newfie joke is kind of a national pastime and a lot of Newfoundlanders think of Newfie as a slur. And I think it stems from the fact that when Newfoundland joined Canada, it was backwards in many ways.
CRUMMEYLike, there was very little education. Literacy rates were very low. A lot of Newfoundlanders were forced to leave Newfoundland to go to Canada to look for work. And I remember a friend of the family talking about when he first went to Toronto, he had a name and an address and he came -- he was dropped at Union Station, went to a phone booth and had to guess how a phone book worked, had never seen one before. So Newfoundlanders came to the mainland, I think, with a lack of knowledge that made them look kind of stupid.
CRUMMEYAnd so they were an easy target. And so that's something that Newfoundlanders have been fighting for a long time, the Newfie joke. And it's -- I think it may not have felt malicious to someone not from Newfoundland, but I think it often felt that way to people from Newfoundland.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Leslie in Shelby, N.C., "What is the history of the annual seal slaughter held in ice around Newfoundland?"
CRUMMEYRight. What's the history of it? Well, it's something that started -- seals were always a part of the economy of Newfoundland. For the most part, early on, it was what -- it was the first source of food at the end of the winter for people. The seals came down on the ice flows. And then in the 1800s, it became a commercial fishery, primarily for the pelts of the seals. And thousands of men went on these ships to the Labrador seas for the seals, which was an incredibly dangerous undertaking and men died every year.
CRUMMEYAnd there were a couple of fairly famous disasters where, I think -- and the worst one, almost a hundred men were left on the ice in a storm over two nights and three days and almost a hundred of them died, froze to death. But it's a very controversial...
CRUMMEY...event and it's something that's still ongoing and has changed dramatically, largely because of the protests. It's much small now than it used to be and it's for the pelts, but also for meat and that sort of thing. And the -- I think one of the biggest reasons it was so controversial is because the hakapik, which was the main tool, which was basically bludgeoning the animals to death, whereas now they're shot.
CRUMMEYIt's something that -- it's also something that Newfoundlanders bristle at a little bit because every independent veterinarian study of the hunt has said that it's -- the killing is done in as humane a way as possible. And we don't see protests at local slaughter houses, you know, about animals being killed there. The issue seems to be different for different things. But I understand it's also something that happens out in the open and it takes place on white ice and there's a lot of blood, so it's something that people see and feel disgusted by.
REHMAnd it's also the targeting of those baby seals for the pelts.
CRUMMEYRight. For a long time, the commercial hunt was just for the white coats and now, of course, there are no white coats taken at all, so -- although they're still used in all of the -- all of the advertising for protests.
REHMTo St. Cloud, Fla. Lana, you're on the air.
LANAWell, I certainly would like to thank you for clearing up a mystery in my own life. I lived in Coleman, Wis. when I was a teenager and I was afflicted with warts. I had about 144 warts on one leg.
LANAIt's a true story. Of course, you know, teenage girls like to shave their legs, so I would cry and bemoan my fate. (laugh) But my mother actually ran into a lady who was selling bread and she got to talking and said, you know, the lady said, I can fix that. And my mom came home and said, blah, blah, blah, I talked to this lady it's going to be fixed and, of course, like a teenager I'm, like, yeah, right.
LANABut the next morning, I woke up and I had no warts, no warts in the bed, thank God, (unintelligible).
CRUMMEYThey just disappeared, is that right? Wow.
LANAIt's a true story.
LANAYes. And I was wondering if maybe she was one of your wart charmers?
CRUMMEYYeah, well, I mean, in Newfoundland every community had their wart charmer, it seems like. And my mom worked in a hospital and there was a woman who worked in the kitchen who was the wart charmer in town. People would come to the hospital to the kitchen to see this woman to get their warts taken away, so...
LANAWell, somebody took mine away.
LANAI'm 57 now, so I was 18 when it happened, so that was about 40 years ago.
CRUMMEYWell, one of the things I love about that story is it does point to the fact that there are things in the world that we will never be able to explain. There are things we don't understand and, I think, in Newfoundland, that that was -- that was something that was accepted and there's a kind of wisdom to that, you know, that sense that there aren't answers for everything in the world and that some things have to be taken on faith.
REHMSo fascinating to me that a place so close to Canada, a place where the English and the Irish there has such rich stories to tell. I mean, obviously, this country has many, many rich stories to tell, but somehow, in Newfoundland, they're clustered...
REHM...together in a way that brings out a fascination that might not otherwise be seen.
CRUMMEYYeah, and it's hard to explain, really. I think it has something to do with the isolation that these people existed in for so long. I mean, hundreds of years, basically, and that the isolation wasn't just from the rest of North America, but within Newfoundland a community five miles away, people would have gotten there from their own town maybe once a year, maybe not at all. So often, the accents from one community to the next were almost -- they couldn't decipher (laugh) when one another spoke.
CRUMMEYBut I think also there was a freedom. The lack of education in one way offered a freedom to the oral culture. There was nobody talking about what -- there was no limit on what they could talk about or what kind of stories they could tell, you know, and the isolation gave them a freedom in a way.
REHMLet's go now to Bowie, Md. Good morning, Ben.
BENGood morning. Can you hear me, Diane?
REHMSure can, sir, go right ahead.
BENYeah, this is for Michael. I was on my way to Newfoundland on 9/11 to visit L'Anse aux Meadows Viking site up there, a well-known tourist site. And, of course, our plane got diverted and, of course, I never went there, but listening to this about Michael's book and so forth, it wants me to try to visit again and see the whole country, not just L'Anse aux Meadows site.
CRUMMEYYeah, yeah, I mean, it's a huge place, so hopefully I have -- you have time, like spend -- take a couple of weeks or three weeks, if you can, because it's...
REHMAnd after 9/11 and the U.S. airspace was closed, didn't Newfoundland open its airspace and, actually, homes...
REHM...to stranded passengers?
CRUMMEYThere were hundreds of planes that were forced to land in Gander and in St. Johns and people ended up staying there for -- some of them for a week to 10 days.
CRUMMEYAnd people basically just took them into their homes. And there are some beautiful stories that have come out of that, of people who come back from the states every year because of the friendships that they developed or of people who have started scholarships for the schools in the towns where they were put up during that time. Newfoundlanders have been famous for their hospitality and it's mostly because, you know, in a place that isolated, when you have visitors, you go out of your way.
CRUMMEYAnd so they love to see people coming in, especially when things are hard. That was the other thing, people were forced to depend on one another and that was one thing that people prided themselves on, was going out of their way to help people in trouble. So I think that was one modern example of Newfoundlanders at their best.
REHMMichael, give us a brief synopsis of this book.
CRUMMEYBriefly, primarily "Galore" is the story of two families in an isolated Newfoundland out-port. The matriarch of the one family, the Irish Catholic family, is a woman named Devine's widow. She's so old that nobody can remember her Christian name, so they just call her Devine's widow. The patriarch of the Sellers family, the protestant family, who are the merchant family, the richest family in the community, is a man named King-me Sellers. He's called King-me because he has a penchant for cheating at checkers.
CRUMMEYAnd King-me and Devine's widow despise one another and it has something to do with a rebuffed marriage proposal, but they really do not like each other. And as I mentioned earlier, that dislike ends up coloring the six or seven generations of those two families that follow. And it's -- it's about -- it's about how those two families become one in the end and it's -- really, it's about Newfoundland.
CRUMMEYFor me, it's a story of that place and how people made their lives there.
REHMMichael Crummey, his new novel is titled "Galore." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go through to Baltimore, Md. Good morning, Tim. Tim, are you there? Let's try it again.
REHMYes, go right ahead, sir.
TIMCan you hear me? Yes, my last name is Scully and we've been able to trace ourselves to Newfoundland in 1760 and we stopped there. I was told that the name Scully is a derogatory term or some kind of insult and I'm wondering ,is that true? And is there a website or something where we could go and maybe try to find out beyond -- before Newfoundland where we came from?
CRUMMEYRight. Well, actually, I don't know the history of the Scully name, so I'm not sure -- it's certainly not derogatory anymore. You know, compared to Crummey, it's a grand name to have. But there are a couple of genealogical sites where -- I mean, the generic one is ancestery.com, which I'm sure you've heard of, but if you do a search for Newfoundland and genealogy, I think there are a number of people who have done quite a bit of work on different family names. And you may be able to track something down through that.
REHMHow far back does your family go?
CRUMMEYWell, as I mentioned earlier, we don't know. We know my father's grandfather fished in Newfoundland, but whether he was born in Newfoundland or came there from somewhere else, we don't know. And...
REHMAnd his name was Crummey.
CRUMMEYCrummey, that's right. And I have to admit, I'm quite happy not to know. To me, I've always been happy enough with the designation of Newfoundlander. I mean, that's explanation enough for myself of who I am and where I come from. In Newfoundland, often if you meet someone you don't know, the first question you ask is, who or where do you belong to? And they mean what town are you from or what's your family name, what's your family connection.
CRUMMEYAnd it's a way of mapping the world of Newfoundland, you know, where do you belong to, who do you belong to? And I've always felt, well, I belong to Newfoundland. That's where I'm from and I don't -- if someone could tell me, I'd be interested in hearing it, but I don't really care to know.
REHMOf course, you left Newfoundland for a while.
CRUMMEYI did and that's a Newfoundland story, really. There are 10s of thousands of Newfoundlanders who leave for work on a regular basis.
REHMIs that what you did?
CRUMMEYI left to go to school and then, I didn't really have anything to go back to, in terms of work, because I had dropped out of a PhD in English and there wasn't a lot I could think I could do with that in Newfoundland. I just found work where I was in Ontario. But I moved home about 11 years ago and I'm really grateful to be back.
CRUMMEYWhy am I grateful to be home? For one thing, I met my wife and married into a family. I have three step-kids now, but also, remember after getting -- I wasn't -- Newfoundlanders are famous for their love of Newfoundland. There's an old joke that says, how would know a Newfoundlander's in heaven? Well, they're the only unhappy people because they want to go back home.
CRUMMEYAnd Newfoundlanders are famous for pining when they're away. And I wasn't a piner. I was quite happy in Ontario, but after I moved home, after about six months, I thought, what in the name of God was I doing up there all that time? And I knew that I would never feel a sense of belonging anywhere in the world in the way that I felt it at home in Newfoundland.
CRUMMEYSo I'm very grateful to be back. And I think the book is partly about that as well, you know, that sense of -- Newfoundlanders are famous for that connection to the place, but I've always thought that the place doesn't return that affection in quite the same way. You know, it's always been an incredibly difficult place to make a go of it. So a lot of the relationships in the novel are unrequited and it's kind of a metaphor for that relationship to the place itself.
REHMMichael Crummey, his new novel, it's a prize-winner, it's titled "Galore." Thanks so much.
REHMI enjoyed talking with you.
CRUMMEYThanks for having me.
REHMThanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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