Review by Frank Johnson
Into the burgeoning field of climate change novels we receive Burning Souls by former Ottawa City Councillor David Chernushenko. This book is different. Do not pick it up unless you’re prepared to stay up late finishing it.
Chernushenko has a notable pedigree as an educator, filmmaker and author. His service on the council of the City of Ottawa included being chair of the Environment and Climate Protection Committee. That breadth of background knowledge shines through in this novel.
Crafted around the adventures of four optimistic Cambridge graduate students, it is well-paced and compelling. The principal characters – Sagan, Jenny, Jiro and Simone – develop interests and careers in climate science, business and journalism. Each is well developed and their stories form an excellent narrative that underpins the novel.
Chernushenko manages to join all the dots between the symptoms and events of the growing crisis, tracing an arc from the “Lost Decade” of the 1990s to a nail-biting finale in the mid-2020s. He brings a wealth of accurate information, garnered during his career interest in climate change and responsible lifestyles. His insight into the Machiavellian intrigues within politics and commerce are frightening enough, but his predictions of the course of events in the world at large will take away what little sleep you might have hoped for.
Novels in this genre are necessarily didactic and portentous. Chernushenko, however, navigates this with panache, speaking through his characters with precision and depth. The multifaceted dark sides of our society are exposed to the searing light of consequence. Given the news each day (Humans threaten one million species with extinction, Nature’s emergency in five graphics, Five things we have learned from the nature crisis study, just to look at one news site in the past week!) together with the increasing number of declarations of “climate emergency” by governments and school children around the world, his illumination is timely and sobering.
An intriguing thread throughout the novel is the many references to an encyclical published by Pope Francis in 2015 titled Laudato si: On Care for Our Common Home. This oft-overlooked work is a lucid account of the harm inflicted on the earth by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed it. Whatever one’s spiritual outlook, the theme merits careful attention, especially in light of the generations of exploitation justified by a misinterpretation of the injunction to “fill the earth and subdue it.” Apocalyptic fatalism and its ties to fundamentalism – as Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale so aptly cautions – have long served as an excuse for capitalistic greed. It is a bankrupt philosophy that demands more vigorous confrontation (as indeed some apologists in addition to Pope Francis are attempting, such as David Bookless, Ontario native; Katherine Hayhoe, Director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University; or Wendel Berry).
Chernushenko explores the redemptive power of acting with courage and integrity and the value of close friends in the face of critics and opponents, but ultimately comes to the same position as many mythopoetic authors before him: a physical extermination of evil is the only remaining option. Will the travails of his characters compel us to the same position? Do we have the courage of Simone to take up those arms? The arc of history traced in this novel may portend only one conclusion.
Burning Souls was launched at Southminster United Church on May 27. It is available in most local bookstores and online. Chernushenko’s cross-country Electrified Burning Souls Road Trip began on June 3.
Frank Johnson is a local businessman and passionate and involved member of the Glebe community.
By Caitlin Giffin
Here at the children’s department of the Sunnyside library, we are eagerly anticipating our most favourite event of the year – the TD Summer Reading Club! This year is especially exciting because our theme is sure to be a crowd pleaser; we will be exploring all things relating to the natural world. We will have tons of great things going on at the library, with special visits from the Diefenbunker museum, the Zoo Crew and artist Wendy Quirt, as well as special programming throughout the summer. And of course we will be digging up our famous treasure chest for the occasion! Here are some great books about the natural world to get you and the little ones in your life curious and ready for the summer.
Mae Among the Stars
by Rhoda Ahmed
Mae Among the Stars tells the true story of Dr. Mae Jameson, the first African-American woman to travel to space. Told in simple accessible language, the book follows young Mae as she discovers her dream to become an astronaut. Although she encounters people who don’t believe in her, she learns to believe in herself with the help of her encouraging parents. Accompanied by Stasia Burrington’s lovely illustrations, this is a great picture book for children who dream about space or need encouragement to follow their dreams.
Secrets of the Vegetable Garden
by Carron Brown
Non-fiction picture books are a fantastic way to keep a child engaged while learning new things. Secrets of the Vegetable Garden is a great first look at how vegetables grow, and the different animal friends that play a part in our gardens. This book is from the Shine-A-Light series and is best read with a flashlight in hand because you may see some surprises hidden on the pages!
Every Day Birds
by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
A great pick for your pint-sized bird watcher, Every Day Birds introduces young readers to the birds we see in our daily lives in the city. Accompanied by Dylan Metrano’s beautiful cut-paper illustrations, this is a great book for learning to identify blue jays, robins, nuthatches and all sorts of feathery friends. Read this book and then see how many different kinds of birds you can spot on your next walk!
by Katie Scott and Kathy Willis
Botanicum is a big beautiful non-fiction book all about the amazing and diverse plant life in the world. With chapters on trees, herbaceous plants and environmental adaptation, this is a great pick for school-age botanists but is worth a look just for the stunning illustrations.
Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock
by Dallas Hunt
Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock tells the tale of a young girl who goes on an errand through the woods to deliver her Kôhkum’s famous bannock. On the way disaster strikes and she drops the bannock off a bridge! Will Awâsis be able to get out of this pickle with the help of her animal friends? Author Dallas Hunt sprinkles Cree words throughout the story and provides a handy pronunciation guide in the back for those new to the language. A fun read for young animal lovers and those interested in learning some new words in Cree.
These books and so many more are available at the Ottawa Public Library.
Caitlin Giffin is children’s programs and public service assistant at the Sunnyside Branch of the Ottawa Public Library.