- Ronald Poulton (Author)
Pale Blue Hope: Death and Life in Asian Peacekeeping. Turnstone Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- James Doyle (Author)
Transformations: The Life of Margaret Fulton, Canadian Feminist, Educator and Social Activist. ECW Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Valerie Raoul
James Doyle’s biography of Margaret Fulton is written from the perspective of a former colleague whose judgement is clear-sighted about what Fulton was able to accomplish in her long career as an academic and university administrator. During her time as the last Dean of Women at the University of British Columbia, she was already campaigning not only for women’s rights but for a shift to what she considered feminine values of inclusivity and egalitarianism. In 1978, she became President of Mount Saint Vincent University, the second woman to head a secular postsecondary institution in Canada (after Pauline Jewett at Simon Fraser University). Although the Mount had by 1978 become secular and co-ed, Fulton’s appointment was in keeping with its previous focus on women and faith-based commitment to community service. Her goals and attitudes reflect what was best in first- and second-wave feminism: a belief in women’s capacity to succeed in a man’s world (especially if they don’t marry and have children), accompanied by a desire to change that world so that they might also continue to maintain the nurturing and caring roles associated with feminine (sometimes religious) values. Fulton became involved in the environmental movement because of these beliefs. She was certainly concerned for women in the developing world, but maintained a focus on universal women’s rights rather than shifting to the “intersectional” analyses of gender, race, and class more typical of third-wave feminism. Her indomitable spirit pervades the book, which also conveys her reserve regarding personal relationships. After retiring in 1987, Fulton participated in a debate with then UBC President Martha Piper in a Women’s Studies class at UBC, on whether or not her model for administrative structures can actually work. Piper seemed in awe of this almost legendary role model, who defused a potentially difficult situation with her ready wit. Fulton remains an inspiring example of modestly Canadian idealism and the “never give up” spirit.
The Pale Blue Hope in the title of Ronald Poulton’s memoir about his experiences as a human rights lawyer on controversial assignments in Asia refers to the blue helmets worn by UN peacekeepers (often blood-smeared, as on the cover). The racy style provides a stark contrast to the biography of Fulton, which is strictly chronological, sober in tone, and extremely discreet about personal matters. Poulton’s account reads more like a thriller, and adopts a sophisticated structure interweaving two periods of his life when he was attached to UN missions: in Cambodia (in 1992-3 after the “killing fields”) and in Tajikistan (in 1998). A flashback to 1975-6 recalls his upbringing in Montreal (untouched by political changes in Québec), his success as a footballer, and the attraction he saw in the danger of UN missions. His involvement seems to have arisen from a liking for risk and a distaste for settling down, as much as from the Catholic ethic that initially inspired him. Unlike Fulton, he provides details of various sexual escapades (with a Russian “long-legged dictionary” among others) and personal memories such as nightmares. These evoke scary female figures who might really be men, and the Tajikistan he arrives in is described as “a prostitute with her legs spread wide.” This is very much a man’s view of the world, and the UN forces are expected to go in as virile heroes to save damsels and others in distress. His own assignment in both places is to uncover the murderers of UN personnel, and this goal certainly contributes to the “thriller” aspect of his story. However, a parallel discourse of disillusionment conveys the message that the UN is failing to fulfill its mandate. Any positive results appear to be due to luck rather than strategic planning, and those executed as assassins may or may not be the true culprits: the mysteries remain mysterious, the detective unconvinced. Ultimately, Poulton will return to Canada and become a family man, marked by the necessary but disheartening discovery that “every decision becomes the wrong decision . . . you find yourself searching for some moral standard by which to judge something awful”—one which religion does not provide, and nor does the UN. This is an engaging and insightful account that conveys both the necessity for the UN to intervene more effectively, and the need for individuals involved to escape to private life in order to maintain their sanity. Idealists, whether they persist like Fulton or retreat like Poulton, are constantly up against reality checks.
- Witnessing Brandt & Tostevin by Lorraine Weir
Books reviewed: Dancing Naked--Narrative Strategies for Writing Across Centuries by Di Brandt and Subject to Criticism by Lola Lemire Tostevin
- Emily Carr: A Reappraisal by Linda M. Morra
Books reviewed: Emily Carr: New Perspectives on a Canadian Icon by Charles C. Hill, Johanne Lamoureux, and Ian M. Thom
- The Rising Daughter by Susan Fisher
Books reviewed: The Mountain Is Moving: Japanese Women's Lives by Patricia Morley and From My Grandmother's Bedside: Sketches of Postwar Tokyo by Norma Field
- Women Who Roughed It by Janice Fiamengo
Books reviewed: A Gentlewoman in Upper Canada: The Journals, Letters and Art of Anne Langton by Barbara Williams and Marie-Anne: The Extraordinary Life of Louis Riel's Grandmother by Maggie Siggins
- Recovery and Revaluation by Veronica Austen
Books reviewed: African Nova Scotian-Mi'kmaw Relations by Paula Madden and Multimodality in Canadian Black Feminist Writing: Orality and the Body in the Work of Harris, Philip, Allen, and Brand by Maria Caridad Casas
MLA: Raoul, Valerie. Canadian Idealists?. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 22 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #206 (Autumn 2010). (pg. 126 - 128)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.