Reviewed by Ranga Iyer
The powerful imagery created by Frances Itani in Tell is the best. Her tale is about simple, everyday town people—but the courage and strength with which each character lives and shapes their life is amazing. Itani’s simple narration is a bonus; in fact that is the true protagonist.
It is 1919 and people of Deseronto are trying hard to recover from their wounds of the past. There is Kenan, a soldier who has returned home to his wife after fighting the war. He is dealing with many mental scars besides his physical ones. An orphan, he is raised by Uncle Oak and is married to Tress.
Tress’s middle-aged aunt Maggie is seeking a little more than her ordinary life with her husband Am. In this sleepy little town, Maggie dares to explore the possibilities it has to offer her. And she discovers her two loves—singing and Luc—a music teacher she falls passionately in love with. Each character has grown older and evolved from their earlier self and they have all created a world of their own. Maggie for instance, she is in love with Luc and is beyond care. Am, on his part is aware about the changed situation in their lives, but wants to wait for an appropriate time to talk to Maggie about it.
Couples share a relationship of total understanding at times. Tress, without mentioning or talking to Kenan about getting out of the house uses suggestive measures including buying a new coat and a skate. The symbolism is very endearing. Changes occur in Kenan, Tress, Maggie, Am and other lives; but the love, understanding and the relationship these people have built with each other weathers the entire storm.
Lucid, simple, easy narration is what comes to mind while reading Tell. Secrets are revealed without much drama. While spending a quiet evening of sharing a few drinks in the calm of a late evening with Kenan, Am discovers Maggie’s affair.
The simmering, happenings beneath the surface of that tranquility is portrayed beautifully—Am’s presence in the house hangs heavily on Maggie. It is not an easy feeling. It limits and restricts her from doing things she loves—experience freedom and liberation by just being herself.
Kenan’s reliving the war after coming back to his hometown is intense. A powerful depiction is the one where Kenan is looking at a sepia-toned picture of him with his fellow soldiers—an indicator of how things have changed for these soldiers. The picture/photograph is a solid commentary of how these soldiers will never be the men they were before.
‘Tell’ is a choice literally given to its characters—to share and talk about their wounds, thoughts and life in a very matter of fact manner. Nothing should stop the flow and energy of living. It is this uninterrupted flow that makes this book a real treasure. Every word is connected and weaved into a sentence and thus narration is formed. You do not want to leave out reading a single sentence. The book captures and demands your attention. Wow, what a command over narration. The ease with which the narration flows keeps you hooked on the book.
Itani takes, carries and keeps you tied to her story.
Tell is published by Harper Collins Canada.