Governor General Award winning author Kevin Major has written a sweeping historical saga of under 300 pages; one that is easily worthy of two or three times that many. Found Far and Wide (2016, Breakwater Books) tells the story of Sam Kennedy from the outport village of Harbour Main where he lives with his father and sister (his mother died when he was very young) and his life’s adventures when he decides to strike out on his own, more or less to escape the meagre life of a fisherman that his father has managed to eke out.
A Four Part Saga
Found Far and Wide consists of four parts, each one a different stage in young Sam Kennedy’s life; each part has a major historic event that Sam finds himself as a participant in. Part I finds Sam in the seal hunt aboard Abram Kean’s ship in the Newfoundland Sealing Disaster of 1914 (see Left to Die by Gary Collins). In Part II, Sam joins the Newfoundland Regiment and is heavily involved in the unsuccessful Gallipoli Campaign of the Great War. It is here that Johnny, a Labrador boy, shows Sam a picture of his girl who will haunt Sam from now on. Part III and Sam is working the high steel, building the skyscrapers of New York City along with other Newfoundlanders, Mohawks from Quebec and Americans. As it is during the time of Prohibition and Sam is off work due to a small rib injury he sustained in a fall, he hooks up with a rum-runner, making more money than he ever has before. Part IV finds Sam back in Newfoundland working for the Grenfell Mission and crosses paths with Italian Air Force General Italo Balbo (and his fleet of 24 water planes on a stop-over in Cartwright) and Charles Lindbergh (from whom he receives a punch in the head).
Stark, Yet Detailed
Found Far and Wide has a certain indefinable starkness to it, yet it is not devoid of details when it comes to describing the war in the Dardanelles, or how riveting steel beams is accomplished dozens of stories above ground, or what life in New York City was like in Prohibition days. However, it is this starkness that gives this book it’s ‘feel’ and at the same time mirrors Sam’s life as a poor fisherman in Harbour Main, as a killer of seals on the ice floes, a killer of Turks in the mud and filth of Gallipoli, or balancing on a steel beam high above New York. Usually devoid of money or any worldly possessions, the only time Sam has real money is from his rum-running:
Sam sat back, folded his arms, a drink in his hand and a smile across his face wider than any that had been there in months. There was big money to be made, and when he had enough he had big plans to set in motion.
Happiness, Sam believes, will be his when he meets up with Emma (Johnny’s girl) and surely she will marry him. This story line takes up part IV of the book.
Overall, this was a great historical fiction read. Historical fiction has the value-added benefit of educating as well as entertaining, and Mr. Major has performed a masterful job of embedding Sam Kennedy in places and events that are certainly plausible for an adventurous young man living in the early days of the 20th century. My only knock against the story is that it is not entirely clear why Sam waits so long to look up Emma after returning from the war. Perhaps he wasn’t ready to return to Newfoundland yet? Also, it would have been advantageous to have a little more of Emma’s story fleshed out before she makes an actual appearance in Part IV. What were her thoughts at the time about Johnny’s heroic death in a war halfway around the world? Might she have been more open to Sam’s attentions had he not waited? These are questions the reader is left to answer based on what we know about Emma years later. As I mentioned at the outset, Found Far and Wide could easily have been much longer and still would be a great read. Mr. Major has left us wanting more, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.