Sometimes I am such a laggard when it comes to either reading a book I’ve had for some time, or writing it’s review. In the case of Rough and Plenty from WLU Press, it is the former. I originally requested this book back in July of 2019 and I soon had it in my mailbox. However, it has sat on my TBR table until a week ago, when I picked it up and decided to take a further look into it. I was immediately engrossed and finished the book in a few days. I hold that there is a time to read certain books, and they will let you know when they want to be heard.
Author Raymond A. Rogers employed his occupation as a Nova Scotian fisher in the mid-’70s to create a type of memoir/journal that is a fine example of creative non-fiction, much like Sonja Boon’s What the Oceans Remember, which is a WLU Press Life Writing series title as well.
As the fishery collapsed out from under him, he was forced to seek out employment in the west to be able to live out his desire to build a house and a boat in Shelburne County, Nova Scotia. Near his property, there is the weathered gravestone of Donald MacDonald, a native of the Island of Lewis, who was compelled to leave his home in Scotland to find a better life on these shores. Mr. Rogers pondered the idea of their shared experience, the result of which is Rough and Plenty. Subtitled “A Memorial” it is indeed that, to the disposed Highlanders who were crowded out to make room for the laird’s sheep and the stalwart fishers on this side of the Atlantic ocean who were fished out of business by the huge draggers of the Soviets Union and other countries. Canada’s own Department of Fisheries failed to act on their behalf, leading to an exodus of young men and women west to seek, not a fortune, but a living.
There are two frames that organize the work: one connects the stories of Donald McDonald’s life and my own life as our fates were linked in this landscape/seascape in southwest Nova Sco tia. The other is more formal and historical and has to do with the dispossession that is central to entrances into modernity for particular groups; that dispossession is reflected in the way the three sections of the book are set out to convey the increasing enclosure of the commons. For the purposes of this work, fishers and crofters share a broad definition: they are both small-scale artisanal, largely subsistence members of decentralized rural communities. Property rights are informal and largely held in common. In the case of the crofters, they are the descendants of the Scottish clans who had inhabited the Highlands and Islands for generations but who became “redundant populations” standing in the way of large-scale forms of sheep farming and agriculture. Similarly, as small-scale artisanal participants in an increasingly industrialized fishery, the inshore fishers came to be seen as inconsequential and inefficient; when the fish stocks began to collapse there was a consensus that there were “too many boats chasing too few fish,” and inshore quotas were cut This forced the artisanal fishers out of the industry. The privatization of fish quota became an industry-funded downsizing strategy that rewarded those with the deepest pockets.
In Rough and Plenty, I read of the plight of Highland Scots, how they were bound to live out a subsistence life, always in debt to the landowner. Emigration was the only way out (other than the army), though understandably many did not want to leave the land of their birth. Mr. Rogers skillfully juxtaposes their labours with his own in a workcamp building a dam in Manitoba. The life was not a comfortable one, the sole upside that of being well-paid.
For the most part, I try to keep to myself, do my job, save my money, and count the days until I can take up my hammer again and work on my house and begin to build a new boat. But that is not the case for everyone there. Long Spruce can knock you sideways and change you in ways that seem irrevocable. If you survive, you are a different person on the other side. This is what worries me above all else. I want to be able to take up a life again that had seemed to have only just begun.
Nevertheless, as the author states in the prologue:
For all its grief, it [Rough and Plenty] is meant to provide ballasted hope for those who might fee) increasingly rudderless and adrift in the powerful currents of the present. It is important to tell yourself a story that makes you strong. Despite all of its grief and suffering, this story a kind of inoculation against the banalities and savagery of modern life-is one that I hope can give you strength.
I cannot stress enough that Rough and Plenty is a startingly masterful work of creative non-fiction. The stories of both the crofters and the Nova Scotian fishers are well-told, based on historical fact and eye-witness accounts, such as the author’s own. Kudos to WLU Press for continuing to publish such excellent titles.
RAYMOND A. ROGERS was a professor in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University for twenty-five years. He is the author of three previous books: Nature and the Crisis of Modernity, The Oceans Are Emptying: Fish Wars and Sustainability, and Solving History: The Challenge of Environmental Activism. He earned the first Ph.D. in Environmental Studies in Canada.
- Publisher : Wilfrid Laurier University Press; Illustrated edition (Feb. 15 2020)
- Language: : English
- Paperback : 332 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1771124369
- ISBN-13 : 978-1771124362
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