Context & Content: The Memoir of a Fortunate Architect by A.J. Diamond

The writer is an Officer of the Order of Canada and received lifetime achievement as an architect. He has lived a great deal. At 173 pages, the memoir is fairly short for the genre. I wish it had been longer, and more evenly paced. Halfway through the book we have only had recounts of up to his university days and the complexities of getting a contract through Russia’s red tape. The importance of this contract he doesn’t state but we are left to presume that his great-grandfather and family left Russia by stealth as Jewish people but he returns as a ruling hero, not secretly, not in danger, but as a respected professional.

It is a superficial account rather than a reflective life story. The most striking impression I get upon reading is that he either ignored, overruled or wasn’t given a strong-handed editor to tell him, expand on this, trim back here. For example, at one point he says his grandfather tucks him in for the night and then falls dead of a heart attack across his boyhood bed. The story swiftly moves on, grandfather hardly mentioned before or after, and no fall out explicitly mentioned. Oddly he takes a large amount of space at his official speaker’s corners to call out one competition for not dealing fairly and awarding Moshe a contract after he had been eliminated in an earlier round.

The Context & Content of the title isn’t delivered. Oddly for a book concerning his projects, there is only one sketch of a project, yet 16 pages of photos of people, including, unfortunately, his mugging with Putin. It opens with his family tree, yet he makes brief mention of any family. There are proportionally more pictures of his rugby career than a mention of it in the text. As a junkie of architect talks, there are familiar elements, the great length gone into for the competition that wasn’t won by their firm.

Other memoirs among the two dozen I’ve read in the last couple of years, there are often through-lines, or touchstones, some nod to literary cohesion. The writer tries to set out the implications and impacts of events on later events and their choices and character and unpack their life. There’s an artifice as in the theatre of if there’s a revolver on the stage in Act 1 it will get used.

This in contrast struck me more as a recorded oral history, where one thing after another occurs as a bullet list. The Acknowledgements include thanks to people for editing structure, sequence and clarity but I wonder if a partner-writer/editor could have helped shape the manuscript and drawn out more. Even simple things such as when recounting his youth in South Africa, an editor could mention the distance travelled rather than state the names of two cities.

The subtitle mentions his fortunate turns in life but it’s underplayed and not explicitly said how he feels about his branch of the family having a summer and winter home and servants, while another branch of his family did not escape the holocaust. Did he have any special joy or guilt or drive? Is that why losing a commission for the holocaust burned? He wanted personally to express on a grand scale a tribute to who could have been? What are his take-aways and lessons in life?

It is not uncommon for public figures to make two or three memoirs. Perhaps he will make another.

A.J. Diamond is a Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Gold Medallist, an Officer of the Order of Canada, and a member of the Order of Ontario. He has received both the Jane Jacobs Lifetime Achievement Award and the Ontario Association of Architects Lifetime Design Achievement Award. Diamond lives in Toronto.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Dundurn Press (May 17 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 208 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1459749766
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1459749764

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Pearl Pirie's WriteBulb is now available at the Apple store. A prompt app for iOS 15 and up gives writing achievement badges. Pirie’s 4th poetry collection was footlights (Radiant Press, 2020).  rain’s small gestures(Apt 9 Press, 2021), minimalist poems, won the 2022 Nelson Ball Prize. Forthcoming chapbooks from Catkin Press and Turret House. Find more at or at