A Time of Light and Shadow by Ella Harvey

I met Ella Harvey, of all places, at a museum. A maritime museum. World Maritime Day was just around the corner, although neither of us was aware of this. But it’s a rather big deal amongst those in the maritime world. So perhaps it’s fitting that not long after that I was immersed in Ella’s engrossing memoir, A Time of Light and Shadow. I knew of her previously published work, but this is the first to reach a much wider audience. An eager audience that continues to grow. So, what makes our maritime connection apropos? The fact that A Time of Light and Shadow shuttles us over the globe, leaping oceans to distant lands, with water views and rivered enclaves abutting the sea.

“In 1975, a time of new freedom for women, Ella Harvey lived in Paris, worked as a nurse in war-torn Lebanon, and fell in love in Istanbul. Jostled between cultures, between love and loss, she found her way home. A year later, restless once again, she set off alone for India, a land of unsettling contradictions.”

“The stories she shares, and the manner in which they’re shared, draws in the reader, staking claim on common ground.”

And with this, we join Ella, a few decades ago, as she ventures out, skilled, competent, and wonderfully raw with respect to much of the world. A well-educated, globetrotting novice.

“By 1980 Ella was working for the International Red Cross, immersed in the heart-wrenching tragedy of a Cambodian refugee camp, and later that same year with the nomadic Issa in the drought-ridden desert of Djibouti, Africa. Faced with the immensity of poverty and suffering, her commitment to service was shaken.”

Something all of us can relate to, irrespective of what we do or who it’s done for. Which is a facet of this book that resonates. Relatability. Although most of the author’s international experiences are utterly unlike my own, the stories she shares, and the manner in which they’re shared, draws in the reader, staking claim on common ground. Not always comfortable. But unfailingly enticing. That remarkable manner in which inhospitable places can often be oddly welcoming.

“Four decades later, in 2019, Ella returned to India, asking herself as an older woman, “Would I dare do now what I readily did then?” A Time of Light and Shadow explores one woman’s complicity in privilege, a troubled past with her mother, and reflections on solitude and friendship, youth and aging, longing and belonging.”

Once more we visit shared space and emotional mutuality. Irrespective of personal experience, we can all relate to going back, or at least attempting those journeys. To which none of us can anticipate the outcome. I applaud Ella Harvey for the creation of this poignant, thought-provoking and entertaining memoir. Of course, I’m left wanting to know and experience more. Which is exactly how we should feel at the end of a very good book.

Title: A Time of Light and Shadow
Author: Ella Harvey
Publisher: Rocky Mountain Books, 2022
ISBN: 9781771605694
Pages: 312


Ella Harvey’s diverse career and her adventurous spirit have taken her to remote regions of the world, with experiences in Asia and Africa contributing to her worldview. She has lived on five continents and worked on four. Along with A Time of Light and Shadow, she is also the author of Encounters on the Front Line: Cambodia – A Memoir. Ella lives in beautiful Victoria, on the west coast of Canada, yet is frequently found dreaming of elsewhere.

Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of A Season on Vancouver Island, the Gone Viking travelogues, and A Perfect Day for a Walk: The History, Cultures, and Communities of Vancouver, on Foot (Arsenal Pulp Press, Fall 2024). Recipient of a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society for his expeditions, Bill’s a frequent presenter and contributor to magazines, universities, podcasts, TV and radio. When not trekking with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, where he lives near the sea on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land. 

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