Leaving Wisdom by Sharon Butala

Leaving Wisdom starts off with a literal bang when retired social worker Judith slips and falls on the way to her retirement party. Her concussion is severe and the painful symptoms become part of the background for the rest of the story, seeping into Judith’s everyday interactions and accompanying her investigations into the past.  

Judith left her hometown of Wisdom at an early age and never returned, despite the fact that her sister, brother, and parents remained. She felt weighed down by the stifling atmosphere of religion and secrets. Once settled in the city, she busied herself with school, partners, children, and work, plowing through life, and doing what she felt needed to be done. She had no time to look up and reflect, to understand why she did the things she did or felt the things she felt. And now, retired, it was time. Judith is drawn back to Wisdom, not because she likes it, not even because she wants to reconnect with her siblings, but because she has questions. “Because this is where everything that matters has its beginnings.”

Hour by hour, once they turned south off the main highway, the roads became narrower and then narrower again, the shoulders too slim, often crumbling, and frequent potholes opened, or else asphalt frost bumps rose up, slowing them down. The landscape, too, became gloomier; there was a hint of the ominous in the silhouette of the long slopes of the hills, graceful in any other light, now stark and black against the dark-stained horizon. She had to fight not to say, “Turn back, I can’t do it. I was wrong.”

Leaving Wisdom highlights the long-lasting effects of war and the Holocaust. It implies that keeping one’s connection to it secret, hiding it from the next generation, only makes it take up more space, not less. As Judith uncovers the past and reflects on its consequences, she lives out her present. Although all fully grown, she has her children to think about in connection to the way she has lived her life. She wonders if she was a good enough mother; she is filled with guilt about the amount of time she spent at work helping other children instead of being at home with her own.

Judith’s story comes full circle. Life goes on, Judith with a new awareness and understanding of her role in it.

An intimate story of an older woman, Leaving Wisdom is beautifully written, intermingling the horrors of the world with the joys and sorrows of ordinary life; told with gentle humour and the insight of an experienced author.


Sharon Butala is the author of twenty-one books of fiction and nonfiction, numerous essays and articles, some poetry and five produced plays. She is an Officer of the Order of Canada. She lives in Calgary.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Thistledown Press (May 30 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 282 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771872365
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771872362

 -- Website

Naomi MacKinnon is a mother, daughter, wife, sister, friend, pet-lover, reader, walker, camper, and Nova Scotian. Naomi has contributed several guest reviews over the years to The Miramichi Reader. Her book review blog is Consumed By Ink.