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‘Bright Wings’

A new, lighthearted novel tells us about disappointment, destruction and death

By Carolyn Pogue

My favourite quote about Richard Solley's debut novel, Bright Wings, is by an English bishop: "Oh dear. We don't do things like that in our diocese."

Bright Wings helps to answer questions about why people of faith take action, whether on the street, at the blockade or in the courtroom. Advocates are often asked: “What's handcuffing yourself to a fence or a tree got to do with Jesus? Why would a church offer sanctuary to an illegal immigrant? What's offshore mining got to do with justice? And the classic, “Politics and religion don't mix; sit down, read your Bible and shut up.” Speaking for myself, it was reading the Bible that turned me into a activist. But I digress.

The subtitle to Bright Wings gives a clue about Kerry, the protagonist: A Lighthearted Tale of Disappointment, Destruction, Desperation and Death. Obviously, this author has a unique sense of humour that permeates his story, even when writing about hard issues. A soft-spoken Brit, Solley knows firsthand the questions people ask about Christian activism, and he has transformed these into a plot that takes readers from England to Central America, and from American reservations to Cree country in northern Canada. Readers will need to hold onto their hats; it's a wild ride.

For example, Solley takes us to meet displaced people and endangered communities. Liberation Theology, preached by leaders like Oscar Romero, underpins parts of the book. Readers will recall that the Salvadoran archbishop was assassinated while serving communion during Lent in 1980. And it is this theology that helps to inspire Kerry, a multilingual translator who seems to bumble from one situation to the next, seeking the Spirit as he goes.

It’s clear that Solley's life has informed his writing; his passion for a just world is poured out onto the pages of this book. I first met the author on the 1988 blockade at Little Buffalo in Cree Territory, Alta. (Aboriginal and church leaders from across North America were there, as well as European parliamentarians.). At the time, the Lubicon Cree made a stand to protect the land from oil and logging companies whose sole purpose was to make money. Moose and other game were fleeing, water and land were polluted, and a new road into the community resulted in many deaths. Tuberculosis and miscarriage rates steadily rose, too. And it was the Lubicon who received all of the negative impacts of this so-called development, but none of the benefits. This was in the days before the fad of wearing plastic wristbands stamped with "WWJD?" (What would Jesus do?). Quite simply, we were there because we believed that the Jesus we knew would stand with the Cree.

Set against a background of community immigration and resistance, environmental destruction, detention, love, repression and high jinks, Bright Wings is the story of a naive young man who makes some surprising choices and, in the end, learns to take a stand. It’s a good book to read anytime, but Lent seems particularly appropriate. After all, as we walk the long road to Golgotha, it’s nice to have fellow travellers in spirit along the way. Bright Wings is an excellent companion.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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