Last year, the wonderful Jessica from Not My Typewriter invited me to Hamilton, Ontario to check out the local gritLIT Festival. I had such a great time dropping in on multiple readings and soaking up the atmosphere — I was surrounded by readers and book lovers all day — it was fabulous. This year, gritLIT will be held from April 7th – 10th. I can’t wait to visit for my second year in a row! To find out more about the festival and the amazing programming, visit their website and visit them on Twitter.
To get the lit love going, gritLIT is also hosting its first blog tour! I’m so proud to be a part of it and I’m so lucky to have gotten a chance to read a great book by Canadian writer, journalist, and folklorist Emily Urquhart.
It’s kind of serendipitous that my pick for this tour ended up being Beyond the Pale by Emily Urquhart. When I was an intern at HarperCollins Canada, I saw this book daily; I was always intrigued by it, but I never got around to picking it up. In Beyond the Pale, Urquhart is on a journey to learn more about albinism: what it is, what challenges it brings, how cultures around the world perceive people with albinism, and how it relates to her family. As someone who makes a goal to read more non-fiction year after year, Beyond the Pale appealed to me as Urquhart has a personal connection to her research — her daughter, Sadie, has albinism — and that gave what may have felt like an academic text an anchor for me and created an extra level of intimacy and understanding. While reading the book I often put myself in Urquhart’s shoes: how would I have reacted in her situation?
I really appreciate how open and honest Urquhart is with her experience. Upon learning her daughter’s diagnosis, she was, understandably, nervous and worried. Instead of glossing over this fact, Urquhart faces her emotions head on and guides readers through her process of understanding this genetic condition. This process takes Urquhart from Victoria, BC to St. Louis, Missouri to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. She uses real stories to help readers understand what it’s like to live with albinism — the lower vision, the extreme sensitivity to sun, the difficulties that may arise socially — and succeeds in touching an emotional chord. That being said, as a folklorist, Urquhart also uses myths and folktales (paired with beautiful, honest writing) to round out her research.
I loved this unique twist in a non-fiction book. Utilizing stories and folklore may seem counter-intuitive, but Urquhart makes some really great points for it:
“I am not certain that we are better off for knowing the molecular story rather than the folktale, or whether there is room for both. Science can tell you how genetic anomalies and birth defects happen, but not why they happened to you rather than your neighbour… Here is the value of folklore: it gives shape to the unknowable.” — pg. 24
As an avid reader, I do believe that stories can help us navigate new, “unknowable” situations. They have the power to comfort you while confronting your biggest fears, and because of that, the are incredibly valuable.
Overall, Beyond the Pale was an eye-opening read. Urquhart’s was driven by one of the most powerful feelings — a mother’s love — and used that compassion with her journalistic eye to write an approachable yet researched book about a not often talked about condition. If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about albinism, I would highly recommend it. If not for the actual scientific explanations (of which there are not many), then for the fierce portrayal of a mother’s unconditional love for her daughter.
Have you read Beyond the Pale? Did you ever learn about albinism in school? Do you think there is merit to studying folklore and science hand-in-hand?