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About the Book

About the Book

The Danger Tree: Memory, War, and the Search for a Family's Past

Award-winning author and journalist David Macfarlane was born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario, "an unexceptional place" in his own words; "Up-Along," as it was called by his mother's Newfoundland relatives. A world away from that bleak and sea-swept island of his mother's birth, the schoolboy prepared annual social-studies reports on the glories of Hamilton, sat through the legendary silences of his father's dour Scots-Canadian relatives, and soaked up the stories told by his mother's father about the Goodyears of Newfoundland. Those stories both inspire and inform The Danger Tree, Macfarlane's critically acclaimed history of his mother's family. In addition to garnering praise from all quarters when first published in Canada and the United States (as Come from Away) in 1991, The Danger Tree won the Canadian Authors Award for Non-Fiction and was the subject of a 1995 documentary film.

Macfarlane elegantly interweaves a hundred years' worth of stories about his mother's grandparents, parents, uncles, and aunt with key incidents from Newfoundland's history and the great twentieth-century events that shaped the fates of both family and island. Emulating his grandfather's circuitous storytelling method—liberally digressing but somehow getting back to the point—Macfarlane has created a masterpiece of remembrance, an indelible saga of one family's ill-starred yet heroic fortunes.

A haunting image from World War I provides the book with its title and focuses our attention on the central event in the Goodyear history: the battlefield deaths of three sons. But Macfarlane also gives due attention to the ravages of tuberculosis, the great ice-field seal hunts, the decline of the Newfoundland fisheries, the family's ultimately bankrupt business dealings, and the bitter debate over confederation with Canada. In an amazing re-creation of scenes on Europe's Western Front, he shows with convincing force why the Great War—in which three of the six Goodyear brothers were killed and two-thirds of the Newfoundlander volunteers were killed or woundedaffected Newfoundland and the Goodyears more than anything else in the island's history. "The century that carried on past the moments of their deaths was not what it might have been," Macfarlane writes. "It was largely a makeshift arrangement, cobbled around their constant and disastrous absence."

With profound affection, Macfarlane brings back to life a colorful cast of characters: his great-grandparents, Josiah and Louisa Goodyear, and their seven children: Josiah (Joe—the author's grandfather), Roland, Hedley, Stanley, Kenneth, Raymond, and Daisy (called Kate). While Joe's marathon stories give the book its soul, the tragedy at the center of the Goodyear's story is personified by Kate, who, until her death, burst into tears at the merest mention of her three lost brothers and who somehow embodied the family's forever-transformed passion for their island. The Danger Tree is a striking examination of the ways in which families live out their culture and environment and of the ways in which history and individual lives intersect.

The Danger Tree: Memory, War, and the Search for a Family's Past
by David Macfarlane

  • Publication Date: April 1, 2001
  • Paperback: 307 pages
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • ISBN-10: 0802776167
  • ISBN-13: 9780802776167