Etta and Otto .. by Emma Hooper

Etta and Otto image         smaller starsmaller starsmaller starsmaller starsmaller star

A Canadian book by a Canadian author for Canada Day! maple leaf pic

I had heard about this book for some time and was intrigued by the title, but I finally got around to reading/listening to it this past month when I took out the audiobook from the library. Turns out, it was definitely worth checking out!

This is a love story that spans fifty years, three lives, two continents and an ocean. It tells of school teacher Etta, who settles in the Canadian prairies during the Great Depression and of the two pupils who fall in love with her: Russell, a city boy who takes to farming despite his twisted leg, and Otto, who struggles in school but always tries hard – even when he’s sent to fight a war in a distant land. It is a story of love and joy, pain and passion, memory and forgetting – and one incredible journey. It is the story of Etta and Otto and Russell and James. (from the publisher)

Etta, an eighty-two year old woman, has never seen the ocean so one day she decides to pack a bag and walk there. From Saskatchewan.

(In case you don’t know Canadian geography, that’s a very long walk: see map)

canada labelled

Even though it may look small, Canada is over 9000 km (5k miles) wide

I know the summary doesn’t give you much to go on but it’s a book you probably want to go into a little blind, so you can discover all it has to offer for yourself. And it’s such a sweet book! Though our main characters are seniors, the story alternates between past and present so we get to see them as children while learning how they’re all tied together.

This was my first experience with an audiobook and I think hearing the narrator’s different voices for each of the characters really added to the story. Though the changes he made to his voice were quite subtle, I was able to immediately pick up on who was speaking, which is certainly needed when you don’t have a written copy to follow along with. Robert G. Slade is an excellent storyteller so what a treat for my first listen! I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for other books he has narrated. Having his voice accompany the story definitely added to my enjoyment of this book!

I did occasionally have some difficulty following along as a name was mentioned that I didn’t recognize or I had missed out on some earlier detail, problems I expect to come along with the audiobook format. Though the book isn’t supposed to be straightforward, as the author encourages readers to come up with their own interpretations of events, I would like to reread/physically read it so I can pick up all the nuances in the writing.

Fortunately, I loved the book so I can’t wait to explore the story a second time!

While the stories of the characters are very unique, there is much that ties them to Canada and I’m sure people from across the country will recognize their home in the landscape descriptions of Etta’s journey. A great read to celebrate this holiday!

What books are you reading this Canada Day?

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