A vibrant, personal and insightful book will be celebrated this Friday during a special launch for Edmonton-based author Peter Midgley.
Marking the release of Counting Teeth: A Namibian Story, the launch will be held in The Coconut Room (upstairs in Sunworks) on Oct. 24th at 7 p.m.
The book follows a journey with his daughter across Namibia – where Midgley was born.
Visiting museums and gravesites, crossing border checkpoints and changing tires, they travel its length and breadth.
As is so aptly worded on the book itself, ‘Stories about Portuguese explorers and the first genocide of the 20th century collect on the back seat of their car alongside the author’s earliest memories of growing up in the country. By the end of the journey, the stories piece together into an understanding of Namibia’s present and make it possible for Midgley to share his love for this complicated, vibrant place with his daughter.’
“Throughout, I’m working with real-time events from our trip, the histories of the genocide and the war for liberation, as well as layers of memory from my childhood and from my time in Namibia at the time of independence,” he explains of the process of writing the book. “Integrating all these elements from different times into a narrative was really tough.
“Personally, this was an important story to tell. It’s a story that has been milling around my head for a long time, looking for an appropriate shape.”
When it comes to effectively reconstructing scenes that took place in the past, Midgley really shines as well.
“I realized in the mid-1980s that I was witnessing some significant changes in the world and I’ve kept notes of events and encounters that I think have story potential in them,” he explains. “I won’t call them diaries. They’re too sporadic and not contained in a book or proper filing system. They’re a box of memories jotted down.
“While writing, I sifted through that box often to rattle up some skeletons. On the trip, too, I made careful notes of each conversation right after it happened. As we drove away from a place, I would dictate notes to my daughter, Sinead. At night, I’d recreate these notes in a diary.”
As the story – or rather stories unfold – the reader is introduced to so much; Midgley said capturing all the richness of a place – any place – begins with taking notice of our surroundings more carefully.
“We grow up surrounded by rich history, whether it’s in Red Deer or Okahandja,” he observes. “We generally just don’t notice it because we’re in the midst of it and it doesn’t look interesting.
“What I write about isn’t ‘new’ history for me. It’s what I grew up with, what I was surrounded with in family stories, in the places we visited on trips. It was there in the school curricula and what I later learned wasn’t in those curricula, like the stories of resistance.
“That part is a history I discovered as I came to political consciousness. In researching Counting Teeth, I simply built on a framework that was there. Stepping back from it and returning was a wonderful way to rediscover what was there all along. I learned new things daily on the trip and in the books I read. Disturbing things that are only just surfacing as the dust of the war settles. All of that just made that substrate from my youth all the more fascinating to me.”
Reflecting on the experience of both visiting Namibia and recording much about it on a number of levels, Midgley notes that ultimately, he has powerful connections to all the places in which he has lived. “That’s what memories are – powerful connections. For me, one of the beautiful things about living is working with those connections and tensions in a globalized world.
“Our modern world is complex and while it’s incredibly local on many levels, it intertwines with the world beyond the local in ways it never did before. Yes, I feel strongly about what happened in Namibia and South Africa, just as I feel strongly about human rights abuses in Canada, in the U.S.A., in Rwanda, in China and elsewhere in this interconnected world.
“Counting Teeth may be a story about Namibia, but I think there’s a broader story underneath, one about our apparent inability to learn from the mistakes of the past.”
Earlier this year, the Editors’ Association of Canada announced Midgley was the winner of the 30th annual Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence for his work on The Last Temptation of Bond by acclaimed Red Deer author Kimmy Beach.
Midgley is also the author of the collection, perhaps i should/miskien moet ek (poetry in English and Afrikaans), Sol Plaatje: An Introduction, three children’s books and numerous plays.
Admission to this Friday’s launch is free and everyone is welcome. There will be appetizers and a cash bar.