Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart: a book review

The 40-year old Liz Crane, the narrator of the book, is back to the orchard of her childhood on the beautiful shores of lake Erie. She revisited the places and the memories while now studying monarch butterflies as an entomologist at a nearby Sanctuary. The joy and excitement of her summer spent with her cousins running between the bushes, jumping over the streams, and swimming in the lake contrast with the complex and sometimes shadowy history of her family. But most importantly, the remembrance of the past helps Liz in her mourning journey and acceptance of the death of her favourite cousin Mandy killed in Afghanistan as a soldier. Sanctuary Line is a fascinating story about migration and life stages.

Jane Urquhart, the author, symbolically draws parallels between humans and butterflies. Human and butterflies metamorphosis are observed, scrutinized and studied. Birth in one place, seek of food and shelter, love encounter, mating and then death or disappearance in another. Monarch butterflies are similar to the migrants Mexican workers who come every summer to Southern Ontario to work in the orchards, they eat and save money, sometimes find a mate and maybe love. Then comes the time to fly home, live in another land, and establish other relations. Liz, is fascinated by the transformation of these magnificent butterflies as well as by the romanticised stories told to her by her eccentric, funny, and progressive uncle Stan Butler about the 19th century adventures of “the great-greats” who migrated from Ireland to North American and implemented two traditions for the Butler family : the farming branch and the lighthouse keeper branch.

Among the shattered and fragile remains of the old home where she spent her summer vacations, Liz tries to understand the actions of her uncle Stan and better appreciate the intelligence and sensitivity of her cousin Mandy. How can such a beautiful, immensely poetic girl turn into an ambitious soldier and adopt a military career that ends up abruptly and tragically? It seems that Liz in her own yearly short migration between the city of Toronto and the three months she spent at the lake at the family home, she became almost blind to the metamorphosis that took place inside her cousin. Bifurcation happened, different paths taken.

It is also the time for Liz to understand the life of her uncle Stan. She is the fatherless city girl looking for a male role model, amazed by the kindness and the generosity of this uncle. She secretly agrees with him on many accounts but especially when it comes to play with little Teo, the Mexican boy who comes along with his mom to work in the orchards every summer. Contrary to her cousins who totally ignore this child and even bully him. Liz is mysteriously attracted to him. He becomes a friend and then a lover. He seems to remain special even after so many years. The dive into the waves of memories are interlaced with the discoveries of the tragic realities that Liz will make in the middle of the memory rubbles. Jane Urquhart is excelling at storytelling while shedding the light on the past and unfolding stories one after another.

 

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