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The Back Of The Turtle (2014)

by Thomas King

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2217124,393 (4.06)13
"Gabriel returns to Smoke River, the reserve where his mother grew up and to which she returned with Gabriel's sister. The reserve is deserted after an environmental disaster killed the population, including Gabriel's family and the local wildlife. Gabriel, a brilliant scientist working for DowSanto, created GreenSweep and indirectly led to the crisis. Now he has come to see the damage and to kill himself in the sea. But as he prepares to let the water take him, he sees a young girl in the waves. Plunging in, he saves her and soon is saving others. Who are these people with their long black hair and almond eyes who have fallen from the sky?"--www.amazon.ca.… (more)
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Wow! I thought this book was great and I can see why it won the GG in 2014. Thomas King once ran for the NDP in 2007 but didn't come close to winning. With this book he has probably reached more people and delivered a more cogent argument for environmental and indigenous causes than he ever could have as a politician. Stick with what you do best Mr. King.

The small town of Samaritan Bay on the edge of the Pacific Ocean in BC has seen better days. Once the beaches and the clear skies and the sea turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs were big draws for the tourists. Then The Ruin came killing people and animals and plants. The indigenous folks on the Smoke River Reserve were almost completely wiped out; the turtles and other marine life disappeared; the Smoke River itself was discoloured. This was caused by the release of an unapproved biological agent called GreenSweep which was deployed as a defoliant to make putting a pipeline through the area of Kali Creek easier. Except it was far stronger than it should have been and a storm swept the material into the Creek which emptied into the Smoke River. So now there are very few people living in Samaritan Bay. One of them, Gabriel Quinn, is trying to kill himself but ends up saving a boatload of Asian people. In addition to Gabriel there is a woman, Mara, who grew up on the Reserve but was away when The Ruin struck; an old eccentric who runs the hot spring pools called Nicholas Crisp; a teenager who lives in the dilapidated motel named Sonny; and a dog, wiser than all the rest of them, named Soldier. The other person of note is Dorian Asher, head of the company responsible for The Ruin, who lives in Toronto. I'm not sure we actually get to know any of these characters but we do learn a lot about what makes them tick. And we learn that maybe, together, we can put Humpty Dumpty together again.

Although I've given this book top marks I do quibble with King's characterization of scientists and scientific research. As a former science geek my observations are that most scientists are concerned about the ethics and long term consequences of their research. Furthermore, I don't think any company would be as cavalier about safety requirements as King paints Asher's company if only because of the possible law suits resulting from such behaviour. That said, I very much enjoyed this tale. ( )
  gypsysmom | Jun 30, 2020 |
Turtles! ( )
  RekhainBC | Feb 15, 2019 |
I read this book in a single day, that's how much I enjoyed it and wanted to know what happened to the characters. It covers a lot of areas that I'm interested in: business and scientific ethics, environmental protection, the gap between rich and poor, treatment of Indigenous peoples. It even had a section on Donald Trump... ( )
  AJBraithwaite | Aug 14, 2017 |
"And he was rude," said her mother. "Told us that stories about women falling out of the sky were inappropriate in an educational setting."
"Pregnant women falling out of the sky," corrected Mara's grandmother. "Rose was always specific about that detail."
"Then he went on and told us about that naked couple in that garden," said her mother.
Mara's grandmother pursed her lips. "After that, it got ugly."


It is not often that I come across a book that appeals to me on so many levels; a book that makes me laugh and makes me think; that has me in despair over mankind and, yet, leaves a lot of room for hope.

The story, or rather stories, of The Back of the Turtle deal with the aftermath of an environmental disaster, referred to as The Ruin. Bit by bit, the individual stories of the characters reveal how the Ruin was caused and how the characters were involved in or affected by it.

We get to meet Gabriel who attempts to end his life but instead ends up rescuing a girl from drowning in the sea. We meet Sonny, a boy who has lost his dad and spends his solitary days looking for salvage. We meet Mr Crisp, who is an old sea-dog and a storyteller. We meet Mara, an artist who returns to the reserve only to be confronted with the loss of her family. And we meet Dorian, the CEO, who is the loneliest of all of them.

Even though it might sound like a depressing plot, I loved being transported into the world of this story. King's writing was superbly observant of his characters' moods, and this in turn was expressed in some great dialogues. His mocking portrayal of the hapless corporate machine made me laugh out loud quite a few times.

In contrast to this, he created the group of downbeat underdogs, who despite the devastation caused by the Ruin don't give up searching for ways to return to their way of life. Again, I would have expected this aspect to be quite somber, and while it did make me think, King kept the plot spirited and quite fun - after all, the events described in The Back of the Turtle ring true enough, are real enough, that they might happen any day, and what could possible be more serious than that?

"THE light vanished, and the colours dimmed and died on the canvas. Mara put the brush down. She hadn't accomplished much, but tomorrow she would do a little more. And, after that, a little more. Until Lily and Rose and baby Riel came back to life.
Life.
There it was.
Standing at the easel, looking at what she had created, Mara realized that she might have found a purpose, something that would help her make the world whole again."
( )
  BrokenTune | Aug 21, 2016 |
I will hold on to many images. The cover picture of the hot springs is excellent, the walls graffitied with environmental disaster sites, the motel's lonely beacon over the lifeless scavenger's beach, the Rolexed wrist of the hopeless CEO. Unique. ( )
  loosha | Jan 6, 2015 |
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"Gabriel returns to Smoke River, the reserve where his mother grew up and to which she returned with Gabriel's sister. The reserve is deserted after an environmental disaster killed the population, including Gabriel's family and the local wildlife. Gabriel, a brilliant scientist working for DowSanto, created GreenSweep and indirectly led to the crisis. Now he has come to see the damage and to kill himself in the sea. But as he prepares to let the water take him, he sees a young girl in the waves. Plunging in, he saves her and soon is saving others. Who are these people with their long black hair and almond eyes who have fallen from the sky?"--www.amazon.ca.

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