The Island Walkers | Penguin Random House Canada
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The Island Walkers

Publisher: Emblem Editions
John Bemrose’s highly acclaimed national bestseller tells the story of a family who slips from fortune’s favour in a southwestern Ontario mill town during the mid-1960s. Like his father before him, Alf Walker is a fixer in the local textile mill. When a labour dispute forces him to choose between loyalty to his friends and his own advancement, Alf’s actions inadvertently set in motion a series of events that will reverberate far into the future. Meanwhile, Alf’s wife, Margaret, must reconcile her middle-class upbringing with her blue-collar reality, as her marriage is undermined by forces she cannot name. And after their eldest son, Joe, falls headlong for a girl he first glimpses on a bridge, the boy finds his world overturned by the passion and uncertainty of young love. At once intimate and epic in scope, The Island Walkers follows the Walker family to the very bottom of their night, only to confirm, in the end, life’s regenerative power.

From the Hardcover edition.


One Saturday in the summer of 1965, Joe and Alf Walker climbed onto the roof and spent the better part of the morning stripping the old shingles. By eleven they were busy nailing down the new ones. Joe, who had turned eighteen that July, worked on the slope overlooking the backyard. He sat shirtless, on his duff, and...
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1. Why is the town called Attawan? What is the significance of its name?

2. The recording and telling of natural and human history is a major theme in The Island Walkers. We hear many versions of the past from historical markers, archival research from history teacher Archie Mann, family anecdotes that Alf...

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“A beautiful, elegiac novel about place, family, and community. A profoundly moving book.”
–Guy Vanderhaeghe

“As Margaret Laurence staked out a world, Manawaka, in her novels and David Adams Richards has mined the Miramichi, Bemrose has created the vivid community of Attawan to tell an archetypal tale.”
–Halifax Chronicle-Herald

“An astonishing debut, a big and breathtaking family novel that is both understated and passionate.”

“[An] extraordinary debut novel.… Encompassing, bountiful, beautiful.…”
Globe and Mail

“A great reading experience, and Bemrose has now become a fiction writer to watch.”
–W.P. Kinsella, Books in Canada

“A clear-eyed eulogy for a town and way of life that is gone forever.”
–Sandra Martin, Globe and Mail

“We don’t have many novels that cross generations like this and give us both the interior of lives, a sense of social history, and an incredibly strong sense of place. The story is ambitious, and yet simply, beautifully told. The whole thing flows along like a river – a real page-turner with Dantean echoes and lyrical insights that are often breathtaking.”
–Marni Jackson

“A powerful debut novel.”
Library Journal

The Island Walkers is thick with natural beauty and social insight.… A profoundly sensitive portrayal of a family’s efforts to find its way through the tangled threads of desire and nobility, guilt and love.”
Christian Science Monitor

“As fine as any novel you will read this year.”
New York Sun

“Richly textured and multilayered.… Masterful.… A beautifully realized and emotionally resonant novel that stays with you long after you turn the last page.”
–Kitchener-Waterloo Record

“[An] accomplished first novel.…”
Publishers Weekly

“Rhythmical prose, a strong sense of physical place and a restrained, moving atmosphere of mourning for the past.”
National Post

“A finely wrought first novel.…”
Kirkus Reviews

“A compelling human story.… [This] beautifully crafted debut novel should earn Bemrose a place in the Canlit pantheon.…”
Edmonton Journal

“The book’s sense of place, its sense of the acceleration of time between generations, its sudden, surprising insights, give the sprawling story its impressive weight.… A riveting read.…”
London Free Press

“Bemrose has a talent for capturing the sad lyricism of ordinary lives.… Bemrose’s poetic touch finds beauty in obscure corners and grandeur in small victories.”
Baltimore Sun

From the Hardcover edition.