Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Otherwise" by Farley Mowat

I'm a fan of Farley Mowat books. When Wayne and I first started coming to Canada on vacations in the 80's, we liked to read books that would give us a flavour of the country we would be visiting. Naturally, a few of those were written by Farley Mowat. Over the years, I've continued to collect his books and am proud to say I have about two-thirds of the forty-two he has authored, and have read more than half so far.

Mowat's most recent work is Otherwise. It's a memoir covering his youth, World War II service and subsequent revival in the Barrengrounds of the Arctic north. The "others" are the animals, both domestic and wild, that have been a core part of his being over the years. They inspired and sustained him in good times and bad.

If you've read several of Mowat's books, you know his life experiences have been retold in several ways. One of his earlier works, Born Naked (1993), also tells of his early life and love for animals and the north country. I'm glad that I read that book before Otherwise.

The war years were hard on everyone. Farley learned to make his way through and around the bureaucracy of the military. He was very inventive in an organization that didn't reward thinking outside the box. Upon returning to Canada, Farley wanted to get back to nature and a less complicated (and constrictive) way of living. Scientific expeditions took he back to his beloved Saskatchewan and the flora and fauna he knew so well, but it wasn't enough to make him feel re-connected. The opportunity to go on an expedition to the Barrengrounds to study caribou was the perfect (for him) solution. Based in a remote cabin at Windy River, he discovered his true calling, the preservation rather than destruction of nature and the people who depend on it for their livelihood: caribou, wolves and the native peoples of the north.

Many of Farley Mowat's books about the Canadian north (1981 Video: Ten Million Books), it's people and animals grew out of these early life experiences. The People of the Deer, his first book published in 1952, focused on the starving Ihalmiut people he met and lived with on this very expedition.

Are you a Farley Mowat fan? What's your favourite book? -- Margy


  1. I'd have to say the People of the Deer has been a favourite of mine for what seems like centuries, heh! I first read it in high school, and have reread it many times since. He's one of my favourite authors, and I love how prolific he is!

  2. Hi Marion - Wish I got to read things like Mowat's books in high school. Maybe I would have remembered my "required" readings. Since my original post I found a great little video called "Ten Million Books" online. Check out the link in my last paragraph. - Margy

  3. This is wonderful. I am glad you reminded me of his work. I read Never Cry Wolf 20 years ago and loved it. The movie was terrible in comparison. I only read a portion of Siberians which I own. I'll really like to read his autobiographies.
    I just finished listening to The Ginger Tree by Oswald Wynd. It is just wonderful about a Scotts woman in Japan from 1903 to 1941. There was a BBC series on it too, but I cannot find any copies.

  4. "Never Cry Wolf" and "People of the Deer" with the follow up "No Man's River" are probably my favourite because he told it like it was....when you get a government pissed off at you you know you have hit a nerve!
    I have met Farley twice, when I did a housesit in Port Hope and always wondered how he survived the "Armed Forces". He is a wonderful story teller if you ever get to here him in person.

    Thanks for reminding me that it is time to read one of his books again.

    Margy have you read "Inside Passage: Living With Killer Whales, Bald Eagles, and Kwakiutl Indians", 1997 by Michael Modzelewski it is a true story that takes place just north of you and is wonderful. I don't know that it is still in publication but if not let me know and I will loan you mine!

  5. Thanks Tash and Carolyn for the book recommendations. I'll check my favourite used bookstore for them.

    Yes, Carolyn, it is still available online as new or used, but the used stores are my first stop. Thanks for the offer. - Margy

  6. I just finished reading "No Man's River" and loved it. At times I wished he'd be a little less factual and tell us how he really thinks about things, but in other ways it's good that it's just the facts because there was a lot of less than positive behaviour experienced in the northern cultures he was working with. A great read!

  7. I agree with you Evelyn, I also enjoyed "No Man's River." Thanks to all your comments I may need to pull some of Mowat's books back out for a re-read. - Margy

  8. How timely. Several weeks ago I was telling my 16 year old grandson about Farley Mowet's books. I read many of them in the 80's, I hope he decides to pick one up soon from the library.


We welcome your comments and questions. - Wayne and Margy