Reviews

Known It All

Daniel Francis

When James (Jim) H. Marsh was a youngster, his father got into an argument with his mother, picked up a shotgun and threatened to kill everyone in the house. Jim was preparing to escape out a back window when he heard the gun go off. His mother had convinced her enraged, drunken husband to fire a couple of rounds harmlessly in the basement. This was just one incident in the turbulent life of the Marsh family in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood during the 195s. Jim (full disclosure: we have known each other for fifty years) will be familiar to some readers as the founding editorial director of The Canadian Encyclopedia, the hugely ambitious and successful project published by Mel Hurtig in 1985. But long before the world of books there was the world of the Junction where Jim grew up the son of a vicious, resentful mother and a war-damaged, alcoholic father. He has now decided to reveal this early life in a memoir called Know It All: Finding the Impossible Country (Durville Books). It was a childhood of violence and terror. “Every night I lay sleepless in the dark, fearing my father’s footsteps on the stairs.” For her part, his mother cuffed him so much about the head that he developed permanent ringing in his ears. And when they weren’t beating him, they were beating each other. Thanks to his discovery of books and libraries, Jim escaped into the world of publishing and that story is part of the memoir as well. But like the proverbial train wreck from which you cannot look away, it is the account of his childhood that is both absorbing and horrifying, read through the fingers that you hold over your eyes.

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Daniel Francis

Daniel Francis is a writer and historian. He is the author of two dozen books, including The Imaginary Indian: The Image of the Indian in Canadian Culture (Arsenal Pulp Press). He lives in North Vancouver. Read more of his work at danielfrancis.ca.

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