The Canary Connection by Phillip Spolin

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The Canary Connection 
Phillip Spolin
2018

 

♦♦♦♦
4 Stars

 

There is a quickness to Spolin’s prose moving readers with a swiftness that doesn’t overwhelm or distract but rather skillfully gets them where they need to be. It’s also a deft style as it mimics the dizzying decision-making of Dante as a series of brave decisions forces him to set sail with Christopher Columbus’ flotilla to escape the cruelty of the law. Spolin opens setting readers in the midst of a historical moment somewhat forgotten today–the expulsion of Jews from Spain. Perhaps not quite chaotic but most certainly cacophonous, our hero Dante uses the event to cover his escape from authorities after inadvertently killing several guards in a confrontation gone south. And so, Dante finds himself on a ship set for the edge of the world.

The Canary Connection is a vivid novel. Yet, Spolin is able to craft his tale in such a way as to resist burdening readers with events, dates, or forcing in historical figures for the sake of. Spolin allows the story to reveal itself organically so the figures we meet and the vents that take place feel spontaneous and inevitable. A historical tale giving readers a glimpse into a time and place often ignored due to its lack of magnificent dresses, boasting chivalry, or grand battles. Rather, the history Spolin successfully brings to life is, arguably, the first immigrant story of the Americas–complicated, imprecise, guilty, noble, wild, and unknown. 

But don’t expect this novel to get you completely across the seas. Rather, it is a novel about escape from cruel violence, about being cornered and having only one option–the existential unknown. Dante and his sister Revela make this leap of faith as do a group of now exiled Jews. These characters are fleeing religious zealotry both directly and indirectly as it is the hateful fetish of one’s own beliefs which invariably lead to political tyranny. And so, Spolin’s story brings us into close contact with the lived experience of being a refugee. It’s not difficult for readers to see a connection between this historical retelling and the current migrations by refugees whether fleeing the political-religious war in Syria or the lawless violence out of certain Central American nations. In giving readers this fascinating tale of historical fiction, Spolin is deepening readers empathy while pushing back against a kind of numb fatalism tending to overcome us.

Readers who marveled at Hillary Mantel’s novels or Ken Follett’s will find The Canary Connection deeply satisfying.  But one doesn’t have to be a history buff to feel Spolin’s story resonate.

 

About the Author

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PHILLIP SPOLIN is a writer from Chicago now living in Pacific Palisades, California. He has received recognition for several short stories including, Jacob Calendar, Marty & Sally, and There’s Someone For Everyone. The Canary Connection is his first novel. He is also the writer for the documentary, The Trap Tour, has had a lifelong association with improvisational theater.

“In my earliest thoughts I remember a desire to somehow find adventure beyond the alleys and vacant lots of the west side of Chicago. I waited until after years of schooling to fulfill that wish, leaving that great city on a home-built sailboat. It was my great escape. A long journey through the heartland of America down the Mississippi River, wintering in New Orleans, across the Gulf of Mexico and settling in Coconut Grove, Florida. From there I sailed throughout the Caribbean islands and Central America, and through a bizarre set of circumstances found myself working for a year in the Canary Islands. Returning to the states and a twelve-year law career in Chicago, my island experience prompted a move back to that wonderful archipelago. There in the shade of a towering volcano, I was inspired by the story of Columbus who left from the Canaries to the New World. The unusual convergence of the departure of that voyage happening on the exact same date as the expulsion of all non-Catholics from Spain, invited a deeper investigation uncovering other intriguing and revolutionary events, a true Canary connection.”

 

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