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Summary and book reviews of Clara Callan by Richard Wright

Clara Callan

A Novel

by Richard B. Wright

Clara Callan
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2002, 432 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2003, 432 pages

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Book Summary

A mesmerizing tribute to friendship and sisterhood, romance and redemption, written with such insight and passion that the characters' stories will remain with you long after you have read the last page.

Winner in 2001 of Canada's two most prestigious literary awards -- the Governor General's Award and the Giller Prize -- Richard B. Wright's celebrated novel Clara Callan is the powerful, moving story of two sisters and their life-changing experiences on the eve of World War II.

It is the year 1934, and in a small town in Canada, Clara Callan reluctantly takes leave of her sister, Nora, who is bound for the show business world of New York. It's a time when people escape from reality through radio and the movies, when the Dionne Quints make headlines, when the growing threat of fascism in Europe is a constant worry, and the two sisters -- vastly different in personality yet inextricably linked by a shared past -- try to find their place within the complex web of social expectations for young women in the 1930s.

While Nora embarks on a glamorous career as a radio soap opera star, Clara, a strong and independent-minded woman, struggles to observe the traditional boundaries of a small and tight-knit community without relinquishing her dreams of love, freedom, and adventure. But Nora's letters eventually begin to reveal that her life in the big city is a little less exotic than it may seem: though her career is flourishing, her free spirit is curbed by a string of fairly conventional and unsuccessful personal relationships. Meanwhile, the tranquil solitude of Clara's life is shattered by a series of unforeseeable events, turns of fate that require all of Clara's courage and strength, and that will put the seemingly unbreakable bond between the sisters to the test.

Ultimately, both discover not only the joys of love and possibility, but also the darker side of life -- violence, deception, and loss -- lurking just beneath the surface of everyday experience.

Clara Callan is a mesmerizing tribute to friendship and sisterhood, romance and redemption, written with such insight and passion that the characters' stories will remain with you long after you have read the last page.

Chapter One

Saturday, November 3 (8:10 p.m.)

Nora left for New York City today. I think she is taking a terrible chance going all the way down there but, of course, she wouldn't listen. You can't tell Nora anything. You never could. Then came the last-minute jitters. Tears in that huge station among strangers and loudspeaker announcements.

"I'm going to miss you, Clara."

"Yes. Well, and I'll miss you too, Nora. Do be careful down there!"

"You think I'm making a mistake, don't you? I can see it in your face."

"We've talked about this many times, Nora. You know how I feel about all this."

"You must promise to write."

"Well, of course, I'll write."

The handkerchief, smelling faintly of violets, pressed to an eye. Father used to say that Nora's entire life was a performance. Perhaps she will make something of herself down there in the radio business, but it's just as likely she'll return after Christmas. And ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Introduction
It is the year 1934, and in Whitfield, Ontario, Clara Callan bids a reluctant farewell to her sister, Nora, who is bound for a career in show business in New York City. In an era when people escape from reality through radio and movies, and the growing threat of fascism in Europe is a constant worry, and when the two sisters -- vastly different in personality yet linked by their shared past -- try to locate themselves in the complex web of social expectations for unmarried young women in their 30s.

While Nora embarks on a glamorous career as a radio soap opera star, Clara, a strong and independent-minded woman, struggles to observe the traditional boundaries of her small and tight-knit community without ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

The New York Times

Mr. Wright writes with the apparent ease of breathing, and he is both touching and very very funny.

Quill & Quire (Canada)

A classic page-turner.

Montreal Gazette

A terrific novel

Ottawa Citizen (Canada)

A master story-teller.

Winnipeg Free Press

A compelling narrative and characters that brim with humanity.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. The separate histories of two sisters are traced with understated compassion in this superb novel, the ninth from the Ontario author (Farthing's Fortunes, 1976, etc.) and winner of Canada's Giller Prize and Governor General's Award....Though nobody seems to have noticed, Clara Callan is almost certainly modeled on Arnold Bennett's classic 1908 novel, The Old Wives' Tale--and is not much, if at all, inferior to that masterpiece. A wrenching chronicle of time passing and opportunity lost.

Publishers Weekly

Wright has accomplished an amazing feat by allowing his characters to emerge, fully formed and true, without authorial intrusion into their intimate psychological world, revitalizing the epistolary form in the process.

Author Blurb Jay Parini, author of The Apprentice Lover
Clara Callan is one of those rare novels that one might justifiably call a masterpiece.

Reader Reviews

Jim Mann

Fictional Towns
In Richard B Wright's book, he lists Whitfield as the Callan's birthplace.This exists, northeast of Shelburn on Regional 17. I can find no town of Linden in the area. He also mentions Uxbridge and other points South. The only town similar sounding is...   Read More

Merissa

I truly enjoyed the book. Its difficult for me to get into books and this one had my attention right away. It was a very true feeling story. I felt like a fly on the wall watching the lives of Clara and her sister. I really enjoyed the book.

katherine

I read this book as part of my choice for a novel study in grade 12. I found this idea of writing letters back and forth, among journal/dairy entries to be very intelligent. you are able to hear the voice of all characters come through in their ...   Read More

Beckie

This book was a required reading in a univeristy English course, and so happy to have had the opportunity to be introduced to it. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the Callan sister's and the unique aspects of their lives. Mr. Wright has ...   Read More

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