Characters are bound to be alike between books, especially by authors from the same country, as the shared experiences of a nation provide inspiration. Still I found it striking to have read a pair of books in the past couple of months just published by British Columbia authors and set in the same area of B.C. that have so many similarities between a couple of characters.
In Cold White Sun by Vicki Delany math teacher, Mark Hamilton, is a former Canadian army soldier who served in Afghanistan. His war service has left him haunted and struggling with life. He contemplates suicide to escape the pain. Obsessively working out and teaching gets him through the day.
In Open Secret by Deryn Collier, which I reviewed in my last post, the sleuth is Bern Fortier, a retired Lieutenant-Colonel from the Canadian army. His military career took him into three major conflicts – the genocidal massacres of Rwanda, the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and the war in Afghanistan. His psyche has also been damaged by his participation in these conflicts. While not suicidal his mental burdens are heavy because of a secret he has carried with him for 20 years since Rwanda. Bern spends a lot of time out of doors working in his garden and walking to occupy his mind and body.
It is almost inevitable that two characters who were in the Canadian army over the past two decades would be much alike. The Canadian armed forces are much smaller, even in proportion to population, than the American military. Rwanda, the first Gulf War, Somalia, Bosnia / Croatia and Afghanistan are essentially the wars in which Canadian troops have taken part since the Korean War.
Of those conflicts Rwanda is most deeply painful in Canadian memories principally because of Canadian General Roméo Dallaire.
When Saskatchewan author Gregory Miller in his book, Silence Invites the Dead, wanted his protagonists to have war experiences he takes journalist, Myles Stirling, Colonel John McTaggart and Captain Ed Braun to the killing fields and streets of Rwanda. In my review I said they “struggle to hold their sanity in the carnage of Rwanda”.
I felt McTaggert was inspired by Dallaire who was commander of UN forces in Rwanda during the genocide. Prevented by UN headquarters from intercepting weapons and possessing but few forces he helped saved thousands of Tutsis but could not stop the slaughter of hundreds of thousands. While he had done all he could he has been truly haunted and attempted suicide. He continues to serve Canada as a member of our Senate.
Dallaire in his book, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda said:
“I know there is a God because in Rwanda I shook hands with
the devil. I have seen him, I have smelled him and I have
touched him. I know the devil exists and therefore I know there
is a God.”
Too many of our heroes have been mentally damaged while in the service of our country.