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1989 - Winter Tulips by Joe Kertes

Lesson 42:  Writing of young love

Excerpt from my book: "Approaching Guelph, Ontario from the south, the road rises a bit and then slopes down just before entering the town.  The last time I drove that stretch, in June 2003, a dark wave hit my rent-a-car.  It washed over me, seeped into my head, and dampened the corners of my eyes.  I drove past the university campus and had to turn back.   My son, with ear buds running into a CD player, noticed nothing, yawned, and kept looking out the window.  The gloomy wave carried a memory that I had suppressed for decades: the break-up with my university girlfriend and her death ... "

In my book, I started my lesson/review of Winter Tulips, the 1989 Leacock Medal winner by Joe Kertes, by recalling this road trip with my son because it ran through university-days memories and my personal experience with the kind of young love celebrated in this novel.  Well, not exactly.  Winter Tulips tells a happier story, and yet it triggered complex recollections that once again surprised me with the strange associations we make to the things we find humorous.

Tulips follows Ben Beck, a viola playing student who moves from his home in Jewish Montreal to study at the University of Toronto.  He lives above a Greek Restaurant, where he hangs out and makes friends with the owner, his wife, his son, and particularly his daughter Diane.  The book draws on the author’s own life and love for his Greek wife Helen, and in the few light interactions I’ve had with Joe Kertes, now the Dean of Creative and Performing Arts at Humber College in Toronto, it seemed clear that he is and has always been that “nice” guy in the story. 
The book’s strength is the celebration of second generation Canadians who set aside the demarcations of their cultures, build relationships, and find love. For this reason, Kertes’ book was popular in Canadian schools as a stimulus to multiculturalism conversations and constitutes a bit of a Leacock Medal landmark.

Thinking about my own, more edgy Winter Tulips experience brought home both the
possibilities and challenges in finding humour in niceness and that first love.
For a review copy of my book: