The Chaplain

The Chaplain

The Chaplain, written by Paul Almond, has just been released and I know that many avid fans will be thrilled to read this next installment of the captivating Alford Saga. If you have read Books One through Four, (The Deserter, The Survivor, The Pioneer, The Pilgrim) you will know that The Chaplain, Book Five, takes up the story at the dawn of the twentieth century. If you have not yet started to read this series which is set primarily on the Gaspé Peninsula, do not delay. Start now. You will be glad that you did.

The Chaplain is set in Canada and South Africa and centres on the character of John Alford, known as Jack. Jack Alford, a young Anglican minister, travels to South Africa during the Boer War and tends to the spiritual needs of young Canadian soldiers. The Alford Saga, though fictionalized, is based on actual ancestors of author Paul Almond. This is a period in Canadian history that is not as familiar with readers as some others, so this book is also very enlightening. The book provides a ‘lesson’ in Canadian history but wrapped around the personal stories of people who quickly become real to the reader.

Young Jack has many adventures and finds romance in South Africa. The book is well researched and Mr. Almond even read letters from soldiers who fought in the Boer War. Do read the Acknowledgements found at the back of the book. This will give you a greater appreciation of the depth of historical reality that exists in The Chaplain.

The characters in this book are well developed and the descriptions of the landscape and harsh conditions combine to portray the reality of life that likely existed for Jack Alford. Like many religious characters, real and imagined, Jack has his own moments of doubt and faith. War has a way of testing a fellow, as we well know.

Thematically the book deals with religion, war, bravery, love of country, friendship, empathy for others, self-sacrifice and love. Quite a rich wellspring of literary possibility there!

It is the aspiration of a reviewer to give the sense of a novel and its impact, but without disclosing too much. Reading, particularly fiction, is a solitary journey between reader and the writer’s words. The reader’s memories, knowledge and philosophical views of the world combine in a unique and powerful way with the text.

The Chaplain could be enjoyed without reading the four previous books in The Alford Saga, but why deny yourself the pleasure? There are three more books to be published in the series, and avid readers are hopeful that these will be released soon! Read all eight books in the saga and you will have enjoyed over 2000 pages of Canadian history! This is an enlightening, entertaining and essential series.
Review by Diane Skinner Flowers, The Gaspe Spec

Set in Canada and South Africa during the late nineteenth century and the turn of the twentieth, The Chaplain is the fifth novel in the Alford Saga--a series of novels written by Paul Almond, well-known Canadian film and television director. The saga has garnered much international and national acclaim, and for good reason--it provides an in-depth look into more than two centuries of Canadian life. A story of adventure and romance, The Chaplain recounts the year that John Alford, known as Jack, spent in South Africa, living and working with Canadian soldiers as a chaplain during the Boer War. Though the book is fiction, the character Jack Alford was based in part on the life of Paul Almond's uncle, Reverend Jack. The author consulted with historians and read many letters sent by soldiers to their loved ones back home in Canada. Almond's masterful story-telling skills vividly recreate this often forgotten period.

Hemingway once said in an interview: "If you describe someone, it is flat, as a photograph is ... If you make him up from what you know, there should be all the dimensions."All the characters in The Chaplain are extremely well-developed--in and of itself the mark of a good writer--and there are a great many important and finely developed characters in this novel. The descriptions of the terrible and beautiful terrain that the Canadians travelled through during the Boer War are graphic and compelling. The terrific dialogue scenes--such as the lively conversation in a bar between Jack and two Canadian journalists who had come to report on the Boer War--bring Jack's character fully alive.

Jack, a young Anglican minister facing the rigours of war and travelling in the harshest of conditions, is confronted with issues of doubt, including his own, concepts of patriotism and the nature of war, faith in God, compassion for fellow human beings, romantic love and undying friendship that stretch his conditions and experience: "Back and forth between these two poles of thought flew Jack's brain all day long as his train sped through the inner plateau of the Karoo desert... " Jack is not a distant, unreachable character; rather, his depth of feeling and candid expression make him extremely likeable and real. The author presents an array of thought-provoking ideas in a way that enables the reader to experience first and contemplate afterward.

The Pilgrim, which precedes The Chaplain, is told in Jack's voice, whereas The Chaplain is written in the third person. I found the account of Jack's adventures in The Chaplain just as immediate, personal and engrossing as in The Pilgrim. If anything, the story is even more gripping and the reader is left eager to read more about Jack and the Alford family. Those who are taken by The Chaplain will be delighted, as I was, to learn that the Alford Saga continues and that this story will be followed by three more books in the series. In and of itself The Chaplain stands on its own as a great novel, one which will likely endure as a classic in Canadian literature.
Barbara Burgess, BookPleasures

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