A novel of base metals and low deeds

Gravestone repossessor goes south, gets tangled in mining intrigue It’s often said that people should write about what they know. And what Stephen Law knows is the issue of foreign corporations – including Canadian businesses – conducting mining operations in other countries.

Tailings of Warren Peace may be a title with a play on words, but the novel itself is serious. Warren Peace is a man trying to get away from his past, and the demons that came from his early years in a mining town. He has moved to Toronto, works a night job repossessing gravestones for non-payment, and basically tries to keep to himself and under the radar.

But that isn’t going to last forever. He finds himself spellbound by a story that appears in short sentences, and sometimes only a word, on brightly-coloured pieces of paper attached to telephone poles leading to his apartment. He eagerly awaits each successive chapter of the story, trying to figure out what – and who – is behind what is turning out to be a sad story of despair.

That leads him on a trek to finish the story he has been reading. Along the way he gets tied up in a Latin American cause he’d rather avoid but can’t, and finds out that having people and causes in your life isn’t so bad after all.

Law, who lives in Kennetcook, says the idea for the book came from his experiences with human rights issues in Latin America, and the desire to share some of those with people who “may not have been exposed to or familiar with practices of Canadian companies in other countries.”

Warren is haunted in many ways in the book, not just with demons from his past, but with the decisions and choices he has to make as the book winds on.

“I think I had always intended him to be haunted in some way, although the story certainly evolved as I delved deeper,” Law said.

“And I wanted to make a direct connection to our history of mining in Canada with what happens in Guatemala or other places. One of the mine managers involved in the Westray disaster later turned up working in Guatemala.

“I used Warren’s past as a way to demonstrate that what happens in countries that may seem far away is connected to what can happen here at home.”

He says the novel, like any kind of story, is trying to take readers on a journey.

“Whether it is for understanding or truth or revelation, there are messages in all the various stories we tell,” he said. “This novel, I believe, shares a message about solidarity, and what people can and are doing in the face of injustice.

“One of the reasons I wanted to tell this story is because I don’t believe it is one that is shared widely, or portrayed that often, in our newspapers, our novels or on our TV screens.”

He said he has seen “far too many” shocking and saddening things through his activism.

Law said he is travelling through the Maritimes next week with a woman from El Salvador who is trying to stop a Canadian-based company from causing “massive environmental degradation” in her community.

He said the same company had “the audacity to sue the Salvadoran government for refusing to let them operate there, despite their atrocious track record, and the widespread opposition of the communities that are to be affected by the mine.”

Law said he wants readers to come away from reading the novel thinking not only that it was a good story, but that “there is power in solidarity to make change in the world.”

While there are several unresolved issues for characters in the book, Law has no plans for a followup novel.

“I wanted to leave some things unresolved because that’s what happens in real life, too. Not all the endings are tied up neatly, and many don’t get tied up at all,” he said.

He is working on another book that is set in Nova Scotia.

Ian Fairclough is a reporter with the Chronicle Herald.

–March 23, 2013

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