the book reviews
If you ever go to Saskatchewan, Canada, be sure to visit the town of Moose Jaw. At the Pioneer Village and Museum, you can see an enigma of the twentieth century. It is a ship, standing on the prairie, a thousand miles from the sea. In the ship there are handmade instruments for navigation. Engineers and scientists have not yet discovered the purpose of these instruments. This mystery inspired Andreas Schroeder to write Dust Ship Glory. His book is fascinating and true. Andreas demonstrates great skill in bringing his protagonist to life. Damianus Sukanen was born in Finland as Tomi Jaanus Alankola. He is the ship-builder. Schroeder does not presume to know the thoughts of Sukanen. Historic events and their effects on the prairie dwellers are faithfully recorded. These events must be taken into consideration. You will probably not like the strange Finn, but you might understand the forces that shaped him. The topsoil blew away and clouds of grasshoppers devoured everything that was softer than wood. Damianus Sukanen worked outdoors in temperatures of minus thirty degrees Fahrenheit. He worked in the summer in one hundred degrees of heat. Damianus dressed in horse leather pants and a shirt made of woven twine. His forge echoed the constant tattoo of two hammers. Damianus was building the ship, Sontianen. The name is Finnish for dung-beetle. He would not accept help and he would not suffer any hindrance from his neighbors. Damianus refused to tell his reason for building the ship. The neighbors were infuriated by his silence and by his bitter words. The ship parts were made on his forge with exacting precision. Sukanen was able to roll cold steel for the boilers. Metallurgists today tell us this is impossible. Sukanen said that he worked with the help of the moon and the planets. The farm disintegrated, as the ship took shape. Everything was incorporated into Sontianen. The hull was protected from rust with horse blood and urine. Horses were also used for food and clothes. Curious neighbors were rejected when they brought food. Eventually, the hull, the keel, the engine and all of the navigational instruments were ready. Sukanen had a hand-forged chain, his last work horse and a winch assembly to drag the ship. It was twenty-five kilometers to the nearest river. He worked each day until his horse was exhausted. Then he walked to the river, where he constructed a forge and some rafts. His hammers rang through the night. He moved the ship approximately one and a half kilometers per year. His teeth disintegrated and he made a pair of steel dentures, with screws for teeth. Before his ship reached the water, he was put into the insane asylum at North Battleford, Saskatchewan. He was more than sixty years old. Sukanen was self-sufficient, irreverent and a non-conformist. In the asylum he stared at the wall and mumbled. He refused to explain his actions and he died with the secret of his ship. His bones were interred beside his ship. I can imagine Sukanen in the afterlife, moving his ship the last few kilometers. Nietzsche watches with epic silence. The philosopher is curious, but Sukanen will not explain.
Copyright © 2019 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.