The Back of the Turtle

The Back of the Turtleby Thomas King

The Back of the Turtle, a Governor General’s award-winner,  is a little bit Tom Robbins-esque with a quirky cast of characters from various backgrounds who are linked via an environmental tragedy.  When a northern B.C. tailings pond fails, it fills a river system with toxins, killing everything in its path.  Dorian Asher, the CEO of the company responsible, is more concerned about his new Rolex than his company’s mistake.  He’s prepared to handle the media onslaught, but the disappearance of Gabriel Quinn, his top scientist, is making things more complicated.    

Meanwhile, Quinn has turned up at the virtual ghost town of Samaritan Bay where a previous environmental disaster decimated both the town and the adjacent Native reserve.  As the scientist responsible for the poisoning of Samaritan Bay and its environs, he ostensibly goes to the site to commit suicide.  Instead he meets townsfolk who are hoping for the return of the people, their town, and their beloved turtles, who used to lay eggs on the beach.  Samaritan Bay could in fact be the place Quinn finds his redemption.  

This novel is rather timely considering that a very similar tailings pond disaster did occur in northern B.C. last summer.  As in real life, the media’s handling of the situation in the novel is at first intense, but the disaster is quickly forgotten when a fresh tragedy occurs.

Despite the heavy subject matter, King takes a comic approach.  Rebirth and renewal are major themes.  Although the book is over 500 pages long, it’s a light, enjoyable read.