This “poetic, poignant” (US Weekly) debut features last great adventures, unlikely heroes, and a “sweet, disarming story of lasting love” (The New York Times Book Review).
Eighty-three-year-old Etta has never seen the ocean. So early one morning she takes a rifle, some chocolate, and her best boots and begins walking the 3,232 kilometers from rural Saskatchewan, Canada eastward to the sea. As Etta walks further toward the crashing waves, the lines among memory, illusion, and reality blur.
Otto wakes to a note left on the kitchen table. “I will try to remember to come back,” Etta writes to her husband. Otto has seen the ocean, having crossed the Atlantic years ago to fight in a far-away war. He understands. But with Etta gone, the memories come crowding in and Otto struggles to keep them at bay. Meanwhile, their neighbor Russell has spent his whole life trying to keep up with Otto and loving Etta from afar. Russell insists on finding Etta, wherever she’s gone. Leaving his own farm will be the first act of defiance in his life.
Moving from the hot and dry present of a quiet Canadian farm to a dusty, burnt past of hunger, war, and passion, from trying to remember to trying to forget, Etta and Otto and Russell and James is an astounding literary debut “of deep longing, for reinvention and self-discovery, as well as for the past and for love and for the boundless unknown” (San Francisco Chronicle). “In this haunting debut, set in a starkly beautiful landscape, Hooper delineates the stories of Etta and the men she loved (Otto and Russell) as they intertwine through youth and wartime and into old age. It’s a lovely book you’ll want to linger over” (People).
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
We think Emma Hooper—a Canadian musician and creative writing teacher based in Bath, England—is an exciting talent to watch. Poetic, magical, and quietly moving, Hopper’s debut novel follows 83-year-old Etta as she treks across Canada to reach the ocean, a coyote named James at her side. In evocative flashbacks, we learn the story of how Etta’s life became intertwined with those of Otto and Russell, best friends raised on Saskatchewan farmland. Like The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and A Man Called Ove, Etta and Otto and Russell and James is a beautiful story about growing old and human beings’ stunning resilience and capacity for growth.
Hooper's arresting debut novel, with its spare, evocative prose, seamlessly interweaves accounts of the present-day lives of its eponymous main characters with the stories of their pasts and how they first connected with each other. The book starts with a note that Etta leaves for her husband: "Otto, I've gone. I've never seen the water, so I've gone there. Don't worry, I've left you the truck. I can walk. I will try to remember to come back." Thus begins elderly Etta's journey from Saskatchewan to the coast, and the same ocean that once took her dear husband overseas to fight in WWII. She is armed with minor provisions, some clothes, and a sheet of paper with names on it, starting with "You: Etta Gloria Kinnick of Deerdale farm. 83 years old in August." Along the way, Etta meets a coyote she names James; she considers him her friend and they have many long conversations as they travel together. As Etta walks thousands of miles to her destination, three touching stories unfold: those of Otto, from a family of 14 brothers and sisters; Russell, the abandoned boy who lived next door to Otto and becomes a de facto part of his family; and Etta, who lost her sister at a young age. Hooper, with great insight, explores the interactions and connections between spouses and friends the rivalries, the camaraderie, the joys and tragedies and reveals the extraordinary lengths to which people will go in the name of love.
I'm typically motivated by a desire to escape when I read. There is no getting lost in Hooper's world. Every time I put the book down I kept thinking and reflecting on my own life and the lives of my loved ones (living and deceased). I think I felt like Bryony as I read. I wanted to go along with Etta and Otto and Russell...but I also had to find my own motivation. Hooper wasn't going to just hand it to me like the authors of my usual escapist fare.
It's difficult subject matter inasmuch as I really felt some grief for the characters. But the prose kept pulling me along. Now, at the end, I feel spent. Well done, Emma Hooper.
Etta and Otto and Russell and James
Lovely story...love the way this author writes. Wonderful book.
Would not recommend.