Author: Paul Almond

Publisher: Sulby Hall Publishers

ISBN-13: 978-1483943572

ISBN-10: 1483943577


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.


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