Thursday, 29 March 2012

TALE OF A WELL-TRAVELLED BOOK by Catriona Troth

Sixty years ago, just before they got married, my uncle gave my parents a copy of Ronald's Searle's Back to the Slaughterhouse. This was the third collection of St Trinian's cartoons, but it also included many of his lesser known cartoons, with an edge of political satire or social commentary, as well as some he'd combined with verses by Kaye Webb.

Years later, the book travelled with my parents to Canada when they emigrated, and lived on the bookshelves in our basement, where I discovered it as a teenager. When Searle died, a few months ago, I found I could recall its yellow dust jacket and bring to mind in almost perfect detail some of my favourite cartoons.

Meanwhile, however, my parents had moved to a smaller place. At some point, no one can quite remember how, they gave the book away and it was passed from hand to hand until it ended up on a charity bookstall at the local farmers' market. There, by sheer coincidence, it was picked up by a friend of my parents who, reading the old inscription from my uncle, guessed to whom it must have belong.

So this spring, I make my first trip to Toronto in a decade, and happen to look up this friend of my parents, of whom I had been very fond. She tells me, "You'll never guess what I picked up at the Farmers' Market a few months ago." And I tell her, "I can't believe it - I've been thinking about that book."

And so now the book I loved so much as a child is back in my hands again, just as if the god of lost books had been keeping track of it all along.

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