Flying Time

Written by Suzanne North
Review by Jane Steen

On the eve of the Second World War, Kay Jeynes volunteers to transfer out of her typist’s job to work for Japanese businessman Hero Miyashita. The relationship between the sophisticated Japanese gentleman and the naïve working-class Canadian rapidly turns into that of mentor and disciple, and Kay’s family and friends learn to view the Miyashitas with less prejudice than is the norm in the Calgary of the Thirties. But war is looming, and in the wider Canadian context, prejudice against the Japanese is fast turning to fear and hatred.

Flying Time is an example of what literary historical fiction does well: provides a snapshot of a time and place through the small evolutions in relationships in a clearly defined context. North’s evocation of Calgary in 1939 is masterly, a clear sketch that is never too heavy on detail. Her writing style is fluid, chatty, and engaging, and the pages of this novel flew by for me. I was not initially thrilled by the framing device for Kay’s reminiscences, a memoir writing class in a nursing home, but North made it work through Kay’s awareness of the poignancy of old age and the fleeting nature of youth.

Personally, I could have enjoyed the story without Kay’s journey to Hong Kong, even though I found the depiction of international travel by flying boat fascinating. I felt that the really engaging aspect of Flying Time was the delineation of the relationships that built up from a chance meeting, enhanced by the poignancy of historical hindsight.