An Evening With Dora Dueck’s “All That Belongs”

Yesterday, I descended into the luxury of a well-chosen book. Spending time with someone else’s story: award-winning author Dora Dueck’s latest novel, All That Belongs.

As you can see from the feature photo, I was at her recent Winnipeg book launch (at the lovely McNally Robinson Grant Park) and I’m not entirely sure if I could’ve possibly been more obnoxious. I’m always embarrassed about my behaviour in hindsight.

Dueck spoke before reading, and I was grateful to learn a bit about her process. She said she’s a slow writer, and that she had removed 20,000 words from the original manuscript. Wow!

She also spoke about this extraordinary cover art. Dueck said her sister-in-law had created it; the piece is entitled Gertrude, by Agatha Fast. It arrests my attention, draws me in… such a gorgeous representation of the story. All those memories, people, photos, on her mind. 

I hadn’t gotten very far into the book when the meaning of the title began to strike me. All That Belongs. To you. To your family. The good things. The rosy things. And the not-so-rosy things too. The embarrassing things. Painful things. All of it. Being open to the fact that you may not have been objective on that first go-round with memories. And, sometimes, perhaps many times, there are multiple ways to frame a memory, a person, a memory of a person. This speaks to me and my endeavours to look into my past and my family’s past.

All That Belongs follows Catherine, born the middle child of a Russlander farming family on the Canadian Prairies. She’s spent her career as an archivist, saving and interpreting the stories of others, while resolutely ignoring her own family’s past. Blithely figuring there’s nothing to see there. And frankly, she’d rather not delve into it. But as she retires from her archival position, a genuine curiosity takes root within her, about her own personal history and family tree. The parts she didn’t really want to see. Her strange uncle. Her Icarus-like brother. What she had assumed was so innocuous… perhaps there was more to the story, and she was finally open to the possibility, her eyes wide.

This book in particular drew me in because of the subject matter — that sense of exploration, sudden curiosity about one’s own family’s past. And what it’s like to decide to start asking questions; looking at your own family’s history, including even the ugly parts most would rather hide. Some things aren’t easy to hold up to the light… but remain important puzzle pieces nonetheless.

Within this book, there’s a delicious expectation of discovery. Of possibility! 

Catherine also encounters resistance from others when seeking clarity or answers to memories left unfinished. 

And then there’s the spectre of shame: another piece of our history that belongs as well. I love how Dora’s main character, Catherine, leans into even this. Fully embracing all that belongs to her. Determining to be completely present in all of it… or, whatever remains, that it still accessible to her all these years later. 

I love Dueck’s writing, her voice, her perspective. It’s honest, unflinching, yet classy.

It’s occurred to me that no two people read the same book, ever. The words on the page may be the same, but the person seeing the story unfold in their mind’s eye is different. This is a fascinating, beautiful story, and it inspires me, too. Thank-you for writing, Dora.