Montreal Gazette Review of Reparations

Legal thriller is based on history of Africville

Montreal Gazette
Saturday, June 3, 2006

The story of how Halifax blacks were ousted from their homes in the 1960s is a horrific blight on the Canadian landscape, but Canadian writer Stephen Kimber has used this history as his springboard to craft a fascinating legal thriller.

Reparations is a terrific read. Kimber, an acclaimed journalist and broadcaster, has seamlessly meshed historical fact with fictionalized characters, flipping back and forth over a 30-year period.

Africville was a community of about 400 blacks located in the heart of the Nova Scotia city. The city fathers never bothered to extend either water or sewer lines to the collection of shanty homes.

Eventually, the land was deemed too valuable for mere housing – the city wanted it for commercial development – and, under the guise of improving living conditions for the residents, municipal authorities relocated them to new housing projects and bulldozed their homes.

Reparations starts off with a court case where a city worker has been filching public money and redirecting it to black community outreach groups. The thief’s lawyer is Ray Carter, a black man who used to live in Africville and has changed his name to the more ethnic sounding Uhuru Melesse to impress white women. The judge is Ward Justice, a white former provincial politician who, coincidentally, was a childhood pal of Ray.

Ray/Uhuru is hoping to play the reparations card, placing the blame on the city for uprooting the community and ruining the lives of his client and others who called Africville home.

Both Ray and Ward have secrets in their closets.

A court reporter for the local paper, Moira Donovan, is the daughter of an embittered former investigative reporter who knows where the bodies were buried in the political machinations that went down when Africville was bulldozed.

Armed with certain documents, Donovan pere et fille are in a position to bring them both down.
Kimber, a native Haligonian, is the author of five non-fiction books, most notably Flight 111: The Tragedy of the Swissair Crash.

He has a remarkable eye, and knows his way around a newsroom. Trust me on this, Kimber’s observations about editors and the politics that govern what does and doesn’t make it into the daily pages of the paper are bang on.

If you have an interest in history, Reparations is a fascinating read. And even if you don’t care a whit for history, it’s a compelling piece of work.