A Bigger World: The Life and Times of Wm. Edwy Ryerson, written by Thomas Ryerson, is the semi-fictional account of his great grandfather’s life through the stories grandparents told and experienced. It is semi-fictional in that the major events are true, like serving in World War I but the details needed to be filled in. Stories like these are difficult exciting events from the past often lose their luster in the present. It’s a difficult task and I found it be very well done.
The book is narrated by Tom (the author’s grandfather) and follows three time lines: Edwy’s life of adventure Boer War, World War I, India; The depression in the 1930s; and the 1920s. Although they do all form one lifetime, they are divided in the book and intermixed. The reader needs to pay attention to when the story is happening.
I will admit I was a bit confused at the start of the book. I initially assumed the author was telling his memories of his great grandfather’s stories, then I realized the author was somewhere around my age, so that could not be the case. I took a moment and figured it out and I should have given more attention to the forward. Secondly the time changes were confusing: was it the 1920s or the 1930s? This just forces the reader to pay better attention. The tragic story of Sonny clearly lets you know where you are in the time line. I will take the blame for my initial confusion as everything did work out the further I read.
The writing is clear and well thought out. The stories of the wars and even the Titanic were not “thrilling” is the sense of Hollywood movie, but have a totally different feeling. They were told like someone who was there and experienced it. Talk to a vet about about what ever conflict they were in and you will get the same feeling of gravity. War is not glorious, you do what you have to and deal with it and some times you look away and often times you simply endure. The feelings Edwy had for the Empire are much the feelings that many in the military have for the country they serve. I felt the same way when I joined the Marines and yes it was thrilling…about three percent of the time. I am sure anyone who served can relate to Edwy’s stories.
The story of Sonny is very touching and deals with the reality of metal illness in the 1920s and 1930s; we have come a long way. The characters in the story are all interesting. The stories are all interesting and some moving. The main story is Edwy’s life is amazing: Two wars, Colonial occupation, ship’s steward (on the Titanic no less), and raising a family in the depression. Any one of these events would have been enough for most people. Life was an adventure for Edwy Ryerson and he lived it to the fullest.
A very worthwhile read