I'VE BEEN thinking a lot lately about how poorly the left communicates our ideas. Stuck in the left brain, we seem to think that facts, figures, and good arguments will persuade people. The political right, on the other hand, understands the power of a good story. (Think of how effectively they use stories to justify the completely ineffective "war on crime" or the equally ineffective "war on terror.")
So it was with particular pleasure that I picked up Varda Burstynâe(TM)s eco-thriller Water, Inc. Burstyn is an old friend and comrade of mine who has been active in both the women's and environmental movements. She is a writer of non-fiction, so I was intrigued by what she would produce when she turned to fiction. What I found was a page-turner.
An American corporate consortium figures out that the best way to corner the market on Canadian water is by convincing the Quebec government to deal. An otherwise progressive senior official in a Parti QuÃ©bÃ©cois government is persuaded it is better to sell Quebec's water to the corporate giant themselves than to wait for Canada to do it for them. Under NAFTA, once Canada sells its waterâe"an inevitability the official figuresâe"then Quebec's water would in essence be under federal control. Canada would once again be setting the rules. Better for Quebec to negotiate with the Americans.
Thus begins an eco-thriller as informative as it is exciting.
Water, Inc. is an excellent education in the issue of water privatization. I learned more about the issue from this book than from all the mailings from the Council of Canadians. The novel shows an unusual grasp of Quebec politics as well as an insider's understanding of how progressive politicians and bureaucrats manage to convince themselves to do dastardly things in the name of some uncertain progress.
But what I loved most about the book were the characters that fight against the deal. No stick-figure protestors, the environmental activists in this book are fully drawn and not unlike a few real people some in the movement may recognize.
Writing political fiction is no easy task. Combining good writing, interesting characters, and a compelling narrative with education on an issue is an even harder one. It's a challenge that Varda Burstyn has met with aplomb. I can't wait to see the movie. âe"Judy Rebick
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