Will Ferguson is a funny guy.
That is well known, but as it turns out, he’s also a pithy, compassionate guy – a little surprising for someone who declared in 1997 that he hates his fellow Canadians.
Ferguson’s newest book, Canadian Pie, published by Viking Canada, features the satire, parody and puns, but it also includes some unusual Ferguson fare which makes for a nice change for those familiar with his work. Not that his typical fare is tired, but Ferguson also happens to be quite capable of tackling unusual stories that can’t be handled with satire or humour, such as The Last Kamikaze.
It’s the story of Eiji Imazato, who as a youth had been trained as a kamikaze (wind of god) pilot to crash his plane into American war ships. It is a story that began with a photograph of five smiling boys dressed in flight suits, helmets and goggles, gathered around a puppy and a chance meeting with one of the boys who – through sheer fluke – never left the ground but watched his friends take off and never return.
Later in life, Imazato, who survived the war, became one of Japan’s top runners, a husband, a father and later, a grandfather
Ferguson met Imazato in 1992 in Japan and he paints a compassionate portrait of the much-maligned kamikaze pilot who, outside of the rhetoric of the war that painted them as crazed monsters, was just a frightened boy, swept up in events much bigger than himself.
The Last Kamikaze is but one of the many unsual stories, articles and essays in this book.
All in all, it’s something of a best of Will Ferguson and, from Ferguson’s perspective, maybe the best should be in quotation marks.
“My publisher wanted to do a best of Will Ferguson and I said ‘why not the worst of?’ So instead of calling it Canadian Pie it should be ‘Canadian ham’ or ‘Canadian pie is only half-baked’.”
Half-baked or not, Canadian Pie is an eclectic selection of 47 essays and articles that fit within eight sections that include Ferguson’s take on travel, writing, politics (and his near pieing of Lucian Bouchard), Japan, prominent Canadians and even the script Ferguson wrote for the closing ceremony of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games – at the least the a few of the drafts that didn’t make the cut.
It’s a book that sent Ferguson to search the recesses of his clipping files, hard drive and floppy disks, given them a shake and see what fell out.
“Have you ever taken a toaster and shaken it out and you’re amazed at what falls out? Half a bagel… It was really fun. It was like shaking out my hard drive. I could have written two or three books really. But it was fun, you pick out ones that complement each other and you try not to repeat yourself,” he said.
And though the Vancouver Olympics approached him to write the script and ended up not using it as Ferguson conceived, he said he’s not bitter.
“I knew what I was getting into. I’m not bitter in the least. It was a fun game. I didn’t apply for the job. They asked me, and you don’t say ‘no’.
“It was fun, but I’ll stick to writing books.”
Ultimately, he said, he and his wife got the best date-night ever out of it and the fact he didn’t have to stand in line to get in or use the washroom made it all that much better.
“They treat you so well. They fly you out, send a car for you. And I’m such a hoser the biggest thrill for me was the fact that we didn’t have to stand in line to get into the stadium. We got in through the back door and they swept us up to a private booth.
“You mean we have our own washroom? Excellent. Going to hockey games you’re always so cramped. ‘Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me’ when you’re going to the washroom.
“That was a thrill for me.”
The key to his approach is getting out there to meet people and getting to know them while avoiding the typical approach, which is interviewing the mayor.
And after all, these encounters with regular people is the meat to Ferguson’s gravy. It’s much like a night he described in St. John’s Nfld. while he was there working on a travel piece. He hadn’t made it down to George Street with its 22 bars, clubs and pubs, and even though he was tired and ready to pack it in on what was his last night in on The Rock, off he went.
“I ended up being kidnapped by fishermen and it was the funniest night I ever had. You have to meet people and you have to engage. It forces you to be observant.”
Canadian Pie is listed at $32.
Ferguson’s next book is a novel set in Africa, contrasting the landscape and the brutality of the Rwandan genocide.