In 1951, Everett MacQuade declares Whalebone Island, a small island off the eastern coast of Nova Scotia, a separate country. A true anarchist he calls this new nation the Republic of Nothing. Not very many people know of this new country, besides the few residents. They are a eclectic group, people with unique ideas of what freedom is. This is the Republic into which Ian MacQuade is born.
The Conservative Party of Nova Scotia is looking for new blood and having heard that Everett is a man with interesting political ideals they lure him to Halifax. He leaves his wife and two children behind with the promise he will return.
But Everett thrives on politics and becomes a Big Deal over the next decade. Ian grows into a man and falls in love with a pretty American refugee. He believes that life on Whalebone Island is perfect and why wouldn’t his father want to stay? No matter what Ian wants, change is coming. The Sixties bring a foreign war, more political refugees, a looming election, and the possibility of a uranium mine that will literally rip the island apart. Can Ian ride the tide of change or will he lose everything?
I wasn’t sure what to make of The Republic of Nothing by Lesley Choyce at first. It begins as a busy story, so much happens in just a few pages: an elephant washes ashore, a mummified Viking is found, a hurricane nearly washes them away, Ian’s sister is born, and the American refugees arrive. It was a bit much to take. Ian, the narrator, admits that all these things might not have happened exactly this way, he is five after all when these events occur. I think that admission helped me cut him some slack.
While things aren’t as frenetic for the rest of the novel, there are a lot of crazy happenings. Yes, I know some Maritimers are “characters” (so the polite say) but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered the types inhabiting Whalebone Island. They were all a little wack-a-doodle. It kept things interesting. The women especially are strong characters. I wasn’t always sure of Gwen. She was so idealized by Ian that sometimes she didn’t seem like a real girl. I’m still not sure how I feel about her.
The Republic of Nothing is a coming of age story with elements of the political and supernatural. In it a boy becomes a man. He gets his heart broken and learns that even if he knows where he belongs not everyone feels the same. It’s a bit of a tall tale too.
I’m not doing The Republic of Nothing much justice here. Just read it and you’ll know what I mean.