Book review: Novel has millions of refugees in Kamloops area due to Asian nuclear war

While the economic crisis and political opportunism flows from a war that has fundamentally changed society, one can read Shawn MacWha's Eastern Horizons and see parallels to the impact of, and reactions to, the current COVID-19 pandemic that has also changed society as we know it.

Imagine 65,000 people living at Tranquille on Kamloops Lake.

Shawn MacWha has, along with envisioning about a million more people jammed into a string of camps along Highway 5 between Merritt and Kamloops.

The influx of millions of refugees is the result of a brutal nuclear war between China and Russia that destroyed both countries and devastated the world economy, a scenario that occurs early in MacWha’s book, Eastern Horizons, leading to the fallout globally — literally and otherwise.

While the economic crisis and political opportunism flows from a war that has fundamentally changed society, one can read the book and see parallels to the impact of, and reactions to, the current COVID-19 pandemic that has also changed society as we know it.

This despite the fact MacWha was writing Eastern Horizons long before the novel coronavirus upended our way of life. That is was published in the midst of the pandemic, in August 2020, only adds to its relevance to today’s global situation.

The novel looks at the Asian nuclear war’s impact on the world from different perspectives:

• that of Clara Lewis, a former Canadian Navy lieutenant-commander dealing with the trauma inflicted during her time in the armed forces;

• that of Sophia Chen, a widowed Malaysian mother of two whose life of privilege is now a life of struggle in a southeast Asian refugee camp;

• that of the three federal political party leaders left to try to manage the country amid the economic and social catastrophe.

In fact, while all the characters are endearing, sympathetic and all too real, it is the three politicians and their experiences that resonate the most — perhaps because their economic challenges are similar to those posed to politicians in Canada today as we continue to be staggered by the effects of the pandemic.

Consider this passage on page 177 as Prime Minister Charles Gagnon and Official Opposition Leader Robert Warren discuss spending amid a skyrocketing deficit and debt.

Gagnon (who seems to be a Liberal, though his party affiliation is never noted) wants to dig deeper and find more money for the people. Warren (who seems to be a Conservative, though his party affiliation is not mentioned) complains that “we’re borrowing from our children to pay for it.”

Gagnon wants his Personal Reconstruction Grant plan passed, a proposal that would see each household in Canada receive a one-time payment of $10,000, with an additional $1,000 for every person under the age of 18.

The cost of the grant plan? More than $140 billion added to the deficit.

(Step back into the real world, where a virus, not a nuclear war, has upended the world and consider that, to the end of November of last year, the federal government had spent an estimated $240 billion on COVID-19 relief efforts, including straight payments to households.)

The third political leader is Arthur McMurray, a populist who can barely conceal his bigoted agenda. His Canada is protectionist, anti-immigration (unless said immigrants come from Western and Northern Europe) and pro-military.

McMurray’s Canada First Party has been an odd fringe movement for a dozen years, with no hope of electing and MPs and no hope of having anybody take it seriously. But all that changes once the Asian War and its brutal impact on Canada’s socio-economic status grows, producing angst among voters, many of whom are prime pickings for McMurray’s brand of fear politics.

From here we watch as the leaders in the House of Commons navigate this unprecedented era, Lewis finds a much-needed friend in the immigrant camps along Highway 5A between Kamloops and Merritt and Chen works to save what is left of her family in a refugee camp in the Philippines.

Eastern Horizons is a quick read, the 326 pages turning quickly as MacWha knows how to keep the story churning along at a good pace without getting bogged down in too many details.

There are lessons to be learned, challenges to be faced and truths to be confronted as the narrative spans from Russia and China to southeast Asia and across to the west and east coasts of Canada.

Eastern Horizins is available online at amazon.ca. Click here to find the book.

MacWha is an Ottawa-based writer who spent five years living in Asia and visiting many of the locations referenced in the novel. He has a master of arts degree in military and strategic studies from the University of Calgary and an undergraduate’s degree in Soviet and East European Studies from Carleton University in Ottawa. MacWha was also a reservist in the Canadian infantry. For more on the author and novel, go online to easternhorizons.ca.

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