J. J. Lee judge of 2016 non-fiction Whistler Independent Book Award

Finalist Evaluation

Title For Elise by J.J. Lee

‘For Elise is a book from a genre that is often difficult to evaluate because the genre has its own criteria and demands. The genre is family and local history. The difficulty is should a work be judged on literary merit when so much of what drives it is the recovery of experience, the reinsertion of artifact and document back into a chronology of a life lived, and the simple reassertion that we or they were here?

The author smartly recognizes the importance of ordinary people’s history and prepares us for the humble, though epic in scale, tale. But the apology is unnecessary because Elise Harrer is a decisively literary, heroic, vital person whose struggle with the frontier has all the elements of a compelling Western tale. . . . ‘

‘The instigation of the author is both real and compelling – witnessing her father honour the grave of a mystery woman from her family’s past. The writer drops us quickly into the whirlwind of action, setting us to sail across the ocean and prairies. It is breathless in a good way, and it is a great bit of wonderfully historical fiction backed by actual historical documentation.’ . . .

‘It is a mammoth accomplishment. The work is admirable for its detail and doggedness. The writer has a great tone and keeps things quite simple – getting out of the way of the story and her source material, a hard thing to do. I think this book will be a valuable resource and an important corrective with regard to this period in time and as a feminist re-history that does so much to honour and restore Elise. The writer’s father may have placed the stone but it is the writer who has carved out the undying epitaph. I won’t forget Elise. That is for certain.’

J. J. Lee, wrote The Measure of a Man: the Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit