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Meaford Public Library 2016

THE DEFENDER: Helen Solmes

Helen-headshot2-0264Two years ago, Helen Solmes retired from her career as a journalist with a weekly newspaper and communications officer for a potash mine in Saskatchewan, and returned to her home province of Ontario, after having been away for 40 years.

She scouted around the province for a month looking for a place to settle that was relatively close to her two children, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren in Toronto.

Helen says that she fell in love with Meaford on first sight. But having left a small prairie town where everyone knew her on a first-name basis and coming to a town where she knew nobody was weighing heavily on her mind…till she walked into the Meaford Public Library. If the whole town, she remembers thinking, was as friendly and receptive as the library staff, she would be just fine.

During her career as a newspaper editor, Helen promoted several writers who had a connection of one sort or another to the newspaper’s readership. She combined forces with eight local women and published an anthology of short stories and she edited the journal of an 80-year adventurist who paddled 1,000 kilometres from Regina to Winnipeg. Through these experiences, she developed an appreciation for different writing styles, above and beyond the story itself.

THE BOOK: The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel 

highIn Lisbon in 1904, a young man named Tomás discovers an old journal. It hints at the existence of an extraordinary artifact that—if he can find it—would redefine history. Traveling in one of Europe’s earliest automobiles, he sets out in search of this strange treasure.

Thirty-five years later, a Portuguese pathologist devoted to the murder mysteries of Agatha Christie finds himself at the center of a mystery of his own and drawn into the consequences of Tomás’s quest.

Fifty years on, a Canadian senator takes refuge in his ancestral village in northern Portugal, grieving the loss of his beloved wife. But he arrives with an unusual companion: a chimpanzee. And there the century-old quest will come to an unexpected conclusion.

The High Mountains of Portugal—part quest, part ghost story, part contemporary fable—offers a haunting exploration of great love and great loss. Filled with tenderness, humor, and endless surprise, it takes the reader on a road trip through Portugal in the last century—and through the human soul. (