What it Takes to be Human Reviews

“…The material is dramatic and at times lyrical, the story rich and strange. Sandy is a kind of Everyman… his fine intelligence beaten down in the name of Christian obedience. The irony of his incarceration at a time of global bloodshed is abundantly clear… this is no ordinary thriller… and the euphoria and optimism of the ending feel like a dream. It is harder to believe than to disbelieve, Bowering seems to be saying; yet believing, against all logic, that happiness is possible is a large part of what it takes to be fully human..”

Maureen Garvie, Quill and Quire.

“What It Takes To Be Human is the story of how a young man retains his sanity in a universe that has gone completely mad. Yes, this story has been written before. We’ve seen it in Henri Charrier’s Papillon, or Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, in which our first-person narrator, obviously brilliant though somewhat porous, is powerless in an unjust world. …Other great novels, such as Lord of the Flies, The Island of Dr Moreau or even Heart of Darkness, in which men descend to the most animal part of being human, come to mind. … [Bowering] successfully connects the reader to the magnitude and complexity of what it meant to live during a world war [and] the absurdity, pettiness and inhumanity of the justice system is fully realized. … What it Takes to Be Human is a great novel, as worthy as the other novels mentioned in this review [Lord of the Flies, Heart of Darkness, One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Papillion]. All the strands Bowering dangles out there courageously, ambitiously, begin to braid themselves when the reader needs them to, and we are rewarded with a sense of wholeness. I’m not going to say I couldn’t put it down. There were times when I had to put it down, to close its cover and step away, to allow my mind to wrap around its ideas—to stand at a distance from the story of Alan Macaulay and Sandy Grey and grasp the gravity of their plight, the sheer insanity of war and the injustices perpetrated on those who lack ability to prove their innocence…. [Bowering] does not seek moments to be brilliant: those moments just arrive.”

Almeda Glenn Miller, The Globe & Mail

“Marilyn Bowering explores the relationship between innocence, injustice, and motiveless malevolence in a story that is so layered and compelling that you will be dazzled by her wisdom and huge talent. The characters will break your heart, renew your faith, and remind you what it takes to be human.”

Rosemary Sullivan, author of Villa Air-Bel: World War II, Escape, and a House in Marseille

“Once into it, I read almost without stop, fascinated with her narrator and the world he found himself in. Continuously inventive, it was also totally (frighteningly) believable. The whole novel seemed to imply that to find hell (with its monsters) we need only look to the fairly-recent past and not very far from home. One of its biggest successes for me is that this visit to a kind of hell is conducted by a generous heart that guides us from somewhere just slightly behind the visible narrator. It’s a superb novel.”

Jack Hodgins

“Who among us does not feel nowadays that we are in a madhouse, locked into an insane world in which anger, ignorance and cruelty are winning the war? But help is on the way — we have a new hero, unlikely though he may seem. Young Sandy Grey reminds us that imagination and language are the tools we need to break free and Marilyn Bowering proves it, by writing an astonishing novel through which optimism carries us forward and makes us believe that, in Sandy’s final words, You can always count on love.”

Isabel Huggan, author of The Elizabeth Stories and Belonging

“Marilyn Bowering is one of our whistle blowers.  Her new book tells us What it Means to be Human — something we seem on the brink of forgetting. Classic in form, this white knuckle book leads us through a contemporary underworld before bringing us up, once again, to the light.  Required reading!”

P.K. Page, winner of the Governor General’s Award for The Metal and the Flower

“One of Canada’s most eloquent storytellers has given us a compelling and exquisitely crafted tale about hope, love and creativity, in, of all places, a Canadian mental asylum.”

Susan Swan, author of What Casanova Told Me

“Taut and suspenseful, Bowering’s judicious use of the fantastic reminds us that this is no ordinary thriller… .  It is harder to believe than to disbelieve, Bowering seems to be saying; yet believing, against all logic, that happiness is possible is a large part of what it takes to be fully human.”

Maureen Garvie, Quill and Quire

“Sandy is a wonderfully drawn character who wins our empathy immediately and pulls us into his compelling story with ease….What It Takes To Be Human is a psychologically complex story that does justice to its provocative title…. There is a richness of language and imagery throughout, and Bowering renders Sandy’s inner state with often gut-wrenching vividness. As we read, we are implicitly challenged to think about our own idea of what it takes to be human. What Bowering seems to suggest is that at least one aspect of being fully human is an openness to words and their ability to save and to heal.”

Eva Tihanyi, The National Post

“Bowering’s novel has a mythical intensity and breadth of vision which is wholly admirable.”

Daily Mail


Leave a Reply