The Sojourn by Alan CumynThe Sojourn by Alan Cumyn

The Sojourn

byAlan Cumyn

Paperback | February 17, 2004

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By the award-winning author of Burridge Unbound, a finalist for the Giller Prize
A Globe and Mail Notable Book of the Year

Highly praised as one of the best novels of the First World War, Alan Cumyn’s The Sojourn tells the story of a young Canadian soldier’s emotional journey through duty, fear, and love. From the front lines at Ypres to the seductive streets of London to memories of a West Coast childhood, we follow Ramsay Crome, a private with the 7th Canadian Pioneers who has volunteered against his father’s wishes. After a particularly horrible assault, Ramsay is granted a ten-day leave to London. It is here that he meets his cousin Margaret, a fervent objector to the war and the woman who will determine his fate in unexpected ways. As Ramsay tumbles into the suffocating embrace of family and the whirl of city life, he is forced to defend his honour and confront his own doubts and terror about the war, knowing that he must ultimately return to the Front. The Sojourn is a powerful yet intimate story about the passions of ordinary people caught in the tide of war.

From the Hardcover edition.
Alan Cumyn’s books include Man of Bone (1998), winner of the Ottawa-Carleton Book Award (as it was then known) and a finalist for the Trillium Book Award in 1999; Burridge Unbound (2000), which won the Ottawa Book Award and was a finalist for The Giller Prize; Losing It (2001); and The Sojourn (2003). His children’s book The Secret Lif...
Title:The SojournFormat:PaperbackDimensions:320 pages, 8.38 × 5.38 × 1 inPublished:February 17, 2004Publisher:McClelland & StewartLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0771024940

ISBN - 13:9780771024948

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Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Well Done Alan Cumyn does a great job in bringing out several emotions from the reader throughout the novel. Whether it be feelings of rejoice, or feelings of remorse, "The Sojourn" keeps you on your toes and definitely takes time away from your beauty rest. I definitely recommend this book for readers like me who enjoy a fast paced novel that leaves you in anticipation every time you put the book down. This novel has every emotional aspect from, love drama, to death on the battlefield. You name it and Alan Cumyn has it ready for you to read. Overall very well done, I am glad I came across this novel as I actually found myself willing to do my school work for once in my life.
Date published: 2011-10-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoroughly Enjoyed It If you like war stories, romance, tales of inner struggle or bravery, The Sojourn is a rewarding read. Set during the First World War, the author immerses you first in the chaos of the front line trenches then casts you into paradoxical war-time London. The author’s vivid description and realistic dialog provide a window into an important historical period. While touching on the macro politics of the time, the book is more about one man’s struggle to come to terms with his role and responsibility. Each character is compelling in their own way. You begin to care deeply for the protagonist, a young Canadian private, and long for him to make certain choices throughout the story. It was one of those books that I didn’t want to end. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Date published: 2004-05-03

Read from the Book

Midnight now, and as I have no billet, but must report in the morning, I let my feet take me down the narrow, poplar­lined road back to perdition. It is dark and rutted, but hardly lonely: the road is clogged with a long, lumbering, mud-choked supply line of gear-grinding trucks, horse-drawn limbers and gun carriages, and slogging men on foot . . . most going in the wrong direction, away from the Salient.“Heading for the Somme,” one lad says to me on his way by, when I ask. “I feel like a lucky bastard to be away from here.”The arc of battle stretches ahead of me, with the dark, brooding ruins of Ypres smoking in the distance.Better to keep my eyes down. I plod along, boots squelching in the roadside mud (and what fine boots these have become, now that my feet have adjusted through the pain). We are rank, sweating, filthy, unwashed men and beasts, silent except for the tired tramp of feet, the machinery of our breathing, the occasional fart or grunt or muttered curse aimed at nothing in particular. Silent, that is, compared to the explosions beyond, which are so constant they hardly count as noise.The road is far too small to accommodate us. More and more I am squeezed to the side by passing trucks and field guns heading away from the line of fire. I expect the shaking, the cold, the fear of some hours ago to return and reclaim me. But step follows step, breath turns to breath, and while my pack and rifle grow heavier, my heart stays slow and calm.Then for no reason at all I look up at just the right instant to glimpse a brilliant star flare illuminating the night sky. I watch for several more paces as shells explode across the horizon, and then I find myself standing in a field some steps off without being aware of having consciously decided to leave the road. I gaze dumbfounded at the distant splashes of deepest blues and scarlet reds and angry orange balls of flame, of yellow streaking flares and sudden riots of green, purple, blinding white, and then seconds of profound darkness broken again and again by more explosions of colour.For the briefest moment I suffer the confusion that God is trying to get my attention by this awesome display. But of course there is no God, no God anywhere, unless the darkness itself is God, the unmarked palette of the night sky. The rest of the work is ours completely, our damnation increasing with every blast.I stand rooted, almost, in the face of this demonstration, suddenly weakened with hunger and despair. How can I go on? How can anyone? Why not be done with it, lie down here and sink peacefully back into the earth? ­Wouldn’t that be better than walking, fully conscious, into the blast?I stand staring, shaken, an unnoticed scarecrow in a deserted field not far from the true fields of agony and death.But in the end it is only a moment in a loose collection of moments, a sliding to the side in order to move forward. Soon enough, and under my own steam, I am walking again towards my doom, part of the huge, slogging effort which seems to be moving in two directions at once, like a great slithering beast that cannot make up its mind.A shell lands screaming in the field, hitting perhaps the exact spot where I’d been standing a few minutes ago. It causes a ripple in the body of the beast, nothing more. I glance back anxiously, try to see what, if anything, was obliterated.It occurs to me that that was the shell with my name on it. I was supposed to die in that blast, standing alone in the field marvelling at the great bloody buggered universe.But here I am instead, my feet still moving forward, leaving my ghost to haunt at the shell-hole meant for me.“Sure is pretty if you don’t think about it too much,” I say to the guy next to me, who doesn’t know what the hell I’m talking about.From the Hardcover edition.

Bookclub Guide

1. The title of the book refers to the leave Private Ramsay Crome is granted from the Ypres Salient in 1916 and how his time away from the Front affects him. How do Ramsay’s feelings about the war shift over the course of the book? How do his horrifying experiences at the Front contrast with the whirl of city life and the views of those who are not fighting? In particular, how do his interactions with his cousin, Margaret, and with his father influence him?2. Why do you think the author, Alan Cumyn, chose to make Ramsay a private, an enlisted man rather than an officer? What effect does that have on the telling of the story? How does Cumyn use that to an advantage in the way in which he describes the war?3. Discuss why literature about war, the First World War in particular, continues to fascinate both writers and readers. What is the writer’s responsibility in writing about historical events? How do you think we, as readers, come to historical fiction when we have the separation of time to distance us from events?4. Margaret is a character who is adamant in her objections to the war. Does she serve as a foil for Ramsay’s feelings about the war, or as a complement to them? How does he seem to feel about that? How much do you think Margaret’s views on the war are influenced by her position in society and/or her status as a woman? Are you convinced that Margaret’s stated feelings for Mr. Boulton are genuine? Why or why not?5. There are two families depicted in the book, Ramsay’s and Margaret’s. Discuss the differences between the families and the way in which Ramsay’s and Margaret’s views of the war are or are not a result of their upbringings.6. Ramsay’s father is a mysterious figure and seemingly someone whom Ramsay idolized as a child. In the various flashbacks that Ramsay has to his childhood [p 69, pp 97-98], what is revealed about his relationship with his father and how does that connect to Ramsay’s defiance of his father in the novel’s present (first in signing up for service, then by refusing the transfer away from the Front)? How does Cumyn portray Ramsay in the meeting with his father at the tube station [pp 209-213]? Why do you think the author constructs the scene this way?7. Discuss how the author creates atmosphere in each of the three parts of the novel. What devices does he use?8. What is the author’s intention, do you think, when it seems that both the idealization of his youth and of Margaret seem to save Ramsay in the last moments on the battlefield?9. The author depicts enlisted men and their interactions with great insight. Compare how the men act together at the Front, in transit, at a bar in London, at the theatre, at a brothel. What do you think the author is conveying about the experience of soldiers and their capacity to deal with the horrors of war?10. Discuss Ramsay’s state of mind when he is on his journey to return to the Front. What do you think are the key elements that have led him into this downward, hopeless place?11. The novel is written in a way that creates an immediacy between the reader and the action of the story and the emotions of the main character, Ramsay. Discuss the ways in which the author accomplishes this immediacy in terms of perspective, narrative structure, pacing, description of physical surroundings, and how time is used.12. The author has said that a key passage in the novel, for him, comes at the end when Ramsay emerges from the flames of battle to find that the foe is extraordinarily like himself. Ramsay imagines that “there are no sides at all, that we’re fighting ourselves, that the corpse that comes with victory will be our own” [p 309]. Discuss the significance of this passage both in the novel and in our present-day context.13. The author, Alan Cumyn, has said that he was inspired to write the novel due to his own family’s involvement in the Great War. Is there an event in your family’s past that might inspire you to write a novel about a period in history?

Editorial Reviews

“A timeless novel of life during wartime… The Sojourn can be mentioned in the same company of such modern classics as The Wars, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Thin Red Line.”–Toronto Star“Cumyn crafts unforgettable characters, ingenious plots and dazzling prose, all in a unique voice.… He is destined to be one of Canada’s greats.… The Sojourn is a multi-layered novel of terrible beauty.”–Ottawa Citizen“Vivid and fascinating.… [A] viscerally evocative and psychologically acute portrayal, laced with dark humour and moments of lyricism, of men at war.”–Montreal Gazette“A virtuoso sonata of a First World War novel.”–Georgia Straight“Cumyn’s achievement is significant. The Sojourn is intelligent, unsentimental, unflinching.”–Literary Review of Canada“Alan Cumyn is a deft, smooth writer.… Superb.… Very fine.”–Globe and Mail“A beautifully written novel.… Paced at breakneck speed, and covering only a few days in May, [The Sojourn] offers the whole war in miniature, showing – brilliantly – how the anvil of experience forged soldiers’ bonds.…”–Maclean’s“Vivid and convincing.… [A] literary page-turner.…”–Quill & Quire “[Cumyn’s achievement rests] with the power and eloquence of his prose.… The novel transcends topical relevance. It deals with universal themes of love and loss, loyalty and honour, vulnerability and sacrifice, pain and sorrow and the pity that is war.”–Kitchener-Waterloo Record“Cumyn taps into a rich imaginative vein to bring his readers into the madness and fragmented experience of the trenches.”–Hamilton Spectator“A compelling study of the madness of war.… Cumyn uses a trenchant eye for detail to take his readers to the war’s front.… A thought-provoking, worthwhile read.”–Halifax Chronicle HeraldFrom the Hardcover edition.