Reviewed by: Michael Ernest Sweet
Portraits from the Past is not a conventional memoir as Grafftey adamently suggests in the forward. Rather, it is a collection of ‘portraits’ or ‘vignettes’ of which Grafftey has been involved; some more intimately than others. However, all chapters are portraits with a unique ‘signature’ customary of Grafftey’s writing style. That is, although some of the stories related are not suprising in their plot, they are told in a distinct voice that is somewhat lost in contemporary writing. Grafftey is a natural storyteller.
Grafftey touches upon a vast selection of topics in this great little volume from The Lives of Composers (Mozart and Brahams) Â to Chasing Fires (a fun little story about his father’s fettish for chasing fire engines). In the end, I reccommend this book highly and especially to the under thirty crowd as there is something gained from this novel that is pointedly missing from contemporary youth culture. You will feel a warm and cozy feeling as if having just sat through a story-telling session with your grandfather. However, don’t let my grandfatehr allusion detract from the wisdom of Grafftey’s writing. He is a true intellectual who is just now able to shine following a career in politics which perhaps stole him away from his true gift – telling stories which are both entertaining and thoughtfully engaging. Grafftey would have made a wonderful lecturer and the Canadian University circut has surely missed out on a great opportunity.
Portraits from the Past is a book which will fall under the radar for not conforming to contemporary writing styles and is also a book for which we will ultimatley regret not embracing and revering. Opportunities for such insight into Montreal’s past as offered by this book are quickly disappearing. Let us be thankful writers such as Grafftey areÂ dedicating their retirements to committing such memories to paper. Perhaps it will be decades even before the true worth of this volume, as well as much of Grafftey’s other writing, is truly recognized and ultimately celebrated.
W. Heward Grafftey