Us and Them
By: Sid Tafler
Length: 208 pages
Release date: Sep 23, 2013
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As a young woman in Montreal looking for an apartment, my mother encountered signs that read “No dogs, no cats, no Jews.”
This is the world I was raised in, where people stuck with their own kind and erected walls and signs to keep others out. Where kids threw insults and rocks at each other, not as bad as their fathers and grandfathers who fought with fists and teeth and left blood—and body parts—on the street.
Us and Them is a family memoir written for anyone who ever feared or mistrusted another person because of their skin color, their religion or the language they spoke--or faced that fear and suspicion.
Much of the book is based on vivid memories and stories that reveal the best and worst of human relations. A teacher, remembering starvation in another time and place, picks a crust of bread off the street and gives it a decent burial in a waste basket. An immigrant, nearly strangled to death in a street brawl, fights back by biting off the ear of his tormentor and spitting it to the ground. A group of kids stare at a rosary they find in a playground, afraid to touch it for fear they’ll be accused of theft—or worse.
For many years I have recognized the duality of Us and Them as a defining force of human identity. Black and white. Native and non-native. Christian, Moslem and Jew. English speaker, or not. From an early age, children learn about their own kind and about others. Some are taught to cherish their traditions and honour those of other people, but others learn that people who look, talk or pray differently are to be feared or hated.
The narrative stretches across the continent to the remote west coast wilderness, where life remains largely as it was when Europeans arrived nearly 250 years ago. In the deepest realm of the back-country, natives thrive as they have for thousands of years, harvesting and preserving salmon--and welcoming strangers to their territories, although they themselves are often rejected in the larger society. Drawing from the medicine chest of traditional healing, they show a white man how to survive a serious knife wound without a doctor, stitches or bandages. We also travel to the Middle East, the major flash-point of religious rivalry in the world, where we find remarkable brotherhood and similarities among some Arabs and Jews as well as more predictable enmity and blood-lust.
The problem of hatred of the other bedevils humanity. And in an age of a contracting world and an expanding supply of mass-murder weapons, it threatens world peace, perhaps even our very existence on this planet. It’s a problem that begs for resolution. Us and Them explores the issue in depth and provides insights to lead the reader to personal solutions.
- “Tafler's character portrayals are vivid and fascinating; dramatic incidents and moving recollections further enhance the storytelling.” Boulevard Magazine
- One of “eight new non-fiction books that are worth your time. Graceful, lucid writing.” Vancouver Sun
- "The story is told with skill and sensitivity, with a clear eye back and an optimistic eye forward." Victoria Times Colonist
- "The writing is clean, professional and engaging. He takes some chances and he tells a good story." Monday Magazine
- " . . . a linear, narrative structure that reads like fine fiction." Victoria News
- “ . . . a wonderful piece of work . . . the continuation of the main theme throughout is an excellent way of drawing the individual cameos together . . Doug Beardsley, Author, Rain Music