The Age of Hope by David Bergen

The Age of Hope by
Trade Paperback, 287 pages
The Age of Hope
Rating: 9/10


In 1930, a woman named Hope is born into what will be, for all appearances, a completely conventional life in Winnipeg. She loves her husband and her kids, even though things seem Her feminist friend Emily leads a life that shocks her even as she finds herself full of envy, but she is inspired to take steps toward breaking out of her conventional roles, although unsure of what she really wants. As her children grow into their own lives and complications, Hope pushes and pulls against what the boundaries of a wife and mother are expected to be, trying to find a place where she can be herself.

Reason for Reading

I'm reading the Canada Reads nominees, hopefully more or less in tune with the Twitter Book Club (will be catching up on Indian Horse).
Broadcaster Ron MacLean will be defending The Age of Hope, the pick for the 'Prairies and North' division.

Why you should read this book

Hope is a great character, believable and easy to cheer for as she tries to push herself past expectations, retreating when pressed but always willing to try again. While afraid to force her opinions onto other people when she is younger, Hope is guided by her own internal belief of what is right, and will do her best to live up to her ideals. One of her defining moments comes when her daughter is a teenager and Hope is determined to do what is best for someone regardless of what is deemed 'acceptable.' There are times when an enthused Hope overreaches when she presumes to know what's right for other women and not just herself, a balance most of us struggle to reach. Bergen's writing style is well-suited to the story, with enough dialogue and interaction between the characters to keep the story advancing alongside Hope's internal ponderings on her life. The Age of Hope may be a 'quiet' book, but it is definitely engrossing from start to finish.

Why you should avoid this book

While an excellent read, I can't help but feel that The Age of Hope doesn't have some of the magic of similarly-themed books I've read. I'd rather have the bubbling rages and passions of being a wife and mother in Carol Shields' Unless, which made the frustrations of an 'ordinary' life explode off the page. Just as a personal preference, I tend not to prefer a life-long span to be covered in a relatively short book - sometimes jumping to the 'big events' can make it harder to see what Hope has to rally against.

Opening Paragraph

Hope Plett would certainly have married her first love if he hadn't died in a plane crash minutes after flying at a low altitude over her house. As the small plane passed overhead, a hand appeared out of the cockpit window and she shouted, 'Hello, Jimmy.' Though Jimmy Kaas could not hear her and she knew this was so, she felt that she should say something, as he had gone to all that trouble of creating a drama. The plane made a steep climb and then disappeared in the direction of the golf course. She learned that he had crashed while attempting a 'touch-and-go' on the grass landing strip. His family, a small Norwegian island in a sea of Anabaptists, left town shortly after his death.

Fabulous quotes

She took the textbooks home, and for the first week she worked one hour a day at learning the Russian characters. One night Roy found the textbook and picked it up and said, 'What's this? Are you planning on being a spy?' He said no more but she was slightly humiliated and saw the futility of her studies. Eventually, the books were relegated to a shelf near the fireplace, and finally they found their way up to the attic, where they sat in a box alongside Hugh's high school diploma and her mortarboard.
Emily's vulgarity was refreshing. Hope wondered how she had managed to live in Eden all these years and survive the orderly discussions about linen tablecloths, the latest recipe for marshmallow salad, knitting, or trips south to Fargo. With Emily there might be some gossip, but within a few minutes the talk veered toward the conflict in Vietnam, sexual politics, psychoanalysis, and then, by the time Emily was finishing her third gin and tonic, to confessions and intimacies that made Hope feel she was part of a very small sisterhood.

Also by

The Matter with Morris; The Retreat; The Time in Between; The Case of Lena S.; See the Child; A Year of Lesser; Sitting Opposite My Brother.

Fun Tidbit

An interview with Bergen is featured on CBC as part of the Canada Reads battle.

Would I read more by ?

Yes - I have a copy of The Retreat on my bookshelves and would also like to get my hands on The Matter with Morris at some point.

One Response to The Age of Hope by David Bergen

  1. Sharon Cunningham says:

    If this book were to be optioned as a movie, a great added novelty to be available in all Dog and Suds would be a paperdoll cut-out book. I found it flat as the landscape in which it was set. It seemed that Bergen put a timeline on the wall, checked out a few fashion sections of The Family Herald (see pink and black Chanel home stitched number early in the book) and wrote this. It is was so predictable that only a man could write it.

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