Bruce Meisterman - Arn? Narn

Gosslee $32.00
ISBN 978-0-9833655-2-5

This is Bruce Meisterman's first book and gee whiz, I sure as hell will be interested to see what he is capable of when he gets warmed up. I have seldom been so impressed with an author's choice of subject or his presentation of it, and if a read of this astonishing book doesn't leave unsettling questions haunting the corners of your mind, then you lack imagination.

'Arn? Narn' is said to be the shortest possible conversation in Newfoundland and is a fabled exchange between two cod skippers. One, going out, asks, caught anything? The other, returning, says not. Fifty years ago, that reply would have been inconceivable, but by the 1990s, Newfoundland cod stocks had collapsed to 1% of the 1960s level and they have never recovered. Even when it had become clear that stocks were in free fall, nobody did anything more than form committees, which produced long, worthy reports instead of action. The consequence is that in 2012, rural Newfoundland is falling to pieces, the population has fallen by roughly a quarter and ghost towns are a reality. Worse is yet to come.

Does this matter to us? Fish stocks are doing the same thing all over the world and by some estimates the majority of species will be at unsustainable levels by 2050, but our current generation of politicians is so weak and venal that nothing is going to be done about it, despite the clear danger it presents to us all. The depressing tale of Newfoundland is no more than a matinee for what is about to happen next and Arn? Narn manages to paint the awful reality of this scenario better than any scientific report I have ever read. Why? Because the story is told in striking monochrome photographs that let you see what is happening for yourself. The text is sparse, but what it lacks in extent it makes up for in punch and the end result is a book you might just possibly flick through in 10 minutes, but which you will remember for the remainder of your life.

Review 4 Nov 2012