Prairie Books Now Review - A Song for Nettie Johnson

From blasphemy to infamy
Reviewed by: Paula E. Kirman

The "blasphemer" has returned.

Author Gloria Sawai, who created waves in religious circles a few years ago with her short story The Day I Sat with Jesus on teh Sundeck and A Wind Came up and Blew My Kimono Open And He Saw My Breasts, has released her first collection of short stories A Song for Nettie Johnson.

Although Sawai's work has been widely published in a variety of publications and anthologies, A Song for Nettie Johnson is the first time her work has been brought together into one book. Spanning a period of 20 years, the collection features both her latest works and her most famous pieces, including the notorious The Day I Sat with Jesus

"I don't know; I didn't see anything really blasphemous in it," laughs the self-professed Christian who adapted the story into a play for the Edmonton Fringe Festival. "I think it's hard for some people to put breasts in the same light as Christ; that they should not be together. I don't understand that."

A Song for Nettie Johnson has been a labour of love for Sawai - particularly the novella-length title story. Sawai says she spent a long time developing the character of Nettie, an eccentric woman who marries the man responsible for directing the town's performance of Hendel's Messiah.

"It started out many, many years ago as a little poem about three kids in a basement watching their father," she recalls.

"Years later, it became two different plays - one about the male character, the choir director; the other about the woman. And some time later it just occurred to me that these two people belong in the same story," she says.

Sawai has maintained her spiritual slant on the world, threading it throughout the stories in Nettie Johnson

"I don't start out saying 'I am going to write religion,'" she says. "I wouldn't say just religion is the source of inspiration. that's not a word that stands well on my tongue. I would say certain concepts that I was raised with - the concepts of grace and redemption and freedom and love - but structurally religious, no.

"I write from my whole, total experience of life and since I was brought up in that kind of community and home, that is where it comes from," she says.

"I want the readers to be interested, to see something from a little different angle, so they have to consider something that they may not have wanted to consider before."

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