Esi Edugyan's The Second Life of Samuel Tyne

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

A glimpse of the Calgary Esi Edugyan's protagonist Samuel Tyne might recognize: a 1960 parking lot at 14th Street and 16th Avenue SW. Edugyan was born in Calgary in 1978, years after this picture was taken. She grew up in Glamorgan, a ten-minute drive west of this intersection, borrowed books at the Shaganappi library, and graduated from Central Memorial High School. (Photo: City of Calgary Archives)

A glimpse of the Calgary Esi Edugyan's protagonist Samuel Tyne might recognize: a 1960 parking lot at 14th Street and 16th Avenue SW. Edugyan was born in Calgary in 1978, years after this picture was taken. She grew up in Glamorgan, a ten-minute drive west of this intersection, borrowed books at the Shaganappi library, and graduated from Central Memorial High School. (Photo: City of Calgary Archives)

Samuel Tyne sits at the workbench in his backyard shed in Calgary, soldering an old radio. It’s 1968, a “cold, vague day, with the dull feel of a hundred others,” and the weather matches his mood. As a young man from West Africa with a classical English education, he was precocious, ambitious. Now, after toiling for years at a dismal civil service job, he feels exiled and despondent. Samuel has spent the prime of his life in Calgary, and it has been filled only with “meager achievements.” Three days ago, he quit his job. He hasn’t told his wife and he doesn’t have a plan. He thinks of the decrepit house his uncle bequeathed him in a small town northwest of Edmonton, a region settled decades before by freed African-American slaves. In his shed, a decision works its way through Samuel’s gloom. At the dinner table, he announces to his wife and twin daughters that they are leaving the Calgary. “We are moving. That is final.”

 

Crossing the dark slush to the shed, Samuel felt exalted. He didn’t regret what he’d just done; in fact, he looked upon it as the truest gesture of his life. Had he been a man given to poetry, he might have said that something both stark and glorious had got hold of his future. That after fifteen years of the leash he’d finally seized it.

 

Esi Edugyan, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne (Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2004)