Nothing the Same, Everything Haunted: The Ballad of Motl The Cowboy

Through the years, there are books I have wanted to reread but haven’t yet. However, two new launches this spring, Constant Nobody and Nothing the Same, Everything Haunted, made me snap to attention. These were books to be reread immediately. They’re both historical fiction, and each one had me sitting bolt upright in bed.

Nothing the Same, Everything Haunted: The Ballad of Motl The Cowboy, by Gary Barwin, could be the whimsical tale of a middle-aged wanna-be-cowboy who has lost his testicles, but it’s not. And while there is more than a dash of caprice to the story, the backdrop is horror exercised over decades.

Motl, our gunslinging hero who has spent more time with his nose in Westerns than in paid livelihood, finds his métier when the Nazis invade his Lithuanian village. He leaves town with his ‘hoss’ hitched to a wagon and his mother sitting by his side. In time, he loses both, but he gains Esther. She too has lost her family to the Nazis. Their escape becomes a quest to find his testicles, leave Europe and begin a family.  

Between hair-raising adventures and near encounters with gun-toting, sharp-shooting Nazis, Barwin’s use of humour evoked spontaneous laughter from this reader. Shock and guilt followed because what can be funny about Nazis hunting and slaughtering Jews? The humour, however, is like a trail of crumbs. It leads the reader through a landscape fraught with uncertainty and danger, and it offers hope.

The title, Nothing the Same, Everything Haunted, is apt. It’s the feeling I’ve had touring the German countryside, strolling Buenos Aires’ Avenida de Mayo, and standing on the plaza at Tiananmen Square.  The ghosts remain. Their stories need to be told.

Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humour despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands. Autumn’s Grace is a powerful commentary on the need for well-organized and well-funded palliative care in private homes and in residential hospices. It’s a gift to people who would like to be prepared as they help fulfill the final wishes of a family member or friend.