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Book Review : Canadian Gadfly Has Run-In With Big Brother, South

December 13, 1985|DAVID M. GRABER | Graber is a research ecologist. and

My Discovery of America by Farley Mowat (Atlantic Monthly: $12.95)

Last April, in conjunction with The Atlantic Monthly Press' publication of his latest book, Canada's best-known living author set out to visit America's West Coast on a promotional tour. Boarding his plane in Toronto, Farley Mowat discovered to his astonishment that America wasn't going to let him in.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service had "excluded from entering the United States" one Farley Mowat, but they wouldn't tell him why. Bewildered, embarrassed and increasingly angry, Mowat called his publisher, his editor and the tour publicist, thereby setting in motion a binational tempest and an interesting story . . . this one.

As the next few days passed, while Mowat and his friends tried to learn why he had been excluded, first the Canadian and then the American press went after the story full bore. When it was pried out of INS that Mowat had been barred under provisions of the McCarran Act that exclude subversives, all hell broke loose. Mowat, best known for "Never Cry Wolf," was besieged by interviewers and talk shows. Angry writers and other First Amendment fans besieged Washington. And the editorial pages of America's newspapers rose up in outrage. What had Mowat done to earn him an entry in the INS "lookout book"? Was it that he had just published a strident environmental book, "Sea of Slaughter"? Was it that Farley Mowat has long been a leftist-anarchist who enjoys twitting authority? Or was the whole thing a bureaucratic snafu?

"My Discovery of America" is an entertaining chronicle offering useful and provocative insights about the American body politic, but it shouldn't be a book. Shame on Farley Mowat, customarily an economical wordsmith. Shame on Atlantic Monthly, which has a perfectly good outlet for the longish essay that this should have been. Think of the trees wasted on this timely but hardly timeless treatise!

But the punch line: The INS comes off looking both foolish and antagonistic to our own right to hear all views. No surprise there. But Mowat, sharing a common Canadian resentment of Big Brother to the South, is astonished and delighted with the overwhelming support he received not only in our press, but in virtually all of the many letters he received from Americans. Of that, surprise or no, we can be proud.

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