A Richer Dust by Robert Calder

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288 pages hardcover
Finished books available


Canada: Penguin, Spring 2004


Robert Calder (Photo: Gene Hatori)
(Photo: Gene Hatori)

Robert Calder is a professor of English at the University of Saskatchewan, as well as an award-winning author: Willie: The Life of W. Somerset Maugham won the 1989 Governor General's Award for Non-fiction, and A Richer Dust won the 2003 John V. Hicks Manuscript Award for Literary Non-Fiction. Robert Calder lives in Saskatoon.

A Richer Dust
Family, Memory and the Second World War

by Robert Calder


  • Winner of the 2003 John V. Hicks Manuscript Award for Literary Non-Fiction

A Richer Dust coverIn the middle of June, 1945, Captain Kenneth A. Calder of the Royal Canadian Artillery, returned to Canada after five and a half years of military service in Britain, North Africa, Italy, and the Netherlands. After spending a few days visiting his family, he travelled to Vancouver to be reunited with the wife he had married eight days before leaving for Europe.

At the end of an uneasy week, however, she summoned up the courage to tell him that she had been unfaithful to him several times during the war and was now living with another man. Moreover, she had spent all the money he had sent home. The next day, Captain Calder put on his best uniform, sealed the windows and doors of his apartment, turned on the gas, and killed himself.

In A Richer Dust, author Robert Calder reconstructs his uncle’s life and death using Captain Calder's wartime journal, family documents and correspondence, and military records, as well as interviews with officers and men who served with Calder, with the hundred-year-old sister of his wife’s lover, and with his wife’s sister. Vividly recreating the horrendous battlefield conditions in Italy and Holland, Robert Calder captures his uncle’s wartime experience as, amid bombs and artillery fire, amid seas of mud and endless rain, soldiers kept alive a vision of home and hearth to keep them going. In Ken Calder’s case, as in many other instances, that vision proved to be an illusion.

A Richer Dust explores the profound effect that the suicide had on Captain Calder’s parents, the brother whose alcoholism led to his being institutionalized, and the two boys who grew up idealizing their soldier-uncle. It is a powerful exploration of a case of unrecognized post-traumatic stress and a profoundly moving account of war and its aftermath.


“Part memoir, part biography, A Richer Dust is a portrait of all the Ken Calders who survive the battlefield and the tedium of war, only to find the loneliest battle comes afterward. This particular Ken Calder would take his own life rather than struggle with the return to civilian life. Thoroughly researched, engaging, and written with clarity.”  — DENISE CHONG, author of The Concubine's Children and The Girl in the Photo: The Story of Kim Phuc

“An evocative and moving account of the trials and tribulations of one of those soldiers who spent the better part of World War II waiting for action and then ended up in the forgotten war in Italy. His story should move us all to a bitter hatred of war.”  — FARLEY MOWAT, author of And No Birds Sang

“This begins as a straightforward example of a genre we are all familiar with: the Second World War memoir or biography. But it quickly moves beyond those boundaries. A sad and harrowing work, well structured.”  — GEORGE FETHERLING, author of Running Away to Sea: Round the World on a Tramp Freighter



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