The Bukowski Agency - Once We Had a Country

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Paperback, 416 pages


Canada: Knopf, Aug 2013
UK: Jonathan Cape


Robert McGill
(Photo: Courtesy of the author)

Robert McGill’s first novel, The Mysteries, was published in 2004, in Canada by McClelland & Stewart and in the UK by Jonathan Cape, as well as in France and Holland. McGill completed his doctorate in English at the University of Toronto in 2006, after doing a Masters’ degree at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He spent 2006-09 living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a Junior Fellow with the Harvard Society of Fellows. He is a graduate of the University of East Anglia creative writing programme, where he studied with W.G. Sebald and Andrew Motion. McGill was born and raised in Wiarton, Ontario, and returned to Toronto in 2009 to take up his current position as an assistant professor in the Department of English at the University of Toronto, where he teaches Canadian Literature and Creative Writing. His short fiction has been published in The Journey Prize Anthology, Toronto Life, Descant, and other literary journals.

Once We Had a Country

a novel by Robert McGill


Once We Had a Country - Canadian cover
In the summer of 1972 a young woman leaves the United States to settle with her draft-dodger boyfriend on a cherry farm in Canada with the hope of creating a commune. When he returns to America without her, she must face the fact of her abandonment along with the recent disappearance of her father, a missionary whose legacy is complicated by alarming revelations about his last days in Laos. At the same time, the local community in Canada is showing ominous signs of hostility toward the newcomers.

Once We Had a Country is about belief and longing, and the ramifications of the desire to redeem a fallen world.

It revisits the Vietnam War by focusing not on the American men who left their country in protest, but on the women who went with them.



“In both practical and thematic terms, it's an ambitious array of elements McGill has taken on, but his treatment is nigh-on flawless. The result is one of the most original and emotionally affecting Canadian novels of recent years.”  — THE MONTREAL GAZETTE

“An immersive and harrowing tale.”  — THE GLOBE AND MAIL

“A richly textured novel of idealism and romance, Once We Had a Country re-imagines the impact of the Vietnam War by way of the women and children who fled with the draft dodgers… a literary work of the highest order, a novel that re-imagines an era we thought we knew, and that compels us to consider our own belief systems and levels of tolerance.”  — MCNALLY ROBINSON BOOKSELLERS

Once We Had a Country - UK cover

“The story belongs to Maggie, and one of the reasons why the novel is successful is that McGill makes of this protagonist a completely credible and engaging heroine… What makes the novel enjoyable, beyond these conundrums, is McGill’s sure touch with character, dialogue, narrative pace… Once We Had a Country is a wonderfully sustained performance, thought-provoking and emotionally truthful.”  — THE NATIONAL POST

Once We Had a Country crackles and sweats as it sweeps us from the farmlands of Niagara to the steamy jungles of Laos. With his elegant prose, Robert McGill forces us to question what we believe in, what we love, and just how much we’re willing to sacrifice.”  — TANIS RIDEOUT, author of Above All Things

Once We Had a Country explores the hubris of missionary work and the naiveté of living off the land. The predicaments of a father and daughter illuminate the troubles that can plague our efforts to encourage love. Robert McGill examines the inner workings of the outsider’s life, both here and abroad. A complex and compelling read.”  — MICHAEL WINTER, author of Minister Without Portfolio

“Like a troubled dream I couldn’t shake, Once We Had a Country drew me in and held me captive. Robert McGill’s characters took up residence in my heart with all their baggage. They’re still there.”  — FRANCES GREENSLADE, author of Shelter

Praise for Robert McGill's first novel, The Mysteries

The Mysteries is a rarity: an astonishing first novel remarkable not only for the high calibre of its prose, but for the utterly satisfying end it offers to its highly original plot.”  — QUILL & QUIRE, starred review

“McGill is a talented writer, adept at expressing the nuanced, unspoken truths that beg the lies by which we live, but it’s his polyphonic structure that makes The Mysteries so of-the-minute.”  — THE GUARDIAN

“An enormous imaginative and intellectual achievement…. The progression of events, the unfolding, is suspenseful, gripping, even oddly erotic.”  — THE GLOBE AND MAIL

“Accomplished… Engaging… An impressive display of his range and control.”  — THE INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY (UK)

“With enormous structural skill, Robert McGill tells the story of Sunshine through a variety of viewpoints, ably juggling a non-linear narrative and two dozen characters with admirable clarity.”  — THE DAILY TELEGRAPH (UK)



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