Fishing With Tardelli: A Memoir of Family in Time Lost

Besner, Neil

  • A literary meditation on memory, time, love, and loss

    Fishing With Tardelli contemplates the relations among four parents — mother, father, stepfather, and a Brazilian fishing companion — and the author. Over marriages and remarriages, fathers and mothers become stepfathers and stepmothers, and brothers gain and lose stepbrothers and half-brothers, sisters and half-sisters across two continents. The various homes become part of Besner’s internal geography; memory, dream, story, fable become permeable layers folded over bald facts baldly stated.

    Beginning with an older man’s recollections of himself as a young teenager fishing with Tardelli in the bay in Rio de Janeiro, the memoir reflects on time lost and time regained. The narration ranges across the mid-’40s in Montreal, where two couples marry, divorce, and remarry in a new configuration; proceeds to Rio de Janeiro in the mid-’50s, when one of these newly formed families emigrates; and returns to Montreal in the late ’60s and early ’70s. After a 50-year interlude, Besner returns from Western Canada to the pandemic moment in Toronto.


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  • Neil Besner divides his time between Toronto and Lake of the Woods. He was born in Montreal and grew up in Rio de Janeiro. He is fluent in Portuguese and returns to Brazil frequently to teach at Brazilian universities. He taught Canadian literature at the University of Winnipeg for 30 years.

  • Published: May 2022

    ISBN: 9781770416345

    Dimensions: 5 x 7 in.

    Pages: 152

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“Neil Besner’s memoir Fishing With Tardelli is a meditation on family, memory, and time ‘lost.’ It recovers that ‘lost’ time brilliantly in sharply chiselled vignettes rendered in dazzling, evocative prose. The memoir evokes the darting movement of memory itself in swift, glittering leaps of association that light up the writer’s life, his quirky family, and Tardelli, the mythic Brazilian fisherman whose presence still hovers over Besner’s life. This is an extraordinary book, loving, honest, wise.” — Guy Vanderhaeghe

“A sinuous search through time that circles the author’s greatest affections — mothers, the sea, literature, language, women. And always the search returns to his first love, Tardelli, the man who taught the boy how to fish and how to live. Beautiful.” — David Bergen, author of Out of Mind

“Returning again and again to the simple joy of boyhood days spent catching bluefish with handline in the bay outside of Rio, Neil Besner’s memoir immerses us in the nature of time, memory, family, and the dark waters of loss. Besner leads us through scenes from his two homes, Canada and Brazil, in a search for meaning and connection. A truly great read.” — Catherine Hunter, author of After Light and St. Boniface Elegies

“This intriguing and insightful memoir describes the nexus between fishing, life, and writing. Besner is a complete angler, alluding to Kafka, Bellow, Henry Miller, Spinoza, Atwood, and a host of other writers. He melds highbrow and lowbrow, Wallace Stevens’s metaphysical lyricism, and Damon Runyon’s street smarts. Whether in the streets of Rio, Chicago, or the parking lots of Montreal, Besner gives readers a life well-lived and well-written, and emotions recollected in semi-tranquillity where the child is father to the man.” — Michael Greenstein, retired professor of English, author of Third Solitudes

“His childhood accounts of catching fish off the coast of Rio with just a handline are striking, the writing at once lyrical and grittily descriptive.” — Winnipeg Free Press

“In this haunting memoir, by turns lyrical, celebratory, and anguished, Neil Besner navigates the rivers and tributaries of what can and what cannot be said in his attempt to recover time and fathom the unknowable — of family, of growing up, of the strangeness of the world.” — Brian Henderson, author of Nerve Language, Sharawadji, Unidentified Poetic Object, and Unfinishing

“Neil Besner’s poignant and brilliantly observed memoir tells the extraordinary story of a young man growing up with love and loyalties split between two cities, Montreal and Rio de Janeiro, and two families, his birth mother and stepfather in Brazil, and his birth father and stepmother in Canada. That story is enriched by an overarching surrogate father, the earthy Brazilian fisherman Tardelli. Written with malice toward none and charity for all, Fishing With Tardelli will linger in your memory.” — Thomas Travisano, author of Love Unknown: The Life and Worlds of Elizabeth Bishop

“To read Neil Besner’s Fishing With Tardelli is to encounter a world of Saul Bellow here below but Leonard-Cohen-up-high-on-Mount Royal. The Jewish-Canadian intellectual looks back on a boyhood in Brazil, attempting to make sense of a mystery-camouflaged genealogy. Besner excavates a story that conjoins Quebec and Brazil; herein is the tongue harnessed to the heart, the labyrinthine and the Byzantine made plain.” — George E. Clarke, author of Where Beauty Survived: An Africadian Memoir

“Besner skilfully navigates the waterways of Brazil, the St. Lawrence, and Lake of the Woods. A life well lived and well written, Fishing With Tardelli is a memorable memoir of emotions recollected in semi-tranquility where the child is father to the man.” — The Miramichi Reader