Kristen den Hartog is launching her book, The Cowkeeper’s Wish: A Genealogical Journey, that she co-authored with Tracy Kasaboski and you’re invited! Join Douglas & McIntyre and the Toronto International Festival of Authors in celebrating the book’s release.
In the 1840s, a young cowkeeper and his wife arrive in London, England, having walked from coastal Wales with their cattle. They hope to escape poverty, but instead they plunge deeper into it, and the family, ensconced in one of London’s “black holes,” remains mired there for generations. The Cowkeeper’s Wish follows the couple’s descendants in and out of slum housing, bleak workhouses and insane asylums, through tragic deaths, marital strife and war. Nearly a hundred years later, their great-granddaughter finds herself in an altogether different London, in southern Ontario.
In The Cowkeeper’s Wish, Kristen den Hartog and Tracy Kasaboski trace their ancestors’ path to Canada, using a single family’s saga to give meaningful context to a fascinating period in history—Victorian and then Edwardian England, the First World War and the Depression. Beginning with little more than enthusiasm, a collection of yellowed photographs and a family tree, the sisters scoured archives and old newspapers, tracked down streets, pubs and factories that no longer exist, and searched out secrets buried in crumbling ledgers, building on the fragments that remained of family tales.
While this family story is distinct, it is also typical, and so all the more worth telling. As a working-class chronicle stitched into history, The Cowkeeper’s Wish offers a vibrant, absorbing look at the past that will captivate genealogy enthusiasts and readers of history alike.
Toronto Lit Up is a three year initiative, spearheaded by the Toronto Arts Council and the Toronto International Festival of Authors, designed to spotlight Toronto’s writers and empower local artists with career-building opportunities. Click here for more information.
From childhood, Kristen den Hartog knew she wanted to write. Growing up in the small Ottawa Valley town of Deep River, Ontario, she spent her formative years copying her older sister’s (and now co-author Tracy Kasaboski’s) stories, and published her first novel in 2001, as part of Knopf’s New Face of Fiction series. She went on to write several novels after that one, never imagining that she would write anything other than made-up stories. But the urge to write non-fiction was soon inspired by that same sister, and together they began researching the story of their father’s family in the Netherlands during the Second World War, which culminated in The Occupied Garden: A Family Memoir of War-torn Holland (McClelland and Stewart, 2008). The book received widespread praise for chronicling history through an intimate family story. From then on, den Hartog was hooked on research. Her next novel, And Me Among Them (Freehand Books, 2011), was a work of fiction, but since its subject was a giant, she embarked on extensive explorations to understand the medical and emotional aspects of the story. The book was nominated for the Trillium Award, and won the Alberta Book Publishing Award for Trade Fiction. Before it was released, she had already delved into researching The Cowkeeper’s Wish, her latest collaboration with her sister. Den Hartog lives with her husband, daughter, and two dogs in an old house in Toronto, where she is working on a book about a hospital, set just after the First World War.