Bring Me One of Everything


Bring Me One of Everything is a novel which weaves real-life facts and fiction into an eloquent tale of suspense and intrigue. The title of the book is based on what the management of the Smithsonian is said to have demanded when sending ethonographers to native villages to gather artifacts for its collection: “Bring me one of everything”. The novel is several layered stories centered around a troubled writer, Alicia Purcell, who has been commissioned to create the libretto for an opera about an anthropologist named Austin Hart. He earned fame in the 1950s for cutting down and bringing back to museums the largest remaining stand of totem poles in the world. They belonged to the Haida tribes who inhabit the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia. Hart’s subsequent suicide creates the mystery Alicia attempts to solve as she consults present-day tribe members, Hart’s friends and family, and his personal journals. Added to the complications of her search are Alicia’s imperious though ailing mother, a cast-off lover, a narcissistic composer, and her own demons of disaffection. But an overarching question dogs her and the reader: why she is so obsessed with Austin Hart and this quest?

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“I’m told there used to be the continual sound of singing on these islands and now silence.”

These words from the journals of a legendary anthropologist constitute a tall order for depressed and directionless British Columbia writer Alicia Purcell, who has been commissioned to write the libretto for an opera based on the life of the late Austin Hart, the scientist himself. Having gained renown – or disrepute, largely depending upon cultural perspective – Hart, before he put a rifle to his head and pulled the trigger in the mid-1950s, cut down the largest remaining stand of totem poles in the world, ones he was trying to salvage but ones that originally belonged to the Haida tribes of the Queen Charlotte Islands…

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Seattle Post, February 24, 2012

Leslie Hall Pinder’s third novel, Bring Me One of Everything, is big: big-hearted in its loving depiction of character; socially important in its moral take on the treatment of the Haida Nation; ambitious in its scope, gathering together ethnography, anthropology, history, art, music and personal relationships into the paradox of transformation.

As Brett Morris, a composer, observes early in the novel, “Transformation was the key, right? — of wood into totems, of animals into gods.” And, we might add, of fact into fiction, of betrayal into trust, of mother into child and child into mother, of life into death and back into life…

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Vancouver Sun, May 11, 2012

Canadian Leslie Hall Pinder’s third novel is set in the Pacific Northwest in roughly contemporaneous Vancouver. The inciting action takes place in 1957 on Anthony Island, Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, when anthropologist Austin Hart and his expedition cut down the largest existing stand of totem poles and transport them to the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver. Some consider him a hero for saving the Haida cedar poles that would ultimately have disintegrated in the rainforest. But others wonder if perhaps his were the actions of a thief. The morally charged question reverberates throughout Pinder’s fascinating novel.

In the novel’s present time, the point-of-view character, Alix Purcell, an award-winning poet and writer, is commissioned to write the libretto for an opera about Hart’s life, which ended in suicide a few years after his removal of the Haida totem poles. During her research she learns much about Haida culture, about Hart’s own ambivalence regarding his actions, about herself and her complicated relationship to the brilliant, controversial anthropologist whose death she’s trying to explain.

Pinder, who was for many years a lawyer working with native people on their land claims, said in a recent interview she’s returned to her “first love” of writing, and that she’s “redeploying” herself, infusing her knowledge of and experiences with native people into this new novel. A compulsively readable work, “Bring Me One of Everything” delves into issues of belonging, identity and greed, as well as of transformation, family and forgiveness.

Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 29, 2012

Twenty years after her last novel, On Double Tracks, Pinder again shares her remarkable and unique prose gifts in this intensely-moving novel that explores the mysteries of the human heart and soul. Canadian Alix Purcell is at a crossroads, having left her lover and her job at a publishing house. An unusual opportunity presents itself when she’s approached to write the libretto for an opera based on the life of Austin Hart, an anthropologist who took his own life in the mid-19th century shortly after his controversial decision to cut down an enormous stand of totem poles and have them shipped to museums. Having contemplated suicide herself, Purcell feels an affinity for her subject and a passionate desire to unravel the truth about what led him to such a dark place. Her quest coincides with a precipitous decline in her mother’s health, which forces her to try to heal long-standing rifts between them. Pinder’s ability to craft memorable lines (“The roadway to my history was always under construction”), only enhance her unflinching look at a woman’s struggle to find both peace and professional satisfaction.

Publishers Weekly February 2012


“Here is a book that takes the risk of being the many stories that make up life – and it does so with elegance, wit and extraordinary intelligence. It is a tour de force, a work of rare depth and brilliance.” — Hugh Brody

KONP’s Art Beat radio interview

The Commentary interview