Book Review: The Master of Jalna by Mazo de la Roche

The Master of Jalna
Mazo de la Roche
Pan Books, Ltd., 1954 (first published in 1933)
ISBN 0330202626
Mass Market
Also available as a trade paperback re-issue from XYZ Publishing

The Master of Jalna is the fourth by publication date, tenth by story chronology, of 16 novels spanning a hundred years from 1854 to 1954.  Known as the Whiteoak Chronicles or the Jalna series, they told the saga of a Canadian family and Jalna, the family manor.  The books are usually listed chronologically by story line rather than by date of publication but each can be read independently.  I first read the whole series in my 20’s and then picked up half of them on a book trip my daughter Annie and I took in 2005 to the world’s biggest collection of bookstores, Hay-on-Wye in Wales.

In this entry in the series, Renny Whiteoak, owner of Jalna, must take over where Grandmother Adeline left off, carrying on the family traditions.  His daughter, Adeline, has inherited her namesake’s red hair and strong-willed ways and raising her is a challenge for Renny and his wife, Alayne.  Along the way, Renny develops a love for Claire, his best friend’s widow, and must also deal with a financial crisis that threatens the family estate.

Mazo de la Roche published Jalna, the first book in the series, in 1927 and achieved instant fame and fortune at the age of 48.  Interestingly, the book first appeared in an American magazine, Atlantic Monthly, where it won a $10,000 award, rather than in a Canadian publication.  She went on to write 15 more books in the series and all were bestsellers.  A movie version of Jalna was released in the 1930’s and there was a later CBC television series.  The house in Ontario believed to be the inspiration for Jalna is maintained by a museum association.

Something about the Whiteoak Chronicles has stayed with me all these years and I was delighted to find so many of them on our trip.  Re-reading them has not been a disappointment and I’m just as invested in this family’s saga as I was back then.  I’m looking forward to tracking down the volumes I don’t have.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2010.