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Friday, January 29, 2021

Mormon Mentions: Katie Tallo

If you're not sure what a Mormon is, let alone a Mormon Mention, allow me to explain:  My name is Susan and I'm a Mormon (you've seen the commercials, right?).  As a member of  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon or LDS Church), I'm naturally concerned with how my religion is portrayed in the media.  Because this blog is about books, every time I see a reference to Mormonism in a book written by someone who is not a member of my church, I highlight it here.  Then, I offer my opinion—my insider's view—of what the author is saying.  It's my chance to correct misconceptions, expound on principles of the Gospel, and even to laugh at my (sometimes) crazy Mormon culture.

(Note:  In 2018, Russell M. Nelson—president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saintsmade an impassioned plea to members of the Church and to the media to always use the full and correct name of the Church instead of referring to it by its various nicknames.  This led to the renaming of many Church entities, including its famous choir, which is now The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.  Although I have been trying to think up a clever new name for this feature that is more in line with President Nelson's request, for the moment it remains "Mormon Mentions.")


Whenever I read a book that is set in a real place, I'm always curious to know which details about it are  true and which are made-up to suit the story.  Elgin—a town in Ottawa, Canada—plays a big role in Dark August by Katie Tallo.  The way she describes it, especially as an abandoned village decimated by a toxic waste explosion, makes it sound like a fascinating place.  Unfortunately, she did not include an author's note explaining what in the book is factual and what is not, so I had to do some digging on my own.  Here's what I found:

While Elgin is, indeed, a real place, the whole toxic waste explosion/ghost town thing is 100% fiction.  If you Google the town, you will see that it's a teensy (population: about 300) village southwest of Ottawa that appears to be a quaint, lovely place to live.  

On the second page of Dark August, Elgin is described as "a settlement carved from nothing in the 1830s by Mormon missionaries."  This bit of history appears to be true-ish.  This website attributes the town's founding to members of the Halladay Family, but it does mention that missionaries from the Church arrived in the area in the 1830's and, in 1834, a large group of converts left the area for Mormon settlements in the United States.  Church history websites (like this one) confirm the presence of missionaries there, who converted many people in the area.  Genealogical information from FamilySearch also confirms that Halladays were prominent in the area in the 1800's.  However, it appears that Tallo's characters were not based on real members of the family. 

If you know anything about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you probably know that it has always valued both community and missionary work.  A number of towns and cities in the United States (especially in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, and California) as well as several in Mexico and Canada were, in fact, settled by early pioneers, missionaries, and members of the Church.  The city I live in is one of them :)


  1. I love how dedicated you are in researching settings you find in your reads. I think it's great, and how we learn about places we've never been. That's a novel idea that I might actually implement from now on. Thank you!

    1. I think it's a testament to a writer's ability to create a strong sense of place when I want to go research a setting after reading about it in a novel. I'm always disappointed when a place I find super charming or intriguing is fictional!

  2. Well done. I love those "author's notes" at the end of novels that explain what is real and what is fictional and how it was all blended together to tell the story. Doesn't sound quite fair that the author didn't include such a note in this one.

    1. Me, too! I always want to know those kinds of details. It's a bummer when the author doesn't share them, but at least I can Google things and find out for myself!

  3. This sounds like a thrilling read! I'm always interested in digging into the real history, culture, religions, etc. that might be mentioned in a book to see how factual they are.

    1. It is! And I feel the same way. I love learning about new places, histories, cultures, etc. It's one of my favorite things about reading.

  4. I think you do an amazing job of educating us about these things, Susan. I love it!

  5. I borrowed this book from the library. I was so surprised as I was reading this novel to encounter the town of Elgin and Delta as well as Ottawa. I was living in Montreal and we drove to Ottawa frequently since it was close and we had relatives there. This was when I was a young girl with my family. During the summers we spent a week or 2 at a fishing camp on Sand Lake close to Elgin and we would visit Delta where my great aunt and uncle lived. I was fascinated that these setting were mentioned since they are very small and in a depressed area. But it was very meaningful to me.

    1. How fun! The Rideau corridor sounds lovely. It's definitely interested to encounter places you've been in fiction, especially when they're not well-known locales. I was glad to learn that Elgin hadn't actually been blown off the map in a toxic waste explosion! I'm glad that was just fiction :)


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