Spalding, Linda 1943-

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Spalding, Linda 1943-


Born June 25, 1943, in Topeka, KS; daughter of Jacob Alan (an attorney) and Edith Virginia (a homemaker) Dickinson; married Philip Edmunds Spalding, 1964 (divorced, 1972); children: Esta Alice, Kristin Edith. Education: University of Colorado, B.A., 1965; graduate study at University of Hawaii at Manoa, 1970-72.


Home—Toronto, Ontario, Canada. E-mail—[email protected]


Child-care and related social services administrator for low-income families in Hawaii, 1972-82; Hawaii Public Television, Honolulu, HI, development manager; coeditor of Brick: A Literary Journal, Toronto, Canada; writer.


Finalist for the 1999 Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize for Riska, Memories of a Dayak Girlhood; Harbourfront Festival Prize.


(Editor, with Frank Stewart) Interchange: A Symposium on Regionalism, Internationalism and Ethnicity in Literature, InterArts (Honolulu, HI), 1980.

Daughters of Captain Cook (novel), Bloomsbury Press (London, England), 1988, Birch Lane Press (Secaucus, NJ), 1989.

(Editor, with Michael Ondaatje) The Brick Reader, Coach House Press (Toronto, Canada), 1991.

The Paper Wife (novel), Bloomsbury Press (London, England), 1994, Ecco Press (Hopewell, NJ), 1996.

The Follow, Key Porter Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1998, revised edition published as A Dark Place in the Jungle, Algonquin Books (Chapel Hill, NC), 1999, published as A Dark Place in the Jungle: Following Leakey's Last Angel into Borneo, Seal Press (New York, NY), 2003.

(Editor) Riska Orpa Sari, Riska, Memories of a Dayak Girlhood, afterword by Carol J. Pierce Colfer, Knopf Canada (Toronto, Canada), 1999, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 2000.

(With Esta Spalding) Mere (novel), HarperFlamingo Canada (Toronto, Canada), 2001.

Who Named the Knife: A Book of Murder and Memory, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor of short stories and reviews to numerous periodicals, including Canadian Forum, Now, and the Malahat Review, and to various anthologies for PEN and Macmillan.


Linda Spalding once told CA: "I lived in Hawaii for fourteen years. I've lived, as well, in New England, the Midwest, Mexico, and Canada. I am interested in contemporary life as it reflects and denies traditional belief. Perhaps everything I write is about the tension between inner and outer reality."

Spalding's books strongly reflect this inner and outer reality, along with her passion for travel and world cultures. The Follow (from the term for tracking an orangutan's travels and behaviors in the wild), published in the United States as A Dark Place in the Jungle, is the story of three trips Spalding and her grown daughters made in the 1990s to the jungles of Borneo in hopes of writing about the Canadian-born primatologist Birute Galdikas's work with orangutans. (Galdikas, Dian Fossey, and Jane Goodall worked as a trio of "angels" with the renowned anthropologist Louis Leakey.) As Spalding and her daughters find it difficult to even meet and talk with Galdikas in Borneo, Spalding becomes disillusioned with the primatologist. Learning that Galdikas has possibly misused funds and failed to follow rules for protecting orangutans, Spalding abandons her quest for interviews and goes on to discover the humanlike apes for herself. In the process, she becomes intimately acquainted with Borneo and its people. The resulting book, observed Yvonne Crittenden of the Toronto Sun, is "a voyage of self-discovery" in which Spalding ponders "the nature of family, ecological preservation and her own coping mechanisms in an alien, primitive culture." A Publishers Weekly contributor found the book to be "a sophisticated mixture of memoir, science writing and travel essay" in which Spalding creates "a self-portrait of a perceptive, sympathetic woman trying to make sense of the ambitions and disappointments around her." The story of Galdikas is never completely told, as Beth Clewis Crim pointed out in the Library Journal. "The book succeeds as a haunting account of a despoiled ‘Eden’ but not as a journalistic account of Galdikas's activities in Borneo," she wrote.

Melanie Train of Geographical magazine called The Follow "an intriguing tale of natural history, humans and, of course, apes." Beth Duris of BookPage declared that readers will enjoy the descriptions of individual orangutans like Gistok, who plays a prank on Spalding's daughter Esta. Spalding also makes some disturbing discoveries about the jungles of Borneo, and readers will, said Duris, "share her heartbreak in the devastation caused by clear-cutting for timber and gold mining, which has left the Sekonyer River the color of chocolate, with waters made toxic by mercury." Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist commented on this destruction: "The sad truth emerges that our efforts to protect wildlife can cause more harm than good." A contributor to the Economist described the book as "a touching, intensely personal journal of an intelligent woman's disillusionment with Eve, and ultimately with Eden itself."

Spalding's intimacy with Borneo and its people led to the publication of Riska, Memories of a Dayak Girlhood, written by Borneo native Riska Orpa Sari and edited by Spalding, with an afterword by Carol J. Pierce Colfer, an anthropologist studying forest cultures in Indonesia. The book was a finalist for the 1999 Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize. Riska, whom Spalding met while in Borneo researching The Follow, is the first to tell of growing up among the Dayak, or "headhunters," of Borneo from inside the culture. Born in 1969, she describes her people's methods for cultivating rice; their courtship, marriage, and funeral rites; their hunting and gathering practices; the importance of the river to their way of life; and the impact of deforestation on the Dayak. Although Francisca Goldsmith of Kliatt found the memoir to be lacking in information on modern-day Dayak culture, she praised it as "one woman's story, emphasizing the points that engage her most about recounting her own young life."

Spalding has written several novels, including Daughters of Captain Cook, The Paper Wife, and Mere, written with her daughter Esta Spalding, a poet. The PaperWife tells the story of Kate, who comes from a privileged background, and Lily, whose poverty and struggles of her youth often haunt her and leave her envious of her friend. When Kate falls for Turner, a hippie type they meet while attending college, Lily's jealously leads her to sleep with him one night when he has been drinking and she is sporting some of Kate's clothing. When Lily discovers that she is pregnant, she flees the country, heading to Mexico in order to give birth to and give up her child in secret. Julie Wheelwright, in a review for the New Statesman & Society, commented that "Spalding's prose and character description is so spartan it refuses to untangle scenes or flesh out characters. Even the crucial tie that binds Kate to Lily is thinly sketched." However, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly remarked that "throughout, Spalding's elegant prose evokes Mexico as a pure sensory experience," and concluded that "the novel's finale is surprising and breathtaking."

Mere is the story of twelve-year-old Mere, heroine of the title, who lives aboard the Persephone adrift on the Great Lakes with her mother, Faye, and a runaway teen, Mark. When Mere is able to make contact with her father, and he appears one day to take her away, Faye is devastated and begins to search for reasons to remain on the run from her past.

Who Named the Knife: A Book of Murder and Memory recounts the true life story of the murder of Larry Hasker, who was killed in Hawaii in 1978. In 1982, when Maryann Acker was tried and convicted of the crime, Spalding spent some time as a member of the jury. The book looks at the events from her limited viewpoint, and goes on to link the crime to her own personal experiences. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called Spalding's effort "a beautiful story about coming to terms with her mother's imminent death and her unresolved relationship with her … father."



Spalding, Linda, Who Named the Knife: A Book of Murder and Memory, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 2007.


Appraisal: Science Books for Young People, autumn, 1999, review of A Dark Place in the Jungle, p. 46.

Booklist, May 1, 1999, Donna Seaman, review of A Dark Place in the Jungle, p. 1567.

Book: The Magazine for the Reading Life, July, 1999, review of A Dark Place in the Jungle, p. 40.

Bookwatch, July, 1999, review of A Dark Place in the Jungle, p. 9.

Book World, June 6, 1999, review of A Dark Place in the Jungle, p. 12.

Canadian Book Review Annual, 1998, review of The Follow, p. 82.

Christian Science Monitor, May 13, 1999, review of A Dark Place in the Jungle, p. 18.

Economist, February 13, 1999, review of The Follow.

Entertainment Weekly, June 25, 1999, review of A Dark Place in the Jungle, p. 126.

Geographical, August, 1998, Melanie Train, review of The Follow, p. 60.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), June 19, 1999, review of The Follow, p. D17.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1999, review of A Dark Place in the Jungle, p. 615.

Kliatt, November, 2000, Francisca Goldsmith, review of Riska, Memories of a Dayak Girlhood.

Library Journal, May 1, 1999, Beth Clewis Crim, review of A Dark Place in the Jungle, p. 105.

Maclean's, June 22, 1998, review of The Follow, p. 53.

New Statesman & Society, July 22, 1994, Julie Wheelwright, review of The Paper Wife, p. 48.

Publishers Weekly, May 3, 1996; March 15, 1999, review of A Dark Place in the Jungle, p. 34; March 4, 1996, review of The Paper Wife, p. 56; June 18, 2007, review of Who Named the Knife: A Book of Murder and Memory, p. 43.

Quill & Quire, April, 1998, review of The Follow, p. 28.

SciTech Book News, December, 1999, review of A Dark Place in the Jungle, p. 60.

Times Literary Supplement, December 11, 1998, review of The Follow, p. 30.

Toronto Sun, June 28, 1998, Yvonne Crittenden, "On the Way to the Jungle," review of The Follow.


BookPage, (May 1, 2002), Beth Duris, review of A Dark Place in the Jungle.

Wordfest, (May 1, 2002), "Linda Spalding."