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The Roosting Box

The Roosting Box

280 pages
Published:   February 20, 2024
Non-Fiction  /  History & Philosophy
Paperback:   9781773103266    $24.95

Longlisted, Toronto Book Awards

“A hospital ... is like a roosting box: a communal space that provides ideal but temporary shelter for [the] vulnerable.”

In the aftermath of the First World War, a cash register factory in the west end of Toronto was renovated to treat wounded soldiers returning from war. From 1919 to the 1940s, thousands of soldiers passed through its doors. Some spent the remainder of their lives there.

The Roosting Box is an exquisitely written history of the early years of the Christie Street Hospital and how war reshaped Canadian society. What sets it apart from other volumes is the detail about the ordinary people at the heart of the book: veterans learning to live with their injuries and a world irrevocably changed; nurses caring for patients while coming to terms with their own wartime trauma; and doctors pioneering research in prosthetics and plastic surgery or, in the case of Frederick Banting, in a treatment for diabetes.

Naming chapters after parts of the body, den Hartog chronicles injuries and treatments, and through the voices of men and women, the struggles and accomplishments of the patients and staff. The cast of characters is diverse — Black, female, Indigenous, and people with all sorts of physical and mental challenges — and their experiences, gleaned from diaries, letters, service records, genealogical research, and interviews with descendants, are surprising and illuminating.

An unusual mix of history and story, The Roosting Box offers deeply personal perspectives on healing in the aftermath of war.
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Kristen den Hartog is a decorated novelist and non-fiction writer. Her books have won an Alberta Book Publishing Award and been nominated for both a Trillium Award and the City of Toronto Book Award.


Longlisted: Toronto Book Awards


“A combination of in-depth research and beautiful writing, The Roosting Box makes a deeply moving and important contribution to our knowledge of the immediate aftermath of Canada’s role in the First World War. With unflinching intimacy and tenderness, Kristen den Hartog documents the lives of some of the thousands of permanently disabled young Canadians who returned after the conflict. Gripped by the pathos and courage of these lives, and by the empathy of the doctors and nurses who attended to them, my knowledge of my country — and my self — was changed.” — Jane Urquhart, author of The Stone Carvers

“Kristen den Hartog has written a deeply moving story of what war can do to the body, and what the spirit can do along the road to recovery. Written with empathy and intimacy, The Roosting Box is a book full of tragedy that ultimately carries a profound message of hope.” — Jonathan F. Vance, author of The True Story of the Great Escape: Stalag Luft III, March 1944

“Kristen den Hartog’s carefully researched, beautifully written, altogether fascinating account of Toronto’s Christie Street Hospital in the years during and following the First World War is an unblinking time machine. Her latest book compels us to look directly at the result of military action: wounds, burns, amputations, sickness, madness, shattered lives, death. This stunning book is the real history of a war. All war.” — David Macfarlane, author of The Danger Tree

“A wonderful book. Kristen den Hartog has uncovered a little-known chapter of medical history that makes a major statement about the ills of war and the war against illness.” — Howard Markel, author of Origin Story: The Trials of Charles Darwin

“A warning: once you pick up this book, you will likely annoy everyone around you by spouting fascinating facts out of context, like a bothersome robot, but pick it up anyway. In The Roosting Box, Kristen den Hartog has brought a piece of Toronto’s history to life, and the effect is pretty dazzling.” — Kerry Clare, Pickle Me This

“Truly this is a lyrical work of literary non-fiction; it is obvious why den Hartog is an award-winning novelist. She has also presented here a work of methodical and detailed research — her notes and list of sources is as extensive as it is impressive — an authoritative work about a little-known piece of Canadian history.” — Miramichi Reader