The five contenders for Canada Reads 2019, in order in which I read them (or didn’t).
The theme: One Book to Move You.
Brother by David Chariandy — defended by Lisa Ray, model and actress
I’m happy that Brother is a part of Canada Reads this year. I read this book when it was longlisted for the 2017 Giller Prize. A powerful book about two brothers growing up in a suburb of Toronto in the 1980s; the children of hard-working immigrants living “quietly heroic lives”, their encounters with racism, tragedy, and grief. You can read my review here.
All around us in the Park were mothers who had journeyed far beyond what they knew, who took day courses and worked nights, who dreamed of raising children who might have just a little more than they did, children who might reward sacrifice and redeem a past. And there were victories, you must know. Fears were banished by the scents of simmering pots, denigration countered by a freshly laundered tablecloth. History beaten back by the provision of clothes and yearly school supplies.
Homes by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah with Winnie Yeung — defended by Chuck Comeau, musician
Another book I’m happy to see make it to Canada Reads. Like Brother, there’s so much to discuss here. Abu Bakr had a happy childhood – going to school, playing soccer and video games with his friends and cousins – until war broke out on the streets around him. He and his family (parents and six siblings) eventually immigrated to Canada in search of safety and a secure future. But coming to Canada wasn’t easy – there were many obstacles to their happiness. This book gave me huge insights into life as a refugee. You can read my review here.
In my twenty-six days in Canada, I had not heard or seen a single bomb or gun. There was no fighting, no war. I was glad to be here, to be safe. Some kind of impossible knot inside me had released but now, I was just a different kind of afraid. I had prayed so long for safety but now, I felt ungrateful and ashamed and I couldn’t help it. The backs of my eyes started to sting and I clenched my teeth because I didn’t want to start my new life with tears.
By Chance Alone by Max Eisen — defended by Ziya Tong, TV Host
Every time I read a Holocaust memoir, it saddens and amazes me more than the one before. Written in a candid, uncomplicated style, Max Eisen‘s story is truly remarkable. Not only because of the horrors that he lived through in the camps, but also the loss of his entire family, his home, his culture and dignity. And he still persevered; through illness and isolation, prison and grief, he made it through to the other side and lived to marry, have children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Fulfilling his father’s last wish, to “tell the world what happened here”, he travels the country telling others about his story and how grateful he his for all the kind people who helped him along the way.
As I was reading, I realized that he was exactly the same age, while at Auschwitz, that my son is now – fifteen/sixteen. So I started to tell my son about his story until he put his fingers in his ears and told me to stop because it was too sad.
Just look at that sweet, smiling boy on the cover of the book.
Suzanne by Anais Barbeau-Lavalette, translated by Rhonda Mullins — defended by Yanic Truesdale, actor
Suzanne is the imagined life of the author’s grandmother who left her daughter (the author’s mother) at a young age. Anais Barbeau-Lavalette hated her grandmother until, upon her death, she and her mother went to her apartment to go through her belongings. That’s when she started to get to know her grandmother as a person with a life, rather than just the woman who abandoned her mother.
We set out into the winter to meet you. Through the storm. Archaeologists of a murky life. Who were you?
Written in second person, her novel tells the story of Suzanne’s life from beginning to end. There was a rebellious side to her even as a child. Once she was given the opportunity to go away to school, she didn’t ever look back. She didn’t see her mother again until her funeral. But no matter where Suzanne was or who she was with, she never felt like she belonged.
You absorb the lives of others and don’t know how to build your own.
Although I couldn’t relate to Suzanne and her decision to leave her children, I found her to be a sympathetic character – not unlikable – just different. Maybe different from many of us. She dared to be herself, although I’m not convinced it ever made her happy.
Beautiful, poetic writing that quietly draws you along.
The Woo-Woo by Lindsay Wong — defended by Joe Zee, television celebrity
This is the one book I haven’t read yet, although it is ready for me to pick up at the library as I write this so I may get it read in time for the debates.
Goodreads synopsis: In this jaw-dropping, darkly comedic memoir, a young woman comes of age in a dysfunctional Asian family whose members blamed their woes on ghosts and demons when in fact they should have been on anti-psychotic meds… On one hand a witty and touching memoir about the Asian immigrant experience, and on the other a harrowing and honest depiction of the vagaries of mental illness…
Eva at The Paperback Princess has this to say: “Reading about her childhood I felt anger and sadness for this little girl that couldn’t possibly understand how sick her family was. That there was no one at school, no friends, no friends’ parents who stepped in to offer Lindsay any kind of help, a place to go that was clean and safe. I’m still incredibly curious about how she has managed to become a functioning, capable adult from the violent, crass, unwashed teenager she writes about so callously.”
In this interview with Joe Zee, Lindsay Wong talks about her willingness to lay everything out on table – holding nothing back -and how her family has reacted to her book in which all their dirty laundry is aired.
The Canada Reads debates take place March 25 – 28. I will update this post at the end of each day as each book is eliminated.
Have you read any of the Canada Reads books? Will you be tuning in this year? Any favourites or predictions?
Day 1: The Woo-Woo was voted off. No great surprise, but kind of disappointing.
Day 2: Today we said good bye to Suzanne, after a heroic effort from the defender.
Day 3: It was sad to see Brother go today – I love it so much. But Homes and By Chance Alone are also strong contenders. My fingers are crossed for a small publisher win this year!
Day 4: It was a shocker of an ending, for me. I thought Homes was going to win – but as Buried in Print says in her Canada Reads post, “Quite literally, books changed minds.” And that’s a good thing.
The winner is By Chance Alone by Max Eisen!