Category Archives: Books

Recipe for a Terrorist

Although I was very sad to see The Marrow Thieves voted off Canada Reads yesterday the fact that American War by Omar El Akkad remained a contender means I can write about it while it is still in play as a possible winner.  We have heard so much talk from politicians about terrorists, and how we need to protect ourselves from terrorists, and this book tells us how we can do that………create more equality between the haves and have nots of this world and stop wars.  Wars and their aftermath create terrorists out of young people with promise and potential.  

american warSarat the protagonist of American War is a child living in a time when the United States has become a third world country because of climate change and a divisive civil war.  The war means Sarat is deprived of her father, proper schooling, medical care, adequate food, clothing and shelter. She is suspectible then to a mentor who can provide her with some of those things and most importantly give her life a sense of purpose.  She is easy prey for terrorist recruiters. 

This is a dark, dark book.  I started out liking Sarat.  My affection turned to overwhelming sadness and anger for what Sarat became. What a waste!  American War puts a human face on terrorism and helps us understand that the recipe for creating terrorists is failing to address economic disparty and deciding to solve differences with war.  Violence and poverty create fertile ground for terrorism to flourish. 

American War is just way too depressing and hopeless a book for me to want it to win Canada Reads. Since my first pick The Boat People and my second pick The Marrow Thieves have both been eliminated from the show I will have to cheer for Forgiveness to win today even though it was my number three pick.  

Other posts……

Is the Solution to Ending Terrorism Really This Simple? 

I Never Got Used to the Guns in Israel

The Shady Area  Between Violence and Non-Violence

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Canada Reads Day 2

Well at least things righted themselves a little in the Canada Reads contest yesterday.  Precious Cargo which I wanted voted off the first day is gone now and The Marrow Thieves which I championed yesterday has remained.  My blog readers responding to yesterday’s column were vocal on Facebook about The Boat People’s elimination. One said it was an absolute travesty and another felt the panel members were sadly lacking when it came to being connoisseurs of good literature.   

My third place pick for 2018 would be Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto. The first part of the book completely captivated me.  Mark tells the World War II story of his maternal grandfather who was from the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and served as soldier stationed in Hong Kong during the war.  The Japanese take him as a prisoner. I felt such a strong connection to this story because the history of Hong Kong was part of the curriculum I taught at an international school in Hong Kong and I visited all the places where Mark’s grandfather’s story unfolds with my students as we learned about what happened when the Japanese attacked and occupied Hong Kong during World War II. 

The Sai Wan War Cemetery in Hong Kong where many Canadians are buried

 The cemetery where all the Canadian soldiers are buried in Hong Kong was my very favorite place in the city.  Woven in with this narrative is the story of Mark’s paternal grandmother, born in Canada, whose Japanese family was living a good and prosperous life in Vancouver when World War II broke out. They lost everything when the Canadian government forced them to move inland.  Mark’s grandmother’s family ends up working like slaves on a sugar beet farm in Alberta and living in a chicken coop.     

Mark Sakamoto made me really love his grandparents and so I was sorry that during the second part of the book we hardly heard about them. The latter part of the book is all about Mark’s mother and her fight with alcoholism and addictions and how those impacted her son. There are brief references to his grandparents in this section but I wanted to know so much more about how they related to their grandson and to his parents as they walked through so much grief. How did they feel about their children’s divorce?  What was happening in the grandparents’ lives during this time?  The story about Mark’s mother is a riveting one but I agree with some of the Canada Reads panelists who felt Mark should have written two books, one about his grandparents and another about his mother. 

I hope Forgiveness doesn’t get eliminated today.  We will see if my hopes are realized.  I have one more book to blog about and that’s American War. I am having a birthday lunch with my niece today and she LOVED the book so that should give me additional perspective when I blog about it tonight. 

Other posts………..

Remembering Hiroshima

A Riveting Read

Questions After Watching the film Silence



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So Disappointed!

I can’t believe it!  They eliminated by far the best book!  I can only think of one reason the Canada Reads panelists removed the wonderful book The Boat People on their first day of debating and that is because they were being protective of their own books.  They knew Sharon Bala’s novel was the best and so they decided getting rid of it would give their books a better chance. 

the marrow thievesSo…………now I have to pick another winner and I’m going to choose The Marrow Thieves.  This is a story set in a future when global warming has devastated much of the earth.  Most people no longer have dreams but indigenous people still do and so they are being hunted by ‘recruiters’ who want to harvest their bone marrow thinking it holds the key to recovering the ability to dream.  The story centers around a strong group of indigenous people unrelated to one another and from different First Nations who have banded together and become a family as they flee from the recruiters.  I really think this book should win because ……………

  1. Although the main character is a young sixteen year old boy named Frenchie there are some wonderfully strong female characters in the book like the old woman Minerva -full of courage and tradition, the little girl RiRi full of curiosity and liveliness and the young woman Rose full of rebellion and independence. 
  2. The book ably covers two issues very important to Canadian society- climate change and reconciliation with our First Nations. 
  3. This is a young adult novel and I want it to win because more people need to discover that books labeled young adult can be great adult reading too. 
  4. Unlike American War, the other Canada Reads novel set in a dark future The Marrow Thieves actually leaves one with some semblance of hope for our world and has likeable characters you can cheer for. 
  5. We are constantly rethinking just exactly how the word ‘family’ should be defined and have come to realize families can each look very different.  The Marrow Thieves really makes us think about what it means to be part of a family and not just your biological family. 

I am almost scared to pick a new book to win Canada Reads when my initial choice was eliminated on the first day.  I hope The Marrow Thieves fares better today.  Whatever the outcome I’ll blog again tomorrow about one of the other books. 

Other posts…….

The Boat People

Canada Reads Starts Today


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Canada Reads Starts Today!

During our time in Portugal I managed to read all the books nominated for the upcoming Canada Reads competition. The first was The Boat People by Sharon Bala. I’ve already reviewed it in a blog post and after reading all the other contenders Boat People remains in top spot on my list!   It a good story, very well written, offered the viewpoints of three different narrators, two of them women, and it truly address this year’s theme of  A Book To Open Your Eyes by offering interesting insight into Canada’s immigration system. So I really hope it doesn’t get voted off on the show today. 

I also know which book I hope does gets voted off today.  Precious Cargo by Craig Davidson really lured me in initially.  It is autobiographical and the way Craig describes his dysfunctional personal situation at the start of the book literally had me laughing out loud. Craig’s life is changed during the year he drives a school bus for special needs kids.    As a teacher who has worked with many children with special challenges Craig’s  description of his relationship with these terrific kids warmed my heart and rang very true.   But……………. he also includes excerpts from a novel he tried to write about the same experience and these excerpts just didn’t fit or make sense to me and took me out of the narrative.  And………he tacks on this whole section at the end of the book reflecting on his experience and trying to explain what it meant to him and what it should mean to us.  It was completely unnecessary.  The story of his year with those children and how they captured his heart speaks for itself and I didn’t need to be told what to think of it. 

I plan to follow Canada Reads closely and will be doing further blog posts about the remaining three nominees.  Stay tuned!

Other posts……….

They Remembered the Books

A New Book Set Right Here in Winnipeg

Great Aunt Marie’s Books

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Thing 3- Reading- On the Eight Fold Path

My friend Rudy calls it ‘the eight fold path’ .  I have a list of eight things I try to do everyday here in Portugal to develop as a writer.  I already wrote about Thing 1  and Thing 2 on my path. This post is about Thing 3.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all other: read a lot and write a lot.” – Stephen King

That’s my justification for Thing 3…….. not that I need one.  I LOVE to read and don’t just do so because I know as Stephen King says it will make me a better writer. I have read quite a few books already during our time in Portugal but have now started what has become something of a ritual for me on our winter holidays…………trying to get through all the Canada Reads nominees.  

I just finished my first book Boat People by Sharon Bala.  I have to say I loved this book so much I am almost ready to declare it the winner before reading any of the others.  It is a fictional story but based on events in 2009 and 2010 when ship loads of Sri Lankin Tamils fleeing civil war in their country arrived in Vancouver.  Were they legitimate refugees or were some of them members of the terrorist Tamil Tigers?  Hundreds of the Sri Lankin refugees were detained until hearings could determine whether or not they would be of danger to Canadian citizens. 

The story of Boat People is told through the eyes of three characters.  Mahindan is a man with a six year old son who is a refugee suspected of Tamil Tiger ties.  Mahindan’s  young lawyer Priya is a second generation Sri Lankan- Canadian. Grace is the government appointed adjucator who hears and will decide Mahindan’s case.  Grace is Japanese Canadian and her parents and grandparents were put in a detention camp during World War II.  

Sharon Bala’s riveting story makes us realize just how complicated and subjective and messy the process of admitting refugees to Canada can be. Do circumstances beyond their control often force potential immigrants to cooperate with terrorist demands in their home countries? Are there enough experienced lawyers to defend refugees claiming citizenship?  Are adjucators politically motivated because of who appointed them? These are just a few of the questions the book poses. 

 Even though my husband and I, and other members of our family, have been very involved in bringing refugees to Canada and supporting them, I still learned a great many new things about the Canadian immigration process from this book. At the same time I was also totally engaged with the story. 
From a writers’ perspective Sharon Bala’s book taught me………….
1) The importance of detailed historical research 
2) The benefits of telling a story from more than one character’s perspective
3) The rewards  of writing about something related to your own background- Sharon Bala is a Sri-Lankian Canadian writer from Newfoundland
4) The value of keeping your readers in suspense
 Other posts………..

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The Things We Keep

The story in The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth reminded me of the novel Still Alice by Lisa Genova because it is also told in the voice of a person being effected by Alzheimer’s, although in this case it is not a fifty-something college professor but a thirty-eight year old motor cycle riding paramedic named Anna. Anna’s brother arranges for her to live in a care facility after it is no longer safe for her to stay with him and his young family. Here Anna meets Luke a man about her age who is also suffering from dementia.  They develop a romantic relationship that brings a momentary escape from their situation and adds meaning to both their lives.  But their families and the staff at the care home aren’t sure how to handle their relationship.

The Things We Keep has a second narrator, a young woman named Eve who is trying to start life over as a cook in the care facility where Anna and Luke live. Eve’s husband has died, leaving her and her young daughter Celementine destitute. 

The book made me think about how important it is to live in the moment, to enjoy and appreciate the here and now and to relish whatever love and happiness and meaning it brings. It also made me think about what life is like for people in institutionalized settings.  There is a whole network of relationships to navigate and a power imbalance to be handled with responsibility.  There are opportunities for caring and love but also hurt and harm. It made me think about the people I know who live in such settings and wonder how I might feel if I have to live in that kind of a facility someday. 

Other posts…………

Feeding My Mother

Where I Live Now

I Don’t Like Murder Mysteries but………

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A Riveting Read

I honestly couldn’t put the book Pachinko down.  I really admired the main character Sunja, a Korean woman living in Japan. I read for hours on end I was so eager to find out what was going to happen to Sunja and her family.

pachinkoI had no idea about the discrimination experienced by Koreans living in Japan, even those who have been there for generations.  In her book Pachinko author Min Jin Lee illustrates how that discrimination impacts four generations of Sunja’s family. I have visited both Korea and Japan. I had many Korean students when I was a teacher in Hong Kong.  I wished I had read this book prior to those experiences, but since it was just published last year that wouldn’t have been possible anyway. With Korea in the news so much today I appreciated the added insight the novel gave me into Korean history.  

statue of a family blue palace seoul

I photographed this statue of a family in Seoul

The only criticism I would have of the novel is that because I grew to really like and care for so many characters I might have chosen to resolve the conflicts in some of their lives in different and often less dramatic ways than the author did. If you are looking for a riveting read I can highly recommend Pachinko

Note: Pachinko is a recreational arcade game in Japan that can be used for gambling. 

Other posts……..

Hopeful Families in Korea

A Manitoba Boy Learn to Brew Beer in Korea

Kim’s Convenience

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