Tag Archives: canada reads

Making Peace With the Past- The Canada Reads Nominees

All five Canada Reads nominees this year tell stories that were written at least in part because the authors wanted to make peace with their past.  I’ve already blogged about the first two books Homes by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah and Winnie Yeung, and Brother by David Chariandy. The other three are……..

In his Holocaust memoir By Chance Alone Max Eisen relates his experiences in the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz.  He  was from Czechoslovakia and lost his entire immediate family to the gas chambers.  Eisen had dreams while he was writing his book that helped him remember details about the past which his subconscious had suppressed. He was surprised how cathartic the writing experience was.

In Suzanne author Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette tells the story of her grandmother’s life.  Her grandmother left her husband and children to go to the United States and Europe to carve out an independent future of her own as an artist, writer and political activist.  Lavalette has researched the personal history of this grandmother she never really knew in the hopes that she might be able to understand her grandmother’s choice to abandon her children.

None of the Canada Reads nominees stands out for me. All are incredibly sad.  All are either true stories or were inspired by real life events and experiences. All address multiple issues of importance- racism, war, the role of women, mental illness, immigration, anti – Semitism, single parenting, and poverty. Each ends with a glimmer of hope.

I am only a few chapters in to The Woo Woo, by Lindsay Wong, the fifth nominee but have yet to gain a real appreciation for its kind of humour or feel an affinity for the narrator, although I can certainly relate to some aspects of the Chinese culture it portrays having lived in China for six years.  

Brother is the most well written book in my estimation.  Suzanne was the hardest to read because I couldn’t bring myself to make a connection with the protagonist or feel sympathy for her.  By Chance Alone covers territory I have become familiar with from the many other Holocaust stories I’ve read. Homes has the truest voice. Woo Woo is the strangest. 

An article in the March 20th issue of the Globe and Mail suggests that the Canada Reads books chosen this year emphasize sending a message or teaching a lesson over good imaginative writing and engaging stories. I think I tend to agree. 

Unlike other years when I have the book I’d like to see win Canada Reads clearly chosen ahead of time I really don’t have a favorite this year. I’ll be curious to see what happens when Canada Reads begins today.

Other posts……..

Hero’s Walk

The Illegal

Bone and Bread

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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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Canada Reads Day One

I watched day one of CBC’s Canada Reads as soon as I got home from work yesterday. As my blog followers know I have a vested interest in the contest this year because I’ve managed to read all five books nominated. Some reflections about the show yesterday….

a hero's walk


My personal first place pick is The Hero’s Walk. It almost got eliminated but was saved by Olympian Clara Hughes’ passionate defence of it. The Hero’s Walk reminded Clara so much of her own family that she absolutely loved it so……. when she had to cast the deciding vote about which book to eliminate she chose Minister Without Portfolio which kept The Hero’s Walk in contention.



I liked Farah Mohamed’s comment about Birdie when she said she was hoping for a story about an aboriginal woman who could be a hero rather than a victim. Birdie may be a realistic depiction of the violent and troubled lives of many First Nations women, but Mohamed proposes that it is time for a book about a successful, confident First Nations’ woman, because there are many. I agree. Why not a novel about an aboriginal woman who is a prosperous business owner, an inspirational teacher, a successful artist or an effective political leader? 


minister without portfolioI agreed with the elimination of Minister Without Portfolio. The story just wasn’t believable. Henry the main character escapes death or injury so many times that finally you start thinking of him as the cat with nine lives. It just never stops. He is in a fiery accident in Afghanistan, a mining disaster in Alberta, nearly loses his stepdaughter when she gets locked in a car, faces every roadblock imaginable when it comes to restoring an old house in Newfoundland, and then there is the incinerator fire, and the whale that nearly flips his boat, and getting lost in the fog……. I could go on. I know the hero of a book needs to face problems but Michael Winter went overboard in Minister Without Portfolio giving Henry one too many close calls. I did like the Newfoundland setting and was intrigued by the idea that we all have a sphere of a hundred people in this world for whom we are responsible, but it wasn’t enough to make this book a winner for me. 

the illegalInterestingly none of the panelists talked about the book The Illegal.  Clara Hughes, who chose the book defended this saga of a young refugee passionately  at the outset, but when the panelists were asked to reflect on…….. a book that surprised them………. a book that is most relevant to Canada today……. or a book they thought did not reflect the 2016 theme of ‘starting over’, no one mentioned The Illegal at all. Not sure what that means. 


Looking forward to today’s show.  I have to work all day again so I’ll have to wait till I get home to find out which book gets eliminated tomorrow.  I hope it’s not The Hero’s Walk. 

Other posts……

The Illegal

The Hero’s Walk

Bone and Bread


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The Illegal- My Second Choice for Canada Reads

This is a fast paced story about a fast runner and I read it quickly.  Lots of stuff happening, lots of colourful characters and talk about relevant!  With the refugee crisis exploding The Illegal by Lawrence Hill couldn’t have come out at a more opportune time. The characters are pretty stock- your good cops, your bad cops, your kind aging mother with an evil abusive son, your bad politicians and your not so bad politicians, and a reporter named Viola who covers several stock character options- she is black, disabled and gay.  And then there is Keita, the main character…  yet another orphan.  There isn’t a book nominated for the Canada Reads contest that doesn’t feature an orphan or two.  My favorite character in The Illegal was John a intellectual whiz kid with everything going against him yet he is beating the odds. For someone whose worked with children her whole life his character was very hope inspiring for me.the illegalThis novel covers the Canada Reads theme of ‘starting over’ in spades.  Many of the characters are trying to do just that but none more than the refugee Keita who is determined to use his powress as a marathon runner to make a new life for himself and his sister. 

Someone told me that the fictional countries in the book just didn’t work for them and I agree.  With all the places in the world where the influx of refugees is creating a moral and economic crisis the author would have done well to research one of them to make his story more ‘real.’ The strength of Hill’s previous best seller  The Book of Negroes  was the historical insight we received based on Hill’s research about a group of African Americans who immigrated to Canada.

Of all the books nominated for Canada Reads this year The Illegal probably has the least direct connection to Canada.  There is one reference to Tim Hortons and another to a magazine article about a Canadian runner but that’s about it.  The other novels all are primarily set in Canada or in the case of The Hero’s Walk has main characters who are Canadian. 

The writing in The Illegal wasn’t nearly as nuanced and beautiful as in Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz and in hindsight maybe I should have made that my second place choice. But I was reading The Illegal while we were traveling in a crowded, stuffy van for a whole day along the coast of Costa Rica. The Illegal was an easy read, engaged me, made the time pass very quickly and I’m a sucker for a little romance and a happy ending. 

Other posts….

Bone and Bread

The Hero’s Walk


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The Hero’s Walk-Canada Reads- My First Place Choice

I think The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami should be the winner of the Canada Reads contest beginning in less than a week.

a hero's walkThe book takes place in India and the author makes the city on the Bay of Bengal where the story is set come alive for readers with her haunting and often humorous prose.  

Sripathi Rao, the main character is about my age. He’s trying to be a good son at the same time as he’s trying to be a good grandfather and he’s having a hard time adjusting to the fact that his roles as a husband and father have changed dramatically .  His two children anger and frustrate him because neither is following the path he thought their lives should take.   

Who is the hero in The Hero’s Walk?  There are plenty of candidates. 

Sripathi’s best friend Raju who must decide whether or not to take his severely handicapped daughter’s life before he dies because there is no one else to care for her. 

Sripathi’s daughter Maya who surmounts many odds to build a successful academic career and has the bravery to flaunt tradition and family expectations to be with the man she loves.

Sripathi’s son Arun who is a political and environmental activist and envisions a better future for India, one he feels responsible to work toward. 

Sripathi’s grandaughter Nadana who must leave her home in Canada to start a new life in India with her grandparents after her mother and father are killed in a car accident. 

Sripathi’s wife Nirmala who refuses to play the role of submissive wife and daughter-in-law. She starts her own business and continues to have a relationship with her daughter even though her husband refuses to. 

Sripathi who eventually realizes that while moral integrity has value, when you stick too rigorously to your pre-determined ideas of what is right and wrong you can be very unhappy and ruin your relationships with the people you love the most. 

The Hero’s Walk is about a family in India but it could be about a family anywhere.  The issues and problems Sripathi’s family faces are ones we can all identify with in some way. 

Note: I read this book while we were in Costa Rica.  We went on a night hike to watch sea turtles nesting.  In The Hero’s Walk Sripathi and his son Arun watch sea turtles digging nests and laying eggs one night and it brings about a change in their relationship. 

Other posts……….

Bone and Bread- Canada Reads- My Third Choice

Turtle Night Walk

India Assaults The Senses


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Bone and Bread- Canada Reads -My Third Place Choice

bone and breadSaleema Nawaz’s novel Bone and Bread does a good job of taking its title seriously. Two sisters are the main protagonists. They become orphans when their Sikh father who is a bagel and bread maker in a Jewish neighbourhood in Montreal dies of a heart attack and their Irish yoga instructor mother chokes on a chicken bone.   One sister Sadhano has anorexia and starves herself to skin and bone.   The other sister Beena has a son named Quinn and in one key scene they connect while eating peanut butter and bread.  There are other references to bread and bone. Beena and Sadhano’s mother talks about the way the universe expands like a huge loaf of bread and after their father dies Beena remarks that her mother’s trust in her burdens her very bones. You get the idea. 

Both Beena and Sadhano frustrated me, because many of the choices they made seemed self destructive. The relationship between the two sisters was vital to them but at the same time damaging.  I suspect there are many family relationships like this. This is a sad story  beautifully written, and engagingly told. 

The person I wanted to know more about was the girl’s uncle who remains dutifully responsible for his troubled nieces. A bachelor who is forced to run his deceased brother’s bagel business, he has no idea how to raise two teenage girls, after his sister-in-law dies, but he does the best he can. As she grows older Beena comes to realize that her uncle has been a constant in her life, and one of my favorite passages in the book is where Saleema Nawaz describes Beena’s changing relationship with him. “My relationship with uncle has shifted, grown a new layer of sediment, like a softer sand washed onto shore, things moving, slipping away underfoot,some replaced altogether. Contempt on both sides giving way, bit by bit to respect.”

Bone and Bread is one of five books chosen for the 2016 Canada Reads contest.The theme of this year’s contest on CBC is ‘starting over’.   Beena and Sadhano must ‘start over’ after each of their parents die.  Beena must ‘start over’ when she becomes pregnant as a teenager. Sadhano ‘starts over’ each time she is hospitalized for her anorexia and nears death.  Beena must ‘start over’ after her sister Sadhano finally succumbs to her disease and dies. At the end of the book Beena is contemplating ‘starting over’ as her son Quinn goes off to university. 

 I’ve read all the books chosen for the Canada Reads contest and know exactly which book I’d pick to win. Although I enjoyed Bone and Bread it would be my third place choice in the contest. 

Other posts…….

A Miriam Toews Sighting in Costa Rica

I Think I’ve Found Another Maeve Binchey

Knuckleball – Think Mennonite Corner Gas

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