Hello all! The Man Booker Shortlist was recently selected with the winner being announced October 16. Will a U.K. author reclaim this prestigious literary award or will the North American contingent complete a trifecta over the last three years? Stay tuned… See below for a brief synopsis of the contenders. As for the Giller Prize, the longlist includes Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq featured in this issue along with Washington Black by Esi Edugyan, French Exit by Patrick DeWitt, Motherhood by Sheila Heti, An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim and Something For Everyone by Lisa Moore previously featured in our newsletters. These titles join Beirut Hellfire Society by Rawi Hage, Zoolitude by Paige Cooper, Songs of the Cold Heart by Eric Dupont, Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper, Vi by Kim Thuy and Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead to complete the longlist. The shortlist will be announced October 1st.
By Anna Burns
This novel takes place during the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland during the 70s through the eyes of a young girl. The book is described as “a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. It is the story of inaction with enormous consequences.” Currently not available in North America until mid-December, this may change – especially if it wins on Oct.16.
By Esi Edugyan
Also through the eyes of a young narrator, this time an 11 year-old slave on a Barbados sugar plantation. A grand geographic and historical sweep propels this highly ambitious exploration of race. The judges described it as “extremely imaginative, profoundly engaging and filled with an empathetic understanding of characters who are uprooted from places they knew and are required to make adjustments in worlds they barely could have dreamt of.” Also recently announced on the Giller Longlist.
By Rachel Kushner
This searing novel about the fate of being poor and female in America portrays its main character, 29 year-old single mom, Romy Hall as she begins two consecutive life sentences at the Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility in California. Incarcerated for killing her stalker, it becomes evident that she and the rest of Stanville’s population began their sentences well before they wound up in Stanville. Kushner masterfully weaves their stories together along with their guards and other prison workers to create a powerfully nuanced narrative of survival in a socially engineered nightmare.
By Richard Powers
Another masterful storyteller creates a multi-voiced narrative about nine fascinating strangers who come together in a deliciously rendered, serendipitous, yet delightfully overdetermined way to try and save a continent’s last few remaining acres of virgin forest. You don’t need a botany degree to appreciate the depth of research Powers brings to bear on the life of forests and the rich biodiversity they have generated over the millennia. The only thing to rival Powers botanical research is his seamless ability to fuse it with his knowledge of the human animal and our conflicted social and political aspirations.
By Robin Robertson
This is Scottish poet Robertson’s first novel. Told in a mixture of verse and prose, it describes a D-Day veteran from Nova Scotia trying to fit in to life after the war. A traumatized out-cast in a society with no time for yesterday’s heroes, he travels to New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles in an attempt to find a niche to survive in. Steeped in language raw and brilliant this is a homage to noir films from the late 40s and 50s that helped inspire his imagery and characters. Robertson has created an epic journey of a troubled soul who was part of a generation abandoned and set adrift after the sacrifices they endured during WWII.
By Andras Forgach
Newly released in trade paperback, this work blends fact and fiction to expose what happens when political informants report on friends, neighbours and family. Thirty years after the fall of communism in Hungary, the author found out his mother had been an informant for the Kadar regime. She informed on acquaintances, friends and family- including her own children. He presents a nuanced portrait of a complicated and conflicted woman in a fascinating history of socialist Hungary in the seventies and eighties. For readers who have yet to discover The Door by Magda Szabo, we also highly recommend this brilliant novel in reference to this complicated era.
By Tanya Tagaq
Another remarkable work that mixes fact and fiction, this autobiographical novel of the life of internationally acclaimed Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq is unlike any memoir you’ve read. Growing up in Nunavut in the seventies she experiences the immense charged power of nature mixed with the love of family and the banal brutality of small town northern life fueled by alcohol and boredom. When she becomes pregnant, her journey through this world becomes one “… where the distinctions between good and evil, animal and human, victim and transgressor, real and imagined lose their meaning, but the guiding power of love remains.” See below for the new biography of another iconic Indigenous singer, Buffy Sainte-Marie.
By Eden Robinson
Robinson’s first title in the Trickster trilogy – Son of a Trickster was shortlisted for last year’s Giller Prize. This second volume follows the intrepid young Jared from Kitimat to Vancouver where he’s attending school while trying to ward off the discomfiting effects of being an otherworldly Trickster. While steering clear of his hard partying mom and his peers high on weed cookies and assorted liquid refreshments is exasperating, real trouble comes calling in the form of David, his mom’s sociopathic ex-boyfriend. It appears that all the effort he’s been expending avoiding the fact that he’s a magnet for magic may have to be dropped in finally dealing with David’s increasingly problematic intrusion into his life.
By Leonard Cohen
It’s probably fair to say that Leonard Cohen’s posthumously published collection will attract lifelong fans and readers who want to honour this uniquely gifted poet/songwriter and celebrate his prolific artistic achievements. This final collection of poems was selected by Cohen during the last months of his life and feature lyrics, prose pieces and illustrations as well as extensive selections from his notebooks. He kept these in poetic form throughout his life and they provide an intimate view of his life, thought and creative process. Cohen’s first poetry collection – Let Us Compare Mythologies from 1956 is also being re-issued on October 2nd.
A rich crop of Canadian poetry collections are being published this fall that include amongst others; God of Shadows by Lorna Crozier, Blue Clerk by Dionne Brand and River Woman by Katherena Vermette.
By Haruki Murakami
It should come as no surprise to Murakami’s readers that his latest opus has a cast of colourful characters on a labrynthian journey of discovery and redemption that pretty much defies a straightforward synopsis. We can tell you that a young painter discovers past secrets of an older painter through a canvas found hidden in the old painter’s attic. The plot doubles up to include a wealthy neighbour and his doomed love affair that is an homage to Great Gatsby. It leads to a trip to another world via a portal that extends from the grave of Buddhist priests who were buried alive. Other than this, we leave it up to you to take this inspired excursion examining trauma, art and the creative process in this latest rendition of Murakami’s fabulous universe.
By Barbara Kingsolver
Willa Knox and her family live in a dilapidated house in New Jersey. Both her and her husband’s careers have come to a screeching halt and a cantankerous father-in-law along with their two grown children whose lives have taken surprising turns, are all back living under their leaky roof. When Willa discovers their home was part of a Utopian community in the 1880s, she believes she can convince the local historical preservation society to help fund her home’s much needed repairs. Her research leads back to the indomitable Thatcher Greenwood, a progressive science teacher censored by the conservative elements of the community for teaching Darwinism. The novel unfolds in alternating chapters describing these communities’ social tensions, centuries apart. While both deal with major cultural shifts that result in uncertainty and insecurity, how both communities deal with these ”modern” pressures makes for compelling reading on the common strengths of human character and the resilience of the social fabric over time.
By John Banville
Banville imagines the life of Isabel Archer, Henry James’ protagonist from Portrait of a Lady. In the original novel, Isabel, an intelligent, beautiful and vivacious woman, fascinates the high society of Albany, New York. Protective of her independence, she travels to England with her aunt to escape the clutches of an ardent suitor. When she inherits a considerable fortune she falls into the orbit of mysterious Mrs. Merle and the devious Mr. Osmond. This imagined second act of her life as she’s coming to terms with how seriously she’s been mistreated sees her renew her course of independence and freedom. Described as – “A masterly novel of betrayal, corruption and moral ambiguity, Mrs. Osmond, would have thrilled Henry James himself.” While we can’t be entirely certain of that last bit, we certainly believe the old maestro of psychological nuance and emotional weather would be quietly amused to see his work still inspiring contemporary masters like Colm Toibin (The Master) and John Banville.
By Markus Zusak
Although this is technically a Young Adult novel for 14 and over, the author of Book Thief has proven he’s able to attract a large all-ages readership. His latest centers on the Dunbar family, five brothers who raise each other by their own rules. As they learn to negotiate the adult world, they come to discover the secret behind their father’s disappearance. Through it all, Clay is the center of the family who builds a bridge from the past to an imagined future for himself and his brothers. The question is: how far is he willing to go and how much will he be able to overcome without a miracle?
By Lou Berney
The Edgar Award winning author of The Long and Faraway Gone returns with an epic crime novel set against the JFK assassination. Frank Guidry is a loyal street lieutenant to New Orleans’ mob boss Carlos Marcello. When everyone associated with Marcello turns up dead shortly after the assassination, Guidry thinks it’s time to go on an extended road trip. He has an idea of where to hide out but when he sees a woman with a broken down car on the side of the road with two kids and a dog in the backseat he adds another wrinkle to his exit plan. What he doesn’t expect is the fact that she’s in escape mode as well and is just as desperate and determined as Guidry to find a new life and identity for herself and her kids.
By Claire Fuller
Get ready for this sneaky psychological thriller that enmeshes an isolated, lonely woman with her new hedonistic neighbours. In the summer of 1969, Frances, a young woman living on the upper floor of a dilapidated English country house, spies her new neighbours. She is surprised to discover this charming couple, Cara and Peter, who have taken the rooms below hers for the summer, actually want to spend time with her. As the summer progresses, Frances gets caught up in the seemingly non-stop party Cara and Peter are celebrating only to realize all is not peaches and cream between this dazzling, fun-loving pair. When a small disconcerting event between them begins to blur the lines between truth and lies it escalates into a much larger situation that will mark them all forever.
By Monique Gray Smith
When a group of eight elders need a ride to fulfill their ultimate bucket-list road trip, Tilly gladly agrees. She learns the trip down to Albuquerque, New Mexico to attend the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow will also include side trips to Las Vegas, Sedona, and the Redwood Forests amongst others, as each of the elders chose a place they’ve always wanted to experience. The trip turns into far more than a sightseeing excursion as each of these destinations provides inspiration for secrets and stories to be revealed. When they finally stop in New Mexico they feel they’re ready for anything, but are they?
By Lisa Halliday
Rumoured to be partially based on the author’s relationship with Philip Roth, this story unfolds in three distinct sections that explores imbalances and inequities that impact our relationships. Age, power, talent, reputation, wealth, fame, geography and justice all play roles in the relationship between a young aspiring writer, an older well-established literary lion and a man on his way to visit his brother in Kurdistan. While the relationship between the writers at opposing poles of their careers are marked with many of these imbalances and inequities, how these interact becomes a fascinating story of what happens to the man visiting his brother. While some critics have bandied the term “metafiction” about, we tend to eschew these high-brow literary terms in favour of more homespun descriptions like “insightful” and “revelatory”.
By D’Arcy Jenish
Sub-titled: Canada’s Long Nightmare of Terrorism at the Hands of the FLQ, veteran journalist and author Jenish contends that the FLQ Crisis in Quebec that exploded in October 1970 was long developing. The FLQ began its campaign to establish a sovereign and socialist Quebec by exploding bombs in Montreal in the spring of 1963. The following seven years saw nearly a hundred more bombings, assorted bank robberies and six murders leading to the kidnapping of British diplomat James Cross and Quebec Cabinet Minister Pierre Laporte. It was learned that Laporte was accidentally killed during a struggle but his death was used by the FLQ as a negotiating tool. While much has been written about the failure to negotiate with the FLQ in 1970 and the part that Jean Drapeau’s administration along with that of Robert Bourassa’s and Pierre Trudeau’s government had in escalating tensions by invoking the War Measure’s Act, Jenish points out the real story of the October Crisis lies in the trajectory of events leading up to it.
By Andrea Warner
Since her 1964 debut album It’s My Way! Cree singer songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie has produced over 20 albums and has been a trailblazing and tireless advocate for Indigenous rights and freedoms. An innovative artist and social activist, she established herself among folk greats like Joni Mitchell – who writes the forward to this first and only authorized biography of Sainte-Marie by music critic Andrea Warner. Based on more than 60 hours of exclusive interviews, Sainte –Marie discusses her life with unflinching honesty as she covers the challenges she faced on the periphery of the music biz and as a performer, her healing from childhood trauma and intimate partner abuse along with her commitment to activism and leadership in the protest movement. Amongst the many other details of her extraordinary life – find out which two U.S. presidents had her blacklisted. A third comes to mind but he’s busy blacklisting anybody and everybody that doesn’t fall into line with how he sees his extended role as a reality TV “President”. Come to think of it –Ronald Reagan was a movie and TV star big on cowboys…hmmm.
By Anna Porter
After emigrating from Hungary to Canada as a young woman in 1968, Anna Porter found a job at the epicenter of the Canadian publishing world at that time – McClelland and Stewart. Led by the flamboyant Jack McClelland, M&S boasted a roster of authors that included Leonard Cohen, Margaret Laurence, Pierre Berton, Peter C. Newman and Margaret Atwood. Spanning her time at M&S as well as detailing the founding of her own publishing company – Key Porter Books in the 1980s, she recounts her experiences in these heady and vibrant years when Canadian publishing truly came of age. Amidst the highlights and on-going financial challenges of operating a publishing company in a relatively small but growing market, Porter captures the excitement of the times when Canadians began to appreciate and hunger for more of their own voices and stories.
By David Yaffe
Joni Mitchell recorded 10 incredible albums during the most prolific part of her musical career in the 60s and 70s. It was not only the virtuoso, genre-jumping musical freshness of her compositions that mesmerized listeners, but the personal intimacy and emotional power of her lyrics and voice that really bowled them over. Veteran music and culture writer David Yaffe presents a well-rounded biography that involves dozens of personal interviews. He explores her early life, marriages, a child given up for adoption, as well as her musical influences and includes interviews with Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Leonard Cohen and David Crosby, amongst others. Insightful analysis of the imagery and style of her lyrics presents a very real sense of who she is and why she holds a special place of honour in a vibrantly rich musical era that still resonates strongly today.
By Scott Kelly
Kelly’s astonishing memoir has insights on the realities of life in space for everyone. This veteran of 4 spaceflights and the American record holder for consecutive days in space explains both the life-threatening and mundane challenges of long-term spaceflight. From the devastating effects of zero gravity on the human body to the isolation from friends and earthly creature comforts to calculating the catastrophic risks of colliding with space junk and the agonizing frustration of being unable to help when tragedy strikes back home, Kelly has experienced it all. From his rough and tumble New Jersey childhood and the youthful inspiration that led to an extensive career at NASA, the strength of human will and imagination to power manned spaceflight to Mars shines through loud and clear. Please note – There’s a Young Reader’s edition (ages 8-12) due out later in the month.
By Eric Idle
From the comic who wrote the song most currently requested at funerals in the UK comes a “Sortabiography.” 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of Monty Python and this founding member marks the upcoming celebration with a look back on his life and times. From his childhood at an austere boarding school up through his time as a young writer and comedian during the sixties and seventies to a remarkable career in comedy, television, theatre and film, Idle crossed paths with a who’s who of entertainers. George Harrison, David Bowie and Robin Williams became lifelong friends while Mike Nicholls, Mick Jagger, Steve Martin, Paul Simon, Lorne Michaels and the rest of the Pythons, amongst many others, helped form the creative energy they all shared.
By Masha Gessen
Make no mistake, if journalist Gessen hadn’t escaped Russia and emigrated to the U.S. to become a staff writer at the New Yorker and teach in Massachusetts, she would have joined the ranks of Russian journalists murdered by the Putin regime. Having written Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin along with several others, her latest work, now in trade paperback won the 2017 National Book Award and was selected on numerous Best of Year lists. Here she chronicles how Russia has adapted a more virulent and entrenched form of totalitarianism in the years following the breakup of the former Soviet Union. She follows the lives of four people who were born at what was considered at the time –the dawn of democracy in Russia. Each of them came of age with expectations and individual aspirations of becoming entrepreneurs, activists, thinkers, writers and citizens able to express their sexual and social identities. She charts their paths against the crushing realities of the unobstructed re-emergence of the old Soviet order in the form of the slick and efficient mafia state. No wonder the 45th President is enamoured of the current Russian state – they know how to get things done their way without political interference and specialize in keeping people in line.
By Oliver Sacks
Before he died in August 2015, the talented neurologist, naturalist and science historian collected his most recent, unpublished, essays and case studies. This collection mirrors his own playful intelligence in pursuit of his favourite subjects: memory, creativity, consciousness and our on-going evolution (notwithstanding current sundry malaises and glaring shortcomings). Along the way, he points out the discovery of unexpected connections he stumbled upon as he followed the joyful pursuit of knowledge that informed his personal interactions with others. This creative and playful pursuit of knowledge was, for him, the best of what being human is all about.
By Michael Lewis
Subtitled: Undoing Democracy, the author of Liar’s Poker and The Big Short amongst others, examines the institutional dysfunction at play when a government administration embraces the willful ignorance of maximizing short term gains without considering the long term cost/benefit analysis of these policies. He interviews dozens of U.S. officials from a wide range of departments including Energy, Commerce and Agriculture who are all dealing with the dire implications of the Trump administration’s policies. Many of the appointments to head these important departments disregarded the manuals made available to them by the experienced public servants who have been involved in running these departments over their careers. By remaining ignorant of the long term costs of these short-sighted policies you preserve your personal immunity to the hard problems you are creating and leave the escalating costs and problems for those coming after you to deal with. We only have to look in our own backyard to realize we are dealing with the same dysfunctional dynamic here in Ontario. Notwithstanding Clause and damn the torpedoes anyone?
By Tanya Talaga
The author of the multiple award winning Seven Fallen Feathers is giving this year’s CBC Massey Lecture. Every year in Canada, one-third of all deaths among Indigenous youth are the result of suicide. There is no record of any suicide epidemics prior to the establishment of the 130 residential schools across Canada. Talaga examines the aftershocks of cultural genocide that has resulted in the rise of youth suicides in Indigenous communities in Canada, Greenland and Australia. She also documents suicide prevention strategies in these communities that involves everything from AI software that connects kids in crisis with mental health providers to initiatives by First Nations leadership in Northern Ontario for a new national health strategy that will aid communities in healing from the long term pain and grief of suicide.
By Nate Blakeslee
These magnificent animals don’t get much attention in these parts but if you want a close look at them, here’s a glorious opportunity. You may know that wolves were hunted to near extinction in the U.S. by 1920. You may not know that in recent decades conservationists have relocated wolves from Canada to Yellowstone National Park as a means of re-establishing natural balances in the restoration of this rich and vibrant ecosystem. That’s where the subject of this book comes in: O-Six, a charismatic alpha female that became a star attraction of nature watchers at Yellowstone. As she raises her pups and protects her pack, she is beset by hunters and professional guides who are competing with them for elk, with cattle ranchers and politicians who want them removed, and other wolf packs who resent her dominance. This amazing multi-generational saga of wildlife survival chronicles the clash of values between those wanting to preserve a vanishing way of life and those committed to restoring natural ecosystems and landscapes.
By Anne Lamott
Sub-titled: Notes on Hope, the latest from the author of Bird by Bird and Help, Thanks, Wow examines the central place hope plays in our lives. While acknowledging that despair and uncertainty surround us, the seeds of rejuvenation are at hand. She writes – “All truth is paradox and this turns out to be a reason for hope. If you arrive at a place in life that is miserable, it will change.” While there is always the urge to give up, she quotes the advice of Wendell Berry – “Be joyful, though you have considered all the facts.” In her uniquely candid, caring and at times, hilarious voice, she offers a series of insights and essential truths that helps us access the inner strength and wisdom we all possess.
By Emma Donoghue
This is the second installment of the adventures of the very diverse and free-wheeling Lottery clan for middle-graders begun in The Lotterys Plus One. 9 year-old Sumac Lottery is the fifth of seven kids who share their house with four parents, one grandfather and five pets. She’s the keeper of her family’s traditions and makes sure they’re celebrated with all the fun they deserve. When a visitor from Brazil overstays his welcome and a fierce ice storm shuts down the city and prevents some of her family from getting back home, how is she going to carry on the Lottery winter celebrations?
By M.T. Anderson
This smart, inventive, political fable about warring elfin and goblin kingdoms will appeal to young readers 10-14. Brangwain Spurge is an elfin historian on a mission. He is to be catapulted across the mountains into goblin territory and deliver a peace offering to their dark lord and spy on the goblin kingdom –a feat no elf has survived in over 100 years. His host, the goblin archivist Welfin is delighted to show Brangwain around. A series of unfortunate cultural misunderstandings and blunders upset the proceedings and place these two bumbling scholars in the middle of a dangerous international crisis. Each scholar takes note of what ensues from their own perspective and the evocative illustrations of Eugene Yelchin tells a tale that suggests the ultimate winner in a war is not the one who won the battles but who gets to write the history.
By Chris Hadfield
This special glow-in-the dark cover edition of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield’s story of overcoming his childhood fear of the dark is exquisitely rendered through the artwork of the Fan brothers. While dreaming of becoming an astronaut and visiting the moon fueled his boyhood dreams, his fear of the dark always got in the way. When he watches the epic moon landing on TV, he realizes space is the darkest dark there is and it’s beautiful and exciting all at the same time!
By Tahereh Mafi
This powerful contemporary YA novel explores fear, first love and the devastating impact of racism. Shirin, a Muslim girl turns 16 shortly after the events of 9/11. She endures the racial taunts and hatred that’s directed at her on a daily basis for being a Muslim and wearing her hijab. She develops an impervious wall around herself to ward off people’s ugly behaviour towards her. The only time she lets it down is when she and her brother listen to music and breakdance. Then suddenly Ocean James shows up in her life and he seems to get her. The problem is, she’s been living behind her thick fortifications so long she doesn’t know how to let anyone close, let alone express herself outside her very small comfort zone.