Split Tooth – Tanya Tagaq

Ms. Tagaq is an Inuit throat singer and Polaris Prize winner in 2014. She can now add author to her artistic gifts. This is a remarkable first novel. There is the often difficult reality of living in Nunavut as a young person: endless summer sunshine, the dark and brutally cold winter, and human difficulties like substance and sexual abuse. And there is a magical imaginary component, sometimes based on dreams. Ms. Tagaq’s prose is accompanied by graphic poems and a few illustrations. Highly imaginative writing.

Chop Suey Nation – Ann Hui

There are two parts to this book. The first is a cross-Canada road trip to visit Chinese-Canadian restaurants that feature the ubiquitous but non-traditional chop suey dish. This epic trip begins in Victoria and concludes with a memorable visit to a one-person Chinese restaurant in Fogo Island, NL. Just the encounter with Newfoundlanders would make this book with reading. But the second part of the book is the story of the author’s father, his early life in China and eventual immigration to Canada. At its core, this is a moving treatment of parental sacrifice. A great read.

A Deadly Divide – Ausma Zehana Khan

A Deadly Divide - Ausma Zehana KhanInspector Esa Khattak and Sgt. Rachel Getty of the Canadian Community Policing (Ethnic Division) investigate a mass killing at a Quebec mosque. In addition to providing a really excellent murder mystery plot, this story is obviously topical in Canada but also topical world-wide given the New Zealand mosque attack. The issue of radicalization to white supremacy causes is treated intelligently. Khattak and Getty make a formidable team, much like Elizabeth George’s Lynley and Havers. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

By Chance Alone – Max Eisen

By Chance Alone - Max EisenCanada Reads winner. This poignant and powerful memoir, written by an Auschwitz survivor, in presented in three parts. First, a happy childhood in Southern Czechoslovakia. Then second, at age 15, Max and his family are transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in the spring of 1944; he is separated from his mother and three siblings instantly who are all killed. Initially Max and his father and uncle work as slave labourers but then are separated and his father and uncle are targeted for death. Max’s survival is by chance (hence the title). He is arbitrarily selected to work in the concentration camp infirmary; this provides a unique look at how this “hospital” worked while staffed by political prisoners. The third chapter is post-liberation which is fraught with problems leading to a complicated process as a young orphan to find his way to Canada. One striking feature of the Auschwitz story is that simple survival was the over-arching imperative so Max’s psychological and emotional response to the loss of his entire family had to be suppressed. The Canada Reads success was due to three factors. First the panel proponent, Ziya Tong, was well-organized and passionate. Second, the current emergence of white supremacy (e.g. New Zealand atrocity) in the world demands an understanding of the holocaust. And the third factor was sort of reverse ageism, that Max represents a disappearing generation of Auschwitz survivors and so it is important to give this book an audience.

Brother – David Chariandy

Brother - David ChariandyCanada Reads contender – previously described in January 2018. This wonderful book should have been the winner but once again, listeners to CR discussions must be mindful that winners are not due to literary merit because of the limitations inherent in the choice of the proponents. Canada Reads is interesting but still a reality TV show. Everyone should read Chariandy’s book.

Ragged Company – Richard Wagamese

Ragged Company - Richard WagameseThis wonderful book, published in 2008, is one of Wagamese’s best. The story centres on four homeless people, two of which are Indigenous. Their street life is altered dramatically when they accidentally find a winning lottery ticket for $13.5 million: talk about “and now for something entirely different”! ‘The evocative story line weaves between the altered present and their backstories. This book has a wider scope than Wagamese’s other fine books which mainly focus on indigenous characters. The development of trust when they were homeless and how their life is altered after the lottery win makes this a story of family, how families can (and can’t) cope with stress due to altered circumstances. And spoiler alert: the ending will bring you to tears. Thanks Katharine, for this recommendation.

Machine Without Horses – Helen Humphreys

Machine Without Horses - Helen HumphreysHumphreys is a great writer (Nocturne, The Evening Chorus, The Lost Garden). Her new book is fascinating because the first half is a personal account of her writing process: start with an idea, in this case an obituary of a reclusive Scottish woman who was a renowned salmon-fly dresser. Humphreys describes the essential questions: What is the story? Whose Story is it? How are you going to tell the story? The second half of the book is the imagined life of the Scottish woman; very entertaining.