The Ministry of Utmost Happiness – Arundhati Roy

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness - Arundhati RoyA sweeping saga of India, mostly in contemporary times (1984-2014). Part of the book is set in Delhi but much takes place in Kashmir (topical given today’s political events). Ms. Roy’s writing is exceptional; impeccable detail means that the reader can feel the sensations of noise, heat, pollution and misery, violence and ethnic cleansing. Her vivid writing captures the chaotic complexity of India. And the main characters are women.

Grief Cottage – Gail Godwin

Grief Cottage - Gail GodwinSometimes a book can provide a perfect reading experience, a confluence of literary merit and also the receptivity of the reader. Godwin’s book was a perfect read for me. Marcus, an 11 year-old boy, has to live with his Great Aunt after the accidental death of his mother. His Great Aunt is a stranger, a painter who lives on a beach in South Carolina. Given the circumstances and his inherent inclinations, Marcus is wildly self-absorbed and introspective despite his young age. His journey through the summer, largely left to his own devices, is remarkable, both compelling and profound. This is a great read, see also Godwin’s previous book Flora.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things – Iain Reid

I’m Thinking of Ending Things - Iain ReidThis is a remarkable first novel that starts as a relationship story, a woman and a man having conversations. There are some early small instances of things that seem “off”, and the second half descends into a flat out sinister story leading to terror and fear. When you reach the end of the book, you appreciate that the title is very clever (what is ending?). This is an excellent albeit disturbing story; highly recommended.

A Matter of Malice – Thomas King

A Matter of Malice - Thomas KingThumps DreadfulWater (wonderful name) is a Cherokee ex-cop trying to live a quiet life in a small town in Montana. Thomas King is a very fine writer (The Back of the Turtle, An Inconvenient Indian) so the writing is much better than the average murder mystery. King captures the world-weary aspect of DreadfulWater, how a mind can wander and then snap back into focus. Now I am going to read the first three books in this series.

Big Island,Small – Maureen St. Clair

Big Island,Small - Maureen St. ClairThis is a relationship story of two women with shared Canadian (Big Island) and Caribbean (Little Island, Grenada) backgrounds. The relationship is complex and complicated; there are some cases of persistent poor choices even though the person is conscious of this reality. Secrets and personal history are revealed slowly. This is excellent writing which deservedly won an award for social justice literature.

Woman at 1000 Degrees – Hallgrimur Helgason

Hallgrimur HelgasonOne of my goals is to read Icelandic literature and this is an epic story, deathbed recollections by an 80 year-old woman who has had a remarkable life. She is a unique individual: sardonic and above all, a survivor. Her existence as a young girl in WWII is harrowing and disturbing. The storyline is non-linear, like the ramblings of an old woman. This books gives some significant insight into the Icelandic psyche, an isolated under-populated island, plus varied experiences in places like Argentina.

Keeper n’Me – Richard Wagamese

Keeper n’Me - Richard WagameseIn the tributes to the late Richard Wagamese at literary festivals in Calgary and Vancouver, several Indigenous authors said that this book had a huge influence on their lives. Garnet Raven is a young child in an Ojibway-Anishanabe community in Northern Ontario. He is a victim of the sixties scoop, essentially a kidnapping, and so grows up without any sense of being an Indian. In fact, there are some hilarious instances of his attempts at cultural appropriation. After 20 years, he is reunited with his family and begins to lean the Indian way with an elder named Keeper. It is easy to understand why this book, published in 1993, became so important to Indigenous youth. This book should be essential reading for everyone, to appreciate a way of living in harmony with the land and the important of silence, of a slow pace of life and a solid sense of humour.