Canada Reads contender. This is an extraordinary memoir about a Chinese-Canadian family in a Vancouver suburb. The Wong family is remarkably dysfunctional; Lindsay regularly received the following comments as a child: “you are fat, lazy and retarded”! She describes her upbringing with candour and does not flinch from castigating her own poor behaviour. Her mother is consumed by fears of demonic possession by malevolent ghosts, the woo-woo. This fear means that mental illness is treated as a woo-woo possession and thus is not treated except with ineffective exorcism attempts. And unfortunately there is a clear family history of untreated mental illness: a paranoid schizophrenic grandmother, a mother and aunt who may be bipolar. When Lindsay is afflicted by a rare medical condition (migraine-associated vestibulopathy), her woo-woo fears reappear. This is a disturbing story with harrowing details of abnormal psychology, interspersed with some splendid examples of comic relief. How does someone overcome such an upbringing? A challenging book, an uncomfortable read but worthwhile.
There is much to admire in this book. First, it is set in Vancouver, particularly the city core, so much is familiar. Second, as is evident from the title, Vancouver experiences an infectious disease disaster but the storyline is novel. Rather than focus on the cause and search for a cure (vaccine), the story is about the aftermath of the plague: how do people cope? There are three distinct points-of-view for coping: a family doctor who experiences directly the expanding disease first hand, and two people who are trapped in Vancouver’s core when a quarantine is put in place: a newspaperman who can’t return to his home in the suburbs, and an American writer on a book tour. Explorations of their behaviours in the face of suffering and futility, together with the psychological stress of quarantine, makes this an excellent read – highly recommended.
Amy notes: in 2011, there was a riot in Vancouver after the Canucks lost the final game for the Stanley Cup. The downtown peninsula was closed off by the police; people who had watched the game at friends apartments unable to leave, for example. An inspiration for this downtown quarantine?
This is a novel created from a Canadian story – what happens to a boatload of Sri Lankans who arrive in Vancouver as refugees. The novel addresses a number of critical and important questions. What would you do to escape a deadly civil war? What would you reveal during the Immigration and Refugee Board hearings? How can the adjudicators determine what is truth from what might be lies or at least omission of facts? Part of what makes this book great is the detail of the chaotic refugee bureaucracy, and the ease of subverting refugee claims by politicians arguing that terrorists must be within the refugee population. So the context is vivid and important, and the three central characters are complex. Another remarkable first novel, this is the best of the Canada Reads books, in my opinion.
Adderson writes perfect novels of time and place, in this case Vancouver in the early 1980s. A group of young people share a home in Kitsilano, and the description of their lifestyle is fantastic. They are preoccupied (obsessed) with concern about war and the nuclear arms race, and their confusion and angst drives the plot. This is an under-rated novel, so highly recommended.
Aguirre previously wrote “Something Fierce“, about her revolutionary life in South America after the Chilean coup that killed Allende’s socialist revolution. Something Fierce won the CBC Canada Reads competition in 2012. This new book travels back and forth in time between South America and Vancouver, so both before and after her first book. But the central focus of this book is on the aftermath of a brutal and horrific sexual assault in Vancouver when she was 13 years-old. Her rape was a violent and degrading act of power and aggression, not a sexual act per se. I had the privilege of seeing Aguirre act in an ATP play in September 2013. What I learned from this book is that she had attended a parole hearing for her rapist during the run of this play (he was being held in Bowden Prison). This is an extremely powerful and at times profoundly disturbing book and is not for the faint-hearted, but Aguirre eloquently outlines her path to forgiveness (of herself) and reconciliation.
This is a really excellent FIRST novel that was undersold in the recent Canada Reads competition. At its heart, this is a book about sisterhood among disparate characters. It is a gritty story with graphic instances of abuse that understandably produces attachment disorder. The story is non-linear with reality and dissociative dream-like states; Bernice wills herself to disappear at one point. This is an excellent book that everyone should read.
There are two fine elements in this book. First, it is a BC book: Prince George, tree planting, Vancouver Island. The description of the physical environment is excellent. And second, this is a guy book, with a well-described look at male relationships, especially a father-son relationship with communication issues at its core. Overall, a very good read.