Canada Reads in a Nutshell:
For those not familiar with what Canada Reads is all about, it’s a moderated debate competition where panelists advocate a Canadian Literature (CanLit) they think Canada should read given a specific theme.
The theme for 2016 focuses on starting over — for migrants, immigrants and others whom are forced or choose to make transformative changes in their lives. (Paraphrased from CBC.)
Don’t listen to me. Instead, listen to the panelists themselves give their introductory pitches to the CanLit they’re advocating. I’ve listed the books in order of how they’re introduced in the video below.
Minister Without Portfolio (Michael Winter)
Advocated by Adam “Edge” Copeland, Actor/Retired Professional Fighter
Henry Hayward is a drowning man. With a soured long-term romance finally at an end, no family, and no refuge to be had in work, he progressively spends his days in the solace of alcohol and his nights with a series of interchangeable partners. In a quest to simultaneously recover from unrequited love and to find meaning in what is becoming an increasingly emotionally arid life, Henry travels to Afghanistan as an army-affiliated contractor.
When Henry becomes embedded in a regiment, he doesn’t have time to think about his fixation on Nora or the fragments of his old life, a life he wasn’t really living anyway. But everything changes during a tragic roadside incursion when a routine patrol suddenly turns fatal. And Henry, who survives, knows in his heart that he is responsible.
Upon returning home, now tormented by guilt in addition to ennui, he begins to feel even more rootless and restless until the question of his deceased friend’s summer home arises. Soon Henry is trying to bring meaning back to his life and to make posthumous amends by planning to buy and repair his friend’s dilapidated family house. But he hasn’t factored family history into the picture—and his deceased friend’s girlfriend has a revelation of her own that may change everything.
Bone & Bread (Saleema Nawaz)
Advocated by Farah Mohamed, CEO of G(irls)20
Beena and Sadhana are sisters who share a bond that could only have been shaped by the most unusual of childhoods — and by shared tragedy. Orphaned as teenagers, they have grown up under the exasperated watch of their Sikh uncle, who runs a bagel shop in Montreal’s Hasidic community of Mile End. Together, they try to make sense of the rich, confusing brew of values, rituals, and beliefs that form their inheritance. Yet as they grow towards adulthood, their paths begin to diverge. Beena catches the attention of one of the “bagel boys” and finds herself pregnant at sixteen, while Sadhana drives herself to perfectionism and anorexia.
When we first meet the adult Beena, she is grappling with a fresh grief: Sadhana has died suddenly and strangely, her body lying undiscovered for a week before anyone realizes what has happened. Beena is left with a burden of guilt and an unsettled feeling about the circumstances of her sister’s death, which she sets about to uncover. Her search stirs memories and opens wounds, threatening to undo the safe, orderly existence she has painstakingly created for herself and her son.
Birdie (Tracey Lindberg)
Advocated by Bruce Poon Tip, founder of G Adventures
Bernice Meetoos, a Cree woman, leaves her home in Northern Alberta following tragedy and travels to Gibsons, BC. She is on something of a vision quest, seeking to understand the messages from The Frugal Gourmet (one of the only television shows available on CBC North) that come to her in her dreams. She is also driven by the leftover teenaged desire to meet Pat Johns, who played Jesse on The Beachcombers, because he is, as she says, a working, healthy Indian man. Bernice heads for Molly’s Reach to find answers but they are not the ones she expected.
With the arrival in Gibsons of her Auntie Val and her cousin Skinny Freda, Bernice finds the strength to face the past and draw the lessons from her dreams that she was never fully taught in life. Part road trip, dream quest and travelogue, the novel touches on the universality of women’s experience, regardless of culture or race.
The Illegal (Lawrence Hill)
Advocated by Clara Hughes, Speedskating/Bicycle Racing Olympian
All Keita has ever wanted to do is to run. Running means respect and wealth at home. His native Zantoroland, a fictionalized country whose tyrants are eerily familiar, turns out the fastest marathoners on earth. But after his journalist father is killed for his outspoken political views, Keita must flee to the wealthy nation of Freedom State—a country engaged in a crackdown on all undocumented people.
There, Keita becomes a part of the new underground. He learns what it means to live as an illegal: surfacing to earn cash prizes by running local races and assessing whether the people he meets will be kind or turn him in. As the authorities seek to arrest Keita, he strives to elude capture and ransom his sister, who has been kidnapped.
The Hero’s Walk (Anita Rau Badami)
Advocated by Vinay Virami, Actor
As The Hero’s Walk opens, Sripathi’s life is already in a state of thorough disrepair. His mother, a domineering, half-senile octogenarian, sits like a tyrant at the top of his household, frightening off his sister’s suitors, chastising him for not having become a doctor, and brandishing her hypochondria and paranoia with sinister abandon.
It is Sripathi’s children, however, who pose the biggest problems: Arun, his son, is becoming dangerously involved in political activism, and Maya, his daughter, broke off her arranged engagement to a local man in order to wed a white Canadian. Sripathi’s troubles come to a head when Maya and her husband are killed in an automobile accident, leaving their 7- year-old daughter, Nandana, without Canadian kin. Sripathi travels to Canada and brings his granddaughter home, while his family is shaken by a series of calamities that may, eventually, bring peace to their lives.
I can’t say I’ll have the time to explore any of these titles before the competition begins but I’ll certainly be following along to see which one calls to Mr. Moody in my head.
I’m also debating whether or not I should register to sit in the audience (I think it’s free). However, my mind is definitely ready for the intense discussions relevant to today’s Canada going forward. Canadian or not, if you’re interested, I implore you to follow along when it takes place on March 21-24, 2016.