Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden wins Canada Reads 2014


The Orenda by Joseph Boyden is the winner of Canada Reads 2014. This post is very late, as I hadn’t finished the book until this past weekend. This novel was defended by Wab Kinew who is “an award winning journalist, [an] aboriginal activist and [a] hip-hop artist” (http://www.cbc.ca/books/canadareads/wab-kinew-defends-the-orenda-by-joseph-boyden.html).

This novel was difficult to read, not because of the language, but rather the truth behind Boyden’s words. (It is important to note, however, that this novel is historical fiction). The Orenda is a very graphic novel that does not shy away from blood and torture (which was Stephen Lewis’ main argument against it). The “Orenda” is described as the soul or entity of an object or person. Everything has an Orenda, and we must always take time to thank or apologize to the Orenda of someone or something that we have used or killed.
 Boyden has written this novel through the voices of three distinct Characters. The firs is Bird—a fearless and respected warrior of the Huron tribe, whose family has been savagely murdered by some combatants of the Haudenosaunee tribe. In return, Bird fights many of the Haudenosaunee tribe and captures and claims our second voice, Snow Falls. Snow Falls begins in this narrative, as an untamed animal that has a hard time accepting the fact that her family has been murdered. Although she is adopted as Bird daughter, she can’t help but find any opportunity to make him angry. One of these opportunities happens to be the befriending of a Jesuit and our third voice, Christopher or Crow, as Bird calls him.   Crow is a priest from New France who has been sent on a mission to convert these “sauvages” to Christianity. Boyden cleverly writes in each of these characters voice, and unravels the story which is their lives.

The theme of Canada Reads 2014 was “What is the novel that could change Canada?”, The Orenda does this by bringing to life a history that is often ignored or hidden. Boyden’s words are both captivating and beautiful, but I must stress that this novel is incredibly violent. With this violence, Boyden does a remarkable job at not placing blame directly on anyone for the tragedy that happens. However, this novel both enrages the reader, and opens a passage to a tragic history that we must attempt to face today.

This novel is a wonderful read that will expand your knowledge of Canada.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

The fourth book voted off of Canada Reads 2014 is: Cockroach by Rawi Hage


 Cockroach by Rawi Hage was the fourth book voted off of Canada Reads 2014. This book was defended by Samantha Bee who is an award winning comic, actor and writer. She has been a correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart since 2003.

I read this novel a few weeks ago, and it is my pick for Canada Reads. This novel seems to take off from the beginning, grabbing the reader with the way the narrator’s mind scuttles forward. It is written with the speed and dexterity of a cockroach (and I am able to say this easily after
having too many experiences with cockroaches myself). It revolves around a dark disturbed character that is living  in Montreal, surviving day to day. The narrator, who remains nameless, could be any down and out immigrant you meet in Montreal, Quebec, living off of government checks, starving
because he has no money to buy anything, and few true friends because of his life style.

The flawless transition between the narrator speaking of performing natural human activities, then abnormal cockroach activities makes the novel eerily brilliant. Hage has made the words and sentences bounce around and jump from one thought to another; we are in the present, then the past, then a further past, making it difficult to keep up mentally, much like trying to kill a cockroach physically. Isolation is a major theme that occurs in Hage’s story (much like Annabel by Kathleen Winter).  The narrator frequents an artist café where immigrants go to hang out. He is a man who feels as though he is living in society yet remains untouched by it. He could be anyone—and is simply one of  the many immigrants here in Montreal because, like a roach, where there is one there is more.

The theme of Canada Reads 2014 is “What is the novel that could change Canada?”, and I believe that this novel has that potential. This novel left me with chills. It left me feeling both angry at the main character for not having tried hard enough, but it left me feeling angry at Canada for having failed him. If the majority of readers were effected by this book the same way I was, this could change the way our society helps new Canadians. This would be an incredible feat, as we are a nation made up of other nations. However, the debate that took place March 6th, 2014 demonstrated a good show of why not everyone relates to this novel. Mary Gaitskill of the NY Times
says that Hage's "negative characterizations are broad clichés, much too easy and too flattering to the narrator and the reader" (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/15/books/review/Gaitskill-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0). The debators argue over Hage's main character, and whether or not he is relatable, or whether it is the other characters in this novel that create a more realistic picture of the life of an immigrant. Regardless, this novel was found to be difficult to access for the public, and The Orenda by Joseph Boyden takes home the Canada Reads 2014 title.

If you want to be touched by language that is startling and brilliant (although there was talk that the language is over the top?!), read this novel.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The third book voted off of Canada Reads 2014 is: Annabel by Kathleen Winter

Annabel by Kathleen Winter was the third book to be voted off Canada Reads 2014. The book was defended by Sarah Gadon who "is one of Canada's most promising young actors and a rising star in Hollywood. She has appeared in David Cronenberg's two most recent films, A Dangerous Method and Cosmopolis, and will be seen in several major films in 2014"(http://www.cbc.ca/books/canadareads/2013/11/meet-the-canada-reads-2014-contenders.html).

This book focuses on an intersex child who is assigned as a male named Wayne by his mother. Born and raised in Newfoundland, as Wayne grows and discovers the world, he can't help but identify with his inner feminine side named Annabel. This is a powerful novel that forces the reader to examine the disparate between choosing who to be, and having who you are bequeathed upon you by something greater.

I think, what makes this book Canadian (other than the setting of Newfoundland), is the deep sense of isolation that each of the characters seems to feel. There’s a difference between a character simply being on their own—versus a character who is truly isolated from society through an experience, or in Wayne/Annabel’s case, their own body and identity. This book goes deeper then dealing with a intersex person who feels lost—instead of showing them as the only lost person, Winter does an excellent job at holding this character up to a handful of isolated people allowing the reader to compare and identify with a character that they normally wouldn’t identify with. The debaters of Canada Reads 2014 argue over the impossibility of the pregnancy that Wayne/Annabel experiences, and how it doesn't line up with the reality that the novel initially institutes. Gadon rebuts with the explanation that Winter intended this as a metaphoric pregnancy in order to better stir the reader. It is important to note that this is not the only novel in the top five Canada Reads 2014 list that does this, as Cockroach by Rawi Hage dives into numerous metaphors and analogies to help make its point. This debate seems to be the biggest reason that Annabel was voted off.

The theme of Canada Reads 2014 is “What is the novel that could change Canada?”, and Winter certainly does a wonderful job at bringing a multitude of relevant identity and sexual orientation controversies to the limelight. These are relevant battles that Canadians are dealing with today. Hopefully, this novel will shine a different light onto issues that some readers may have overlooked.

This novel has not won Canada Reads 2014, but it still has the potential to beset change on any reader who chooses to invest in it.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The second book voted off of Canada Reads 2014 is: Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan was the second book voted off of Canada Reads 2014. This novel was defended by Donovan Bailey who is a two time Olympic gold medalist, and still holds a world record for the 50 meter dash. (http://www.cbc.ca/books/canadareads/2013/11/meet-the-canada-reads-2014-contenders.html)

I read this novel last year and, in my opinion, this novel is brilliant. This novel needs to be recognized for its beauty, creative voice and unique story. Half Blood Blues takes place in Paris during the Second World War. Edugyan writes as the voice of an aged black man, Sid, who looks back on his life and reflects on the disappearance of his talented friend Hiero. The story revolves around Jazz music and culture, which is reflected in the musicality of Edugyan’s words.  While music is an escape or way of life for these kids, it is not a product of the war but rather of themselves.

 While I often find that World War II novels tend to romanticize the idea of life during war, Edugyan seems to have found a way to capture the terror that war actually brought for many people living in Germany and Paris during this time. You find the Canadian voice in the character Delilah a scary, provocative, intimidating, woman from Montreal, Canada. She happens to be a confidante of Louis Armstrong (who also appears in this novel), and an incredibly intriguing character. This story isn’t all well and good—in fact, there are choices our protagonist makes that seem unforgivable. BUT, the voice that Edugyan has found in both a young and old black man is what makes this novel. It’s the words and grammar and spelling – the ‘off-beat’ way of speaking that actually becomes the jazz music. Brilliant.

The theme of Canada Reads 2014 is “What is the novel that could change Canada?”, and while I think Half Blood Blues is a brilliant take on Jazz musicians living in Nazi Paris, I don’t think it aims to change Canada in an obvious way.  This novel points out the flaws of our past, and a hope for a better future, but it does not specifically inspire a change in Canada. One could argue as Bailey did, that Half Blood Blues focuses on racial profiling, which is incredibly relevant today—but given that all the other novels still fighting for the Canada Reads 2014 title directly relates or take place in Canada, this novel seems “too far removed from social change in Canada” (Samantha Bee, who is defending Cockroach).

While this novel did not win this competition, if you like jazz music, poetry and a brilliant story—read this novel.

Monday, 3 March 2014

The first book voted off of Canada Reads 2014 is: The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood


The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood was the first book to be voted off of Canada Reads 2014. This novel was defended by Stephen Lewis, who is a “Canadian philanthropist and a Companion of the Order of Canada. [He is also] the chair of the Stephen Lewis foundation, which provides support to women and children in Africa living with HIV/AIDS” (http://www.cbc.ca/books/canadareads/2013/11/meet-the-canada-reads-2014-contenders.html) .

I had the pleasure of reading this novel prior to the Canada Reads debate which began March 3rd, 2014.  This book takes place in the future after a waterless flood has swept over the land. The Year of the Flood is the second book of a trilogy, the first being Oryx and Crake and third is the newly released MaddAddam. This book takes place in the future after pollution (and other relevant environmental concerns of today) have taken effect on our planet  On its own, The Year of the Flood, is a strong narrative that focuses on two prominent characters, Toby and Ren, who are part of a group, called God’s Gardeners. This story is told primarily through flashbacks of the two characters lives. These flash backs tell the story of how they ended up in their current situation. Throughout this novel we see Atwood’s brilliant reference to the influence of words and the bequest of power they can have over the author or the reader. This serves as a gentle reminder that as the reader of this novel, we can change our fate by letting this book influence our every day decisions. Having not read the other two novels in the trilogy, I can only imagine how prominent and powerful these novels would be as a series.

The theme of Canada Reads 2014 is “What is the novel that could change Canada?”, and while this novel certainly fulfills this topic by addressing the changes we need to ensue in order to save our environment, I would argue that this novel goes a step further and suggests that it is not just Canada, but the world that we have to change.

Although The Year of the Flood did not win Canada Reads 2014, I urge you to read this book!
Didn't get a chance to listen to the debate? Here is the link : http://www.cbc.ca/books/canadareads/listen/index.html