Day One of Canada Reads 2019 has arrived! You can listen to the debates on CBC Radio One or find the livestreams here at 11:00 a.m. ET.
There are strong finalists this year, making the choice of which book to cheer for a tougher decision. When it comes down to it, I’d be quite happy with either Homes or Brother winning this year’s battle of the books, but if I had to pick I’d go with Homes by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah with Winnie Yeung.
This year’s theme is “one book to move you” and Homes: A Refugee Story does just that. It is short and accessible, yet a powerful story of a refugee family told through the eyes of a young person, Abu Bakr al Rabeeah. He describes life in a war zone (both the horrific, unsettling experiences along with regular day to day family life) and their attempts to find safety from Iraq, to Syria and eventually settling right here in Edmonton. You can’t help but be moved by Abu Bakr’s stories, which serve to remind us of our shared humanity. Given recent world events, and the urgent need to address the rise of hate, violence and anti-immigration movements, this is definitely the book all Canadians should read right now.
But I will say, Brother by David Chariandy is a book that moved me deeply when I read it last year, and it is a book that continues to stick with me now. The story is of two brothers, sons of Trinidadian immigrants growing up in “The Park” in 1990s Scarborough. David Chariandy’s beautifully written novel is 200 pages filled with fantastic storytelling, where you experience the character’s hopes and dreams, their sadness and their grief right along with them. This novel is well worth adding to your reading list.
The other three books:
Suzanne by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette (translated by Rhonda Mullins) is a fictionalized version of the life of Suzanne Meloche, the grandmother of the author – a grandmother which she never knew. I quickly got wrapped up in the short/quick chapters, the strong emotions, and following Suzanne’s life story through over 85 years of interesting political history in Quebec and beyond. Suzanne is beautifully written and worth a read.
By Chance Alone is Max Eisen’s holocaust memoir. He writes about the horrors of the holocaust, his time in Auschwitz, and his long road to healing since. It reminded me a lot of reading Elie Wiesel’s Night Trilogy and has stuck with me in a similar way. In a world where we’re seeing the return and rise of neo-nazi groups this is a timely book for us to try to learn from our past, and to avoid repeating it.
I found The Woo-Woo by Lindsay Wong the toughest of the five contenders to get through. This memoir is raw, gut-wrenching, and was at times uncomfortable to read. It often feels like you’re jumping around from story to story which meant it took me a while to focus and finish it. But Lindsay Wong raises important issues around mental health, and describes a childhood reality very far from my own experiences – both reasons I am glad to have read it.
If you’re curious to learn more about any of the finalists you can check out the book trailers CBC made for each contender here: https://www.cbc.ca/books/canadareads/watch-the-canada-reads-2019-book-trailers-1.5068760