With books in translation, Canada's two solitudes are bridged, but one needn't just read these titles as civic duty. Because each of these books, which include thrillers, historical fiction, a view into international politics and comedy, is a terrific read in its own right, all of them titles that expand the reader's idea of just what fiction can do.
They're already generating buzz and, in the case of one book, a long-listing for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Arvida, by Samuel Archibald, translated by Donald Winkler
About the book: Like a Proust-obsessed Cormac McCarthy, Samuel Archibald’s portrait of his hometown is filled with innocent children and wild beasts, attempted murder and ritual mutilation, haunted houses and road trips to nowhere, bad men and mysterious women. Gothic, fantastical, and incandescent, filled with stories of everyday wonder and terror, longing and love, Arvida explores the line which separates memory from story, and heralds the arrival of an important new voice.
Why we're taking notice: Everybody's taking notice. Arvida has just been long-listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Guano, by Louis Carmain, translated by Rhonda Mullins
About the book: It's 1862, and Spain is a little rueful about letting Peru have their independence. Or, more importantly, letting Peru have the guano—"white gold"—on the Chincha Islands. Simon is the ship's recorder on a scientific—okay, military—expedition when he meets, in Callao, the mysterious Montse. She asks of him only that he write her letters. Which he utterly fails to do. As military tensions escalate, so does Simon's unabated lust for Montse—even if he can't bring himself to do anything about it.
Why we're taking notice: Rhonda Mullins' work was brought to wide attention last winter when her translation of And the Birds Rained Down was nominated for Canada Reads. In its original French, Guano received the prestigious Prix des Collégiens, a Quebec literary prize awarded by a jury of college students.
The World, the Lizard, and Me, by Gil Courtemanche, translated by David Homel
About the book: Claude Tremblay works as a political analyst at the International Criminal Court at The Hague. But when the Congolese warlord Kabanga, accused of crimes against humanity, is released from trial due to a procedural error, Claude resigns his post and follows the accused back to his home country in search of justice. In The World, the Lizard, and Me, Gil Courtemanche writes a stirring and contemporary Heart of Darkness, utterly compelling in its portrayal of Western ideals submerged in the global politics of poverty and violence.
Why we're taking notice: Courtemanche, who died in 2011, won international acclaim for his first novel, translated into English as A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali, set amidst the 1994 Rwandan genocide. It was awarded the 2004 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. He was also widely known for his journalism, focusing on politics and international affairs.
Captive, by Claudine Dumont, translated by David Scott Hamilton
About the book: In the spirit of Emma Donoghue’s international bestseller, Room, Captive throws readers into the mind of a woman who wakes to find herself in a terrifying and surreal situation: she’s confined to a small grey room and she has no idea why she’s there.
Emma has an unremarkable life, a mundane job, and very little contact with her family and friends. Night after night she drinks to forget until one evening she’s jolted out of her routine. She wakes up in a concrete room furnished with only a mattress and a ceiling lamp. Emma is seized by terror. She feels real emotion for the first time in a long time. She tries to make sense of what is happening to her, where she is, who has taken her, and why. As the days, weeks, and possibly months pass she develops a routine that helps her survive her circumstances. But just as Emma begins to find comfort in her routine she receives another terrifying jolt and she must adapt to new circumstances. Her mysterious captors subject her to various tests that push her to her limit and make her question everything about herself, including her will to survive.
Why we're taking notice: Apparently (so the story goes) Dumont had two dreams for her debut novel, and both those dreams came true. Within weeks of the book's release in French, she received and offer for the film rights (dream one: check), and the English-language version of the book is now out now (dream two: check), translated by David Scott Hamilton. The book is now earning good reviews as a sharp and well-drawn thriller.
The Lake, by Perrine Leblanc, translated by Lazar Lederhendler
About the book: In between the mountains and the sea, on the north shore of the Baie des Chaleurs, there’s a village called Malabourg. The village is surrounded by all the usual features of the region: a river with wild salmon, a stretch of the national highway, and a coniferous forest. But Malabourg has one unusual feature: in the heart of the forest there’s a lake the kids call “the tomb.” It’s the place where three young women have disappeared, one by one. As rumours and allegations spread through the village, Alexis and Mina struggle to make sense of the tragedies before deciding the only way to forget is to leave. Alexis relocates to France to learn how to compose perfume and Mina moves hundreds of kilometres away from the sea. But, in spite of the distance, Alexis and Mina can’t forget Malabourg, or each other.
Unfolding along the beautiful, rugged landscape of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, The Lake is the gripping story of the disappearance of three young women, the unsettling aftermath, and the search for life beyond the limits of a small town.
Why we're taking notice: Leblanc's first novel (published under the title L’homme blanc in Quebec and Kolia in France) won the Governor General’s Literary Award for French Fiction, Quebec’s "Canada Reads" competition, and the Grand prix du livre de Montréal; it was also longlisted for Elle magazine’s Grand prix.
Griffintown, by Marie Helene Poitras, translated by Sheila Fischman
About the book: Loaded with grit, heart, murder, and desire, Griffintown harnesses the style of a Spaghetti Western to tell the exhilarating story of the coachmen of Old Montreal, the city's urban cowboys.
Why we're taking notice: Poitras' work has received much acclaim since her award-winning first novel in 2002, and in 2012, Griffintown in its original French was awarded the Prix littéraire France-Québec. Also, Sheila Fischman is one of the country's foremost translators.
English is Not a Magic Language, by Jacques Poulin, translated by Sheila Fischman
About the book: From award-winning translator Sheila Fischman comes a new novel by bestselling Quebec author and Canada Reads finalist Jacques Poulin, English Is Not a Magic Language. A follow-up to the author's critically acclaimed 2006 novel, Translation Is a Love Affair (Archipelago Books), here we meet reader-for-hire Francis, the little brother of novelist Jack Waterman, whom longtime Poulin fans will remember from previous works as the author's loose alter ego. One call and Francis will arrive at your door in his Mini Cooper, ready to read. He's partial to works about the Natives, the fur trade, and the immense territory the French once held in North America. His principal client is Limoilou, a young woman from Quebec City who still bears the scars she slashed into her wrists at the end of Translation Is a Love Affair, who finds great solace in his reading voice. Altogether, Francis's ordinary life in the shadows of his better-known brother could almost be described as happy. But what is he to make of a missed rendezvous with a mysterious woman? And why have the Mounties suddenly started following him in front of the Plains of Abraham, where New France fell to the British?
Why we're taking notice: Poulin has been called "one of the leading novelists of his generation." The novel was lauded by reviewers in its original French.
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