A Canada We Recognize

Book Cover A Day in the Life of Canada

It's inevitable that the whole country goes batshit at election time, particularly when things seem a bit precarious for those desperate to hang onto their power, but in the last couple of weeks, the national conversation has taken a dangerous turn, becoming rife with hatred and anger. The result has been a Canada as weird and terrible as the Canada depicted in the photo to your right (which was brought to our attention via a tweet by the Orkney Library) but much less funny. 

And so in an attempt to balance the scales of sanity, we offer this list of books that give us a Canada we recognize.

 

A Canada that is a place of asylum

Book Cover Flight and Freedom

Flight and Freedom, by Ratna Omidvar and Dana Wagner

The global number of people currently displaced from their home country—more than 50 million—is higher than at any time since World War II. Yet in recent years Canada has deported, denied, and diverted countless refugees. Is Canada a safe haven for refugees or a closed door?

In Flight and Freedom, Ratna Omidvar and Dana Wagner present a collection of thirty astonishing interviews with refugees, their descendants, or their loved ones to document their extraordinary, and sometimes harrowing, journeys of flight. The stories span two centuries of refugee experiences in Canada: from the War of 1812—where an escaped slave and her infant daughter flee the United States to start a new life in Halifax—to the War in Afghanistan—where asylum seekers collide with state scrutiny and face the challenges of resettlement.

 

A Canada that leads on the global stage

Book Cover The Diplomat

The Diplomat: Lester Pearson and the Suez Crisis, by Antony Anderson

Saturday, November 3, 1956

The United Nations, New York City

about 10 p.m.

Lester Pearson, Canada's foreign minister (and future prime minister) stands before the United Nations General Assembly. He is about to speak, reading from a proposal composed of 78 painstakingly chosen words. These words, shaped by caution and hope, are a last-ditch attempt to prevent a conflict in Egypt from igniting a conflagration throughout the Middle East. Pearson, in perhaps his finest hour, is about to carve out a razor's edge of common ground to bring together angry allies and bitter enemies by suggesting and making possible the creation of the first UN peacekeeping force.

Pearson's diplomacy throughout the Suez Crisis launched a blold experiment in international security and cemented Canada's reputation as "a moderate, mediatory, middle power." And yet, until now, no one has told the full story of how this Canadian diplomat led the world back from the brink of war. In a unique blending of biography and political history, Antony Anderson's The Diplomat draws from diplomatic cables, memoirs, diaries, anecdotes, official memoranda, and exclusive author interviews to create not only a compelling portrait of Pearson, the man at the centre of the negotiations, but also a nuanced analysis of the political maze navigated by Pearson to avert a bloody war.

 

A Canada that acknowledges its tragic colonial legacy

Spirit Builders: Charles Catto, Frontiers Foundation and the Struggle to End Indigenous Poverty One House at a Time, by James Bacque

The people who were living here on Turtle Island (North America) before us have been pushed aside from their own land for decades. Mining companies, lumber companies, railways, governments and fisheries have all taken away First People’s land and resources while dishonouring the treaties that were supposed to protect them.

Spirit Builders is the story of aboriginal peoples in Canada, their ruined villages and the broken promises that have led to tragic circumstances for many thousands of people. It is also the story of Charles Catto and the Frontiers Foundation, a volunteer and co-operative movement that has built over 2,000 houses, community buildings and schools as a practical way of addressing and solving many of the problems that aboriginals and Métis in Canada face as they seek to create a new relationship with the colonizing societies around them.

The culmination of seven years of research, James Bacque’s new book addresses directly and unflinchingly the dangerous deprivation and shame that haunt Canada’s aboriginal reserves.

 

A Canada where Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is high on the radar

Book Cover Stolen Sisters

Stolen Sisters: The Story of Two Missing Girls, Their Families, and How Canada Has Failed Indigenous Women, by Emmanuelle Walter

In 2014, the nation was rocked by the brutal violence against young Aboriginal women Loretta Saunders, Tina Fontaine and Rinelle Harper. But tragically, they were not the only Aboriginal women to suffer that year. In fact, an official report revealed that since 1980, 1,200 Canadian Aboriginal women have been murdered or have gone missing. This alarming official figure reveals a national tragedy and the systemic failure of law enforcement and of all levels of government to address the issue.

Journalist Emmanuelle Walter spent two years investigating this crisis and has crafted a moving representative account of the disappearance of two young women, Maisy Odjick and Shannon Alexander, teenagers from western Quebec, who have been missing since September 2008. Via personal testimonies, interviews, press clippings and official documents, Walter pieces together the disappearance and loss of these two young lives, revealing these young women to us through the voices of family members and witnesses.

Stolen Sisters is a moving and deeply shocking work of investigative journalism that makes the claim that not only is Canada failing its First Nations communities, but that a feminicide is taking place.

 

A Canada that views its West in a broad historical context

Wild Rose, by Sharon Butala

Wild Rose, an epic story of The West, now long gone, charts Sophie's journey from underloved child in religion-bound rural Quebec, to headstrong young woman to exhausted homesteader to deserted bride and mother to independent businesswoman finding her way in a hostile, if beautiful, landscape. In language that is haunting, elegiac and rich with detail, Butala casts an unblinking eye on a merciless West that has become obscured behind headlines about wheat and oil prices. Sophie's West—filled with sodbusters and cowboys, fallen women and proper ladies, settlers and Indians—comes vividly alive in the pages of Wild Rose, Butala's most unforgettable novel.

 

A Canada populated by citizens of the world

Ex-Yu, by Josip Novakovich

Short story writer, novelist and essayist Josip Novakovich returns with his first collection of stories since being named a finalist for the prestigious 2013 Man Booker International prize. In Ex-Yu, he explores the major themes of war and exile, of religiosity and existentialism, that have defined his fiction and earned him a place among the pantheon of international writers addressing contemporary literature's most pressing questions. Masterpieces such "Honey in the Carcase", "White Mustache", and "Acorns", unflinching in their humanity and realism, take us into the brutal despair of the Bosnian War. At the other end of Novakovich's wide-ranging talents, we find fiercely imaginative stories that present an altogether different angle into the author's philosophy of alienation. In between, dry humour and world-weary wisdom infuse such exile preoccupations as soccer, terrorism, and cigarettes. Taken together, this latest collection comprises a bravely intelligent mosaic of what it means to be torn from one's country and one's self.

 

A Canada that knows diversity makes us stronger

Book Cover Deep Diversity

Deep Diversity: Overcoming Us vs. Them, by Shakil Choudhury

What if our interactions with those different from us are strongly influenced by things happening below the radar of awareness, hidden even from ourselves? Deep Diversity explores this question and argues that “us vs. them” is an unfortunate but normal part of the human experience due to reasons of both nature and nurture.

To really work through issues of racial difference and foster greater levels of fairness and inclusion, argues Shakil Choudhury, requires an understanding of the human mind—its conscious and unconscious dimensions. Deep Diversityintegrates Choudhury’s twenty years of experience with interviews with researchers in social neuroscience, implicit bias, psychology, and mindfulness. Using a compassionate but challenging approach, Choudhury helps readers identify their own bias and offers practical ways to break the “prejudice habits” we have all learned, in order to tackle systemic discrimination.

 

A Canada that grapples with its history of racism

A Superior Man, by Paul Yee

For more than 30 years, Paul Yee has written about his Chinese-Canadian heritage in award-winning books for young readers as well as adult non-fiction. Here, in his first work of fiction for adults, he takes us on a harrowing journey into a milestone event of Canadian history: the use of Chinese coolies to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway in British Columbia in hazardous conditions.

After the CPR is built in 1885, Yang Hok, a former coolie, treks along the railway to return his half-Chinese/half-Native son to the boy's mother and finds himself immersed in the conflicts arising from road-building among the Chinese and Native peoples. Hok's guide on the often perilous trip, Sam Bing Lew, also of mixed Chinese-Native blood, urges Hok to take his son to China, while Hok has dreams of finding fortune in America. The two men agree on little, as many issues fester between Chinese and Natives at a time when both races were disdained as inferior by whites ("redbeards").

This far-reaching novel crackles with the brutal, visceral energy of the time—a period marked by contraband, illegal gambling, disfigurement, and death. It also depicts the bawdy world of Chinese "bachelors," whose families remained in China while they worked in Canada, and who enjoyed more freedom to live their lives without restraint. Yang Hok is not an easy man to like; but through the blood and sweat of his experience, he aspires to become the "superior man" he knows he should be.

Boldly frank and steeped in history, A Superior Man paints a vivid portrait of the Chinese-Canadian experience in the 19th century.

 

A Canada that takes environmental stewardship seriously

A World for My Daughter, by Alejandro Frid

As an ecologist, Alejandro Frid is haunted by the irrevocable changes that humans are forcing upon Earth—the loss of ancient forests, the demise of large predators, shifts in the chemistry and circulation patterns of the atmosphere and more.

Feeling completely discouraged by his research on endangered species and various forms of ecological meltdown, Alejandro accepts defeat and simply escapes from this world without a future by retreating to Earth's few remaining wild places. Then Twyla Bella, his daughter, is born. He wonders, how can he bring a child into a world he believes is doomed? Does this very belief make the situation hopeless? Faced with these questions, Alejandro begins his search for optimism.

A World for My Daughter takes readers to the sharp knife-edge on which the fate of the biosphere rests. Merging the perspective of a scientist compelled to share the significance of his research, glimpses into the worldview of modern indigenous hunters and the voice of a parent speaking to his child about life's conundrums, A World for My Daughter steers readers toward imagining their own role in preserving the vibrancy of our planet.

 

A Canada that can deliver you a good dose of environmental optimism

The Optimistic Environmentalist, by David R. Boyd

Yes, the world faces substantial environmental challenges—climate change, pollution, and extinction. But the surprisingly good news is that we have solutions to these problems. In the past fifty years, a remarkable number of environmental problems have been solved, while substantial progress is ongoing on others.

The Optimistic Environmentalist chronicles these remarkable success stories. Endangered species—from bald eagles to gray whales—pulled back from the precipice of extinction. Thousands of new parks, protecting billions of hectares of land and water. The salvation of the ozone layer, vital to life on Earth. The exponential growth of renewable energy powered by wind, water, and sun. The race to be the greenest city in the world. Remarkable strides in cleaning up the air we breathe and the water we drink. The banning of dozens of the world’s most toxic chemicals. A circular economy where waste is a thing of the past. Past successes pave the way for even greater achievements in the future.

Providing a powerful antidote to environmental despair, this book inspires optimism, leading readers to take action and exemplifying how change can happen. A bright green future is not only possible, it’s within our grasp.

 

A Canada that can still be funny

The Horrors: An A-Z of Funny Thoughts on Awful Things, by Charles Demers

Comedian-author Charlie Demers, whose brain-bending brand of black humour will be familiar to followers of CBC Radio's The Debaters, offers his madcap perspective in a new collection of essays highlighting a wide range of topics under the heading of Bad Things. The Horrors is presented abecedarian-style, despoiling a beloved children's book tradition in order to explore personal hangups that range from the slightly awkward to the down-right terrible.

Beginning with ‘A’ for ‘Adolescence,’ Demers recalls his sexless teenage years spent in a Trotskyist sect, and ‘B’ for ‘Bombing’ offers a first-person account of the agonies of stand- up comedy gone wrong. ‘E’ for ‘End of the World’ explores the wacky world of Preppers (YouTube how-to-prepare-for- the-apocalypse experts), while ‘F’ for ‘Fat’ explains what life is like for those with both testicles and breasts. Other essays creep toward the pain side of the hilarity/agony line: ‘D’ for ‘Depression’ and ‘M’ for ‘Motherlessness’ traverse topics that more balanced minds might hesitate to make light of.

Fortunately, Demers does not let tact or sensibility deter him from pushing humour to its hysterical limit in order to examine our deepest fears. With artful insight, he never minimizes the very real pain inherent in some topics and uses comedy as a catharsis rather than a numbing agent. Dark, smart and funny, in the sunny world of The Book of Awesome and The Happiness ProjectThe Horrors will be a shadow...or at least a shadow puppet.

 

A Canada whose citizens have passports full of stamps

No Fixed Address, by Jon Evans

The real-life adventures of award-winning thriller writer Jon Evans as he travels through sixty-six countries in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, the Americas, Australasia and Asia over a period of sixteen years.

 

A Canada rich with stories

Across Canada by Story: A Coast-to-Coast Literary Adventure, by Douglas Gibson

Canada is a country rich in stories, and few take as much joy as Douglas Gibson in discovering them. As one of the country’s leading editors and publishers for 40 years, he coaxed modern classics out of some of Canada’s finest minds, and then took to telling his own stories in his first memoir, Stories About Storytellers.

Gibson turned his memoir into a one-man stage show that eventually played almost 100 times, in all ten provinces, from coast to coast. As a literary tourist, he discovered even more about the land and its writers and harvested many more stories, from distant past and recent memory, to share.

Now in Across Canada by Story, Gibson brings new stories about Robertson Davies, Jack Hodgins, W.O. Mitchell, Alistair MacLeod, and Alice Munro, and adds lively portraits of Al Purdy, Marshall McLuhan, Margaret Laurence, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Margaret Atwood, Wayne Johnson, Linwood Barclay, Michael Ondaatje, and many, many others. Whether fly fishing in Haida Gwaii or sailing off Labrador, Douglas Gibson is a first-rate ambassador for Canada and the power of great stories.

 

A Canada whose people know the meaning and value of place

The River, by Helen Humphreys

We tend to look at landscape in relation to what it can do for us. Does it move us with its beauty? Can we make a living from it? But what if we examined a landscape on its own terms, freed from our expectations and assumptions?

This is what celebrated writer Helen Humphreys sets out to do in this beautiful, groundbreaking examination of place. For more than a decade Humphreys has owned a small waterside property on a section of the Napanee River in Ontario. In the watchful way of writers, she has studied her little piece of the river through the seasons and the years, cataloguing its ebb and flows, the plants and creatures that live in and round it, the signs of human usage at its banks and on its bottom.

The result is The River, a gorgeous and moving meditation that uses fiction, non-fiction, natural history, archival maps and images, and full-colour original photographs to get at the truth. In doing this, Humphreys has created a work of startling originality that is sure to become a new Canadian classic.

 

A Canada that celebrates its diverse literary culture

AlliterAsian: Twenty Years of Ricepaper Magazine, by Julia Lin, Jim-Wong Chu, and Allan Cho

2015 marks the 20th anniversary of Ricepaper magazine, a pioneering periodical devoted to Asian-Canadian writing. Over the years, Ricepaper's focus has shifted from predominantly arts and culture reporting to the publication of original literature; as such, it has both witnessed and cultivated the maturation of an Asian-Canadian literary tradition; indeed, many of today's most acclaimed Asian-Canadian writers were first published in the pages of Ricepaper.

This celebratory anthology features exclusive interviews first published in Ricepaper with David Suzuki, Tobias Wong, Ruth Ozeki, Evelyn Lau, Denise Chong, and Madeleine Thien. In addition, exciting voices in Canadian literature are represented by Kim Fu, Doretta Lau, Corinna Chong, Terry Watada, Derwin Mak, Eric Choi, and C.E. Gatchalian. Established and emerging poets such as Fred Wah, Evelyn Lau, Rita Wong, Souvankham Thammavongsa, and Michael Prior also grace the anthology with their work. Finally, three award-winning authors have given permission for excerpts of their works-in-progress to be included: Joy Kogawa (Gently to Nagasaki, a new memoir), Yasuko Thanh ("Lucky in Saigon," a novel soon to be published as Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains), and SKY Lee (Progress in Process).

AlliterAsian is an intriguing and multi-faceted record of Asian-Canadian writing that pays homage to the legacy of Ricepaper and its contribution to the evolving and increasingly diverse landscape of Canadian literature.

 

A Canada that values public broadcasting

Canada Lives Here: The Case for Public Broadcasting, by Wade Rowland

Canada Lives Here tells the tumultuous story of public broadcasting in Canada, from its inception in 1933 to the CBC's current, controversial attempts to adapt to collapsing revenues and new technologies. It explores in detail the struggle to preserve public space and foster community in an environment devoted to profit-making, arguing that the ideals of public service broadcasting are more relevant now than ever. Rowland, author of the influential Saving the CBC: Balancing Profit and Public Service (2013), identifies the issues crucial to the CBC's survival and proposes carefully considered policy options. This is a book for everyone who wants to understand what's really at stake with the threatened eclipse of the nation's most important cultural institution.

 

A Canada whose government serves the public interest

Book Cover What Is Government Good At

What Is Government Good At: A Canadian Answer, by Donald J. Savoie

Recent decades have shown the public's support for government plummet alongside political leaders’ credibility. This downward spiral calls for an exploration of what has gone wrong. The questions, "What is government good at?" and "What is government not good at?" are critical ones—and their answers should be the basis for good public policy and public administration. In What Is Government Good At?, Donald Savoie argues that politicians and public servants are good at generating and avoiding blame, playing to a segment of the population to win the next election, embracing and defending the status quo, adding management layers and staff, keeping ministers out of trouble, responding to demands from the prime minister and his office, and managing a complex, prime minister-centred organization. Conversely, they are not as good at defining the broader public interest, providing and recognizing evidence-based policy advice, managing human and financial resources with efficiency and frugality, innovating and reforming itself, being accountable to Parliament and to citizens, dealing with non-performers, paying sufficient attention to service delivery, and implementing and evaluating the impact of policies and programs. With wide implications for representative democracy, What Is Government Good At? is a persuasive analysis of an approach to government that has opened the door to those with the resources to influence policy and decision-making while leaving average citizens on the outside looking in.

 

A Canada that believes in possibility

The Art of the Possible, by Edward Keenan and Julie McLaughlin

We all know what a politician looks like, right? They’re old people who wear suits and make long, boring speeches full of indecipherable words. Not so fast! As The Art of the Possible explains, everyone is a politician—even young people who aren’t yet eligible to vote. We all have influence over how politics function.

But what are politics, and why do we need them? This book answers the universal query in nine short chapters that explain everything from why we form societies and the basic types of governments to the power of public opinion, methods of rhetoric and the reasons why politicians “lie.”

Written in an accessible, conversational voice and packed with anecdotes and case studies from across history and around the world, this book helps foster independent thought and curiosity about how a government works—or doesn’t work. Readers will come away equipped with the knowledge they need to understand current events and elections, and maybe even be empowered to civic action themselves.

October 12, 2015
Books mentioned in this post
Diplomat

Diplomat

Lester Pearson and the Suez Crisis
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
More Info
Spirit Builders

Spirit Builders

Charles Catto, Frontiers Foundation and the Struggle to End Indigenous Poverty
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
More Info
Spirit Builders

Spirit Builders

Charles Catto, Frontiers Foundation and the Struggle to End Indigenous Poverty
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
More Info
Stolen Sisters

Stolen Sisters

The Story of Two Missing Girls, Their Families, and How Canada Has Failed Indigenous Women
edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook Paperback
tagged :
More Info
Wild Rose

Wild Rose

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : historical
More Info
Ex-Yu

Ex-Yu

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : literary
More Info
A Superior Man

A Superior Man

edition:Paperback
More Info
A World for My Daughter

A World for My Daughter

An Ecologist's Search for Optimism
edition:Paperback
More Info
The Optimistic Environmentalist

The Optimistic Environmentalist

Progressing Toward a Greener Future
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
More Info
Horrors, The

Horrors, The

An A to Z of Funny Thoughts on Awful Things
edition:Paperback
tagged : essays
More Info
No Fixed Address

No Fixed Address

Six Continents, Sixteen Years, Sixty-Six Nations
edition:Paperback
More Info
Across Canada by Story

Across Canada by Story

A Coast-to-Coast Literary Adventure
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Audiobook
More Info
The River

The River

edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
More Info
AlliterAsian

AlliterAsian

Twenty Years of Ricepaper Magazine
edition:Paperback
More Info
AlliterAsian

AlliterAsian

Twenty Years of Ricepaper Magazine
edition:Paperback
More Info
Canada Lives Here

Canada Lives Here

The Case for Public Broadcasting
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
More Info
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