Lyse Champagne: Perspectives on Culture, War, and Genocide

Book Cover The Light That Remains

Lyse Champagne's short story collection, The Light That Remains, is receiving great reviews—see here and here. With this deeply considered list, she shares with us some of the many books she read while researching the plight of the world's refugees throughout modern history.

*****

The Light That Remains—my collection of short stories set in Turkey, Ukraine, China, France, Cambodia, and Rwanda—required considerable research. Although I was concentrating on the lives of six families before History closed in on them, I had to envisage the fate that awaited them. I had to read and think about genocide, war and occupation, displacement, and trauma. Of the 150 books I read, only a small percentage were Canadian but they played an important part in the framing of the stories.

**

Long Shadows: Truth, Lies, and History, by Erna Paris

Erna Paris explores the “underpinnings of national remembrance,” the way nations (as well as individuals) shape and control the narrative of their past. In "Memory and the Second World War," she examines the different ways Germany, France, and Japan have dealt with (or not dealt with) the war and its aftermath. In "War, Memory and Race," she contrasts the American response to its slavery past (no official apology, no reparations, no national museum) to South Africa’s more direct approach, confronting the impact of apartheid with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In "War, Memory and Identity," she explores who owns the Holocaust and the shaping of history in Bosnia and other parts of the former Yugoslavia.

This book first appeared in 2000 but I believe its many insights are as valid today as they were then. “The past can only be managed,” Erna Paris wrote in her conclusion. “With remembrance. With accountability. With justice, however frail, however inadequate, however imperfect.”

**

None is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe 1933-48, by Irving Abella and Harold Troper:

First published in 1983, this book was last reprinted with a new foreword in 2012, just shy of its 30th anniversary. It reveals how prevalent anti-Semitism was in Canada in the '30s and '40s and its impact on our immigration policies and regulations. The book reminds us that we failed to offer refuge to the Jews who wanted to leave Europe before and during the Second World War and even after the liberation of the concentration camps. And it reminds us how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go to be truly inclusive as a nation.

**

Honey and Ashes: A Story of Family, by Janice Kulyk Keefer

Janice Kulyk Keefer reconstructs her family’s history, her parents’ immigration to Canada, and the impact their lost homeland has had on her generation. As she travels to and spends time in her mother’s home village, we get a glimpse of Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union. This family biography is beautifully written and evocative and particularly poignant in light of what is now happening in Ukraine.

**

The Green Library, by Janice Kulyk Keefer

This is a powerful novel about love, connection, and homeland. The book takes place in 1993, in Kyiv and Toronto, with flashbacks to 1941 in Ukraine’s capital. A glimpse of Ukraine during the Second World War and after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

**

Like Our Mountains: A History of Armenians in Canada, by Isabel Kaprielan-Churchill

The Armenian genocide happened 101 years ago and Turkey is still denying that it ever took place. This book chronicles the journey of the Armenians who came to Canada before and after that tragic event and the way they learned to be Canadian while staying connected to their past.

**

Book Cover Dogs at the Perimeter

Dogs at the Perimeter, by Madeleine Thien

Novels can reveal a great deal about a culture, about the impact of a tragedy on that culture. This book is set in Montreal with flashbacks to Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. There are many memories to uncover, those of Janie, her brother Sopham, her friend Hiroji, and his brother James. The telling is fragmented but deliberately so, mimicking the confusion and hopelessness that trauma brings, the impossible task of reconciling the then and the now. The prose is vivid, the imagery haunting.

**

The Disappeared, by Kim Echlin

Another achingly beautiful novel that re-imagines the Cambodian genocide and its impact on those who survived and the people who love them. A young girl falls in love with a Cambodian musician in Montreal. He returns to Cambodia to look for his family and she is reunited with him ten years later only to have his disappear again. This book is written in short chapters, sometimes as short as one sentence. Spare and powerful. An unforgettable read.

**

Shake Hands with the Devil, by Roméo Dallaire

This is a must-read for anyone interested in peacekeeping, the United Nations, and genocide prevention and intervention. Roméo Dallaire not only describes the carnage that he witnessed in Rwanda but the lack of support for the Unamir mission had at the U.N. We are reminded of the power of the Security Council, the indifference of the Western powers, the hypocrisy of those who had vowed never again only to turn a blind eye when it was happening again.

**

Book Cover The Light That Remains

About The Light That Remains

The despair of refugees has haunted us long before the civil war in Syria. Lyse Champagne's evocative new story collection attempts to put these collective and individual tragedies into a historical context.

Two Armenian sisters write to each other in the year leading up to their deportations. A young Ukrainian mother embroiders her life story as famine threatens. A boy travels to Hong Kong by train while the Japanese march towards his hometown of Nanjing. A Jewish girl collects words and falls in love as she hides in a French mountain village in 1942. A Cambodian refugee recalls his childhood in his home country and his new life in Canada on a makeshift stage. A Rwandan family prepares to emigrate days before President Habyarimana's plane is shot down.

**

Lyse Champagne writes in French and in English. Her stories have appeared in Descant, The New Quarterly, The Antigonish Review, Room of One’s Own, Windsor Review and Wascana Review. Her first book, Double Vision, a memoir about growing up French in Ontario, was published by Key Porter and her play, Chicane de famille, won the David Smith Playwriting Prize. She lives in Ottawa with her family.

August 8, 2016
Books mentioned in this post
The Light that Remains

The Light that Remains

The Making of an Escape Artist
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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The Light that Remains

The Light that Remains

The Making of an Escape Artist
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Long Shadows

Long Shadows

Truth, Lies and History
edition:Paperback
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None is Too Many

None is Too Many

Canada and the Jews of Europe, 1933-1948
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback Paperback Paperback
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Like Our Mountains

Like Our Mountains

A History of Armenians in Canada
edition:Hardcover
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The Disappeared

The Disappeared

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
tagged :
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Shake Hands with the Devil

Shake Hands with the Devil

The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda
edition:Paperback
More Info
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