11 Books that Write the World

These books take their readers beyond Canadian borders to portray the rich lands, cultures, and adventures that can be discovered in other parts of the world, as well as the devastation caused by wars and other conflicts. Travel with these Canadian writers to Thailand, Syria, Rwanda, Bali, Palestine, Turkey, Iran, and other places, letting these perspectives inform your own sense of home. 

*****

Homes: A Refugee Story, by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah & Winnie Yeung

About the book: In 2010, the al Rabeeah family left their home in Iraq in hope of a safer life. They moved to Homs, in Syria—just before the Syrian civil war broke out.

Abu Bakr, one of eight children, was ten years old when the violence began on the streets around him: car bombings, attacks on his mosque and school, firebombs late at night. Homes tells of the strange juxtapositions of growing up in a war zone: horrific, unimaginable events punctuated by normalcy—soccer, cousins, video games, friends.

Homes is the remarkable true story of how a young boy emerged from a war zone—and found safety in Canada—with a passion for sharing his story and telling the world what is truly happening in Syria. As told to her by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah, writer Winnie Yeung has crafted a heartbreaking, hopeful, and urgently necessary book that provides a window into understanding Syria.

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I Have Something to Tell You, by Natalie Appleton

About the book: On the eve of Christmas and a proposal, Natalie Appleton discovers she doesn’t want to settle for sevens, and starts over. So, she abandons everything in Alberta for Bangkok.

Along the way, with startling illumination, honesty and humor, Natalie unpacks the past that caused her to flee: cheating hearts, small-town suffocation, a tattered family and a genetic disposition to madness. In Bangkok, Natalie kills an albino gecko, crawls into bed with a lampseller and nearly calls off her quest when she’s almost attacked by a leather vendor. And then, at a grimy guesthouse one year after arriving in Thailand, everything changes.

I Have Something to Tell You is a lyrical, vulnerable exploration of the meaning of love, family, home and the magic of the universe. It’s also a captivating window into two equally exotic worlds—the oilpatch-laden Prairies and the resplendent Thailand.

This is a story for anyone who remembers feeling lost in their twenties, for anyone who has been afraid to leave—a crummy partner or town or job, and for anyone who has ever wondered, What if?

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Journey Through Genocide, by Raffy Boudjikanian

About the book: Powerful accounts by genocide survivors, a journalist seeking to bear witness to their pain.

Darfuri refugee camps in Chad, Kigali in Rwanda, and the ruins of ancient villages in Turkey—all visited by genocide, all still reeling in its wake. In Journey through Genocide, Raffy Boudjikanian travels to communities that have survived genocide to understand the legacy of this most terrible of crimes against humanity.

In this era of ethnic and religious wars, mass displacements, and forced migrations, Boudjikanian looks back at three humanitarian crises. In Chad, meet families displaced by massacres in the Darfur region of neighbouring Sudan, their ordeal still raw. In Rwanda, meet a people struggling with justice and reconciliation. And in Turkey, explore what it means to still be afraid a century after the author’s own ancestors were caught in the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

Clear-eyed and compassionate, Boudjikanian breathes life into horrors that too often seem remote.

*

Book Cover World's Most Well Travelled Man

The World's Most Travelled Man: A Twenty-Three-Year Odyssey to and through Every Country on the Planet, by Mike Spencer Bown

About the book: In 1990, Calgary-born Mike Spencer Bown packed a backpack and began a journey that would eventually take him through each of the world's 195 countries and span more than two decades. From relaxing on the white sand beaches of Bali to waiting out blizzards in Tibetan caves, Bown trekked from country to country, driven by a desire to see the world in the most authentic way possible, not to just collect stamps on his passport. Eventually, he began to earn international recognition for some of his more unconventional destinations—such as a memorable trip to war-torn Mogadishu.

The World's Most Travelled Man is an eye-opening account of the universal human experience as seen from each corner of the changing world. Blending a romantic connection to nature through solitude and the social examination of culture, Bown fully immerses himself in each experience, however diverse, dangerous or dirty, veering way, way off the backpacker circuit to see the world through an unparalleled perspective. The World's Most Travelled Man is a journey of global proportions shared with the humility of a man who simply wants to satisfy his own curiosity and live life to the fullest.

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Who Are You and Why Are You Here?: Tales of International Development, by Jacques Claessens, translated by Nigel Spencer

About the book: Every international development project looks good on paper until someone asks, "Who are you and why are you here?" In this case, it’s a man from northern Burkina Faso. His question reveals everything wrong with international development work today.

Jacques Claessens questions the real effects of development programs and agencies, NGOs, and multinational corporations on the economy and welfare of the global south—from a Kafkaesque well-drilling project in Udathen to the Chernobyl-like environmental devastation wrought by the Canadian-owned Essakane mine. Through tales of uneasy encounters between nomadic Tuaregs and Western engineers, well-meaning NGO staff and their incredibly self-serving bosses, UN bureaucrats, a greedy Canadian mining company, and Burkina villagers—all pursuing ostensibly noble goals, all barely listening to each other—we begin to understand the realities of international development.

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Collapse of a Country: A Diplomat's Memoir of South Sudan, by Nicholas Coghlan

About the book: The first Canadian diplomat to be posted to war-torn Sudan, Nicholas Coghlan was a natural choice to lead Canada’s representation in the new Republic of South Sudan soon after the country was founded in 2011. In late 2013, Coghlan and his wife Jenny were in the capital, Juba, when it erupted in gunfire and civil war pitted one half of the army against the other, Vice-President Machar against President Kiir, and the Nuer tribe against the Dinka. This action-focused narrative, grounded by accounts of meetings with key leaders and travels throughout the dangerous, impoverished hinterland of South Sudan, explains what happened in December 2013 and why. In harrowing terms, Collapse of a Country describes the ebb and flow of the war and the humanitarian tragedy that followed, the Coghlans’ scramble to evacuate South-Sudanese Canadians from Juba, and the well-meant but often ill-conceived attempts of the international community to mitigate the misery and bring peace back to a land that has rarely known it. Coghlan’s stark narrative serves as a lesson to politicians, diplomats, aid workers, and practitioners on the breakdown of governance and relationships between ethnic groups, and the often decisive role of international development representatives. Fast-paced and poignant, Collapse of a Country gives an insider’s glimpse into the chaos, violence, and ethnic conflicts that emerged out of a civil war that has been largely ignored by the West.

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Pay No Heed to the Rockets: Palestine in the Present Tense, by Marcello Di Cintio

About the book: Marcello Di Cintio first visited Palestine in 1999. Like most outsiders, the Palestinian narrative that he knew had been simplified by a seemingly unending struggle, a near-Sisyphean curse of stories of oppression, exile, and occupation told over and over again.

In Pay No Heed to the Rockets, he reveals a more complex story, the Palestinian experience as seen through the lens of authors, books, and literature. Using the form of a political-literary travelogue, he explores what literature means to modern Palestinians and how Palestinians make sense of the conflict between a rich imaginative life and the daily tedium and violence of survival.

Di Cintio begins his journey on the Allenby Bridge that links Jordan to Palestine. He visits the towns and villages of the West Bank, passes into Jerusalem, and then travels through Israel before crossing into Gaza. En route, he meets with poets, authors, librarians, and booksellers. He begins to see Palestine through their eyes, through the stories of their stories.

In the company of literary giants like Mahmoud Darwish and Ghassan Kanafani and the contemporary authors whom they continue to inspire, Di Cintio travels thorugh the rich cultural and literary heritage of Palestine. It's there that he uncovers a humanity, and a beauty, often unnoticed by news media. At the seventieth anniversary of the Arab-Israeli War, Pay No Heed to the Rockets tells a fresh story about Palestine, one that begins with art rather than war.

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Book Cover Lands of Lost Borders

Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road, by Kate Harris

About the book: As a teenager, Kate Harris realized that the career she most craved—that of a generalist explorer, equal parts swashbuckler and philosopher—had gone extinct. From her small-town home in Ontario, it seemed as if Marco Polo, Magellan and their like had long ago mapped the whole earth. So she vowed to become a scientist and go to Mars.

To pass the time before she could launch into outer space, Kate set off by bicycle down a short section of the fabled Silk Road with her childhood friend Mel Yule, then settled down to study at Oxford and MIT. Eventually the truth dawned on her: an explorer, in any day and age, is by definition the kind of person who refuses to live between the lines. And Harris had soared most fully out of bounds right here on Earth, travelling a bygone trading route on her bicycle. So she quit the laboratory and hit the Silk Road again with Mel, this time determined to bike it from the beginning to end.

Like Rebecca Solnit and Pico Iyer before her, Kate Harris offers a travel narrative at once exuberant and meditative, wry and rapturous. Weaving adventure and deep reflection with the history of science and exploration, Lands of Lost Borders explores the nature of limits and the wildness of a world that, like the self and like the stars, can never be fully mapped.

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Powered by Love: A Grandmothers' Movement to End AIDS in Africa, by Joanna Henry & Ilana Landsberg-Lewis

About the book: By the time the AIDS pandemic in Africa had reached its height in the early 2000s, millions of children had been orphaned. In the face of overwhelming loss, the grandmothers of Africa stepped in to hold families and communities together. Author Joanna Henry and photographer Alexis MacDonald visited eight African countries, interviewing and photographing hundreds of grandmothers (including Sarah Obama, Barack Obama's grandmother) who are reclaiming hope and resurrecting lives. The extraordinary images and stories of resourceful women fighting for a better future make Powered by Love an inspiration for everyone.

Writes journalist-social activist Michele Landsberg, "We thought we knew what was happening in Africa when the AIDS pandemic raged across the continent, sweeping away 35 million lives. But we never knew it the way this book reveals it, in the shockingly intimate voices of the grandmothers who had to save the abandoned children when no one else was left alive. These voices will leap straight into your heart. Their unguarded faces, in portraits that glow with character, pain and humour, will captivate you."

In 2006, the Stephen Lewis Foundation launched a campaign to engage Canadian grandmothers to support their African sisters. The Grandmothers Campaign, now a movement 10,000 strong, has raised over $25 million that has gone directly into the hands of African grandmothers and their grassroots organizations. Powered by Love joins this campaign by telling the story of these indomitable women and by directing all royalties from the sale of the book to African grandmothers raising children orphaned by AIDS.

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Couchsurfing in Iran: Revealing a Hidden World, by Stephan Orth

About the book: In Couchsurfing in Iran, award-winning author Stephan Orth spends sixty-two days on the road in this mysterious Islamic republic to provide a revealing, behind-the-scenes look at life in one of the world’s most closed societies. Experiencing daily what he calls the “two Irans” that coexist side by side—the “theocracy, where people mourn their martyrs” in mausoleums, and the “hide-and-seekocracy, where people hold secret parties and seek worldly thrills instead of spiritual bliss”—he learns that Iranians have become experts in navigating around their country’s strict laws. Getting up close and personal with locals, he covers more than 8,400 kilometers, peering behind closed doors and blank windows to uncover the inner workings of a country where public show and private reality are strikingly opposed.

*

Gypsy Fugue: An Archetypal Memoir,  by Marlene A. Schiwy

About the book: A life story sure to inspire a new movement of self-discovery and soul-searching for years to come.

A story that captures a life richly lived, celebrating fantasy, passion and the ideals that lie within our soul. Who is to say that the outer stories of our lives are more important than the images that haunt our imagination? What if memoir could capture the vital pulse of our inner lives and track the mysterious affinities and longings we so often feel?

From earliest childhood Marlene Schiwy was enthralled by colourful gypsies that filled her imagination and fantasy. As a young woman she created skirts with laces, embroideries, and beadwork that expressed the darkly shimmering mystery of those gypsies and wondered why they kept appearing in her dreams.

Gypsy Fugue invites readers on a journey they will never forget. The author travels to Rajasthan, the original home of the Roma. In France, she joins thousands of Gypsies in Les Saintes Maries de la Mer during the annual Roma gathering to honour their patron Saint Sara. She embarks on her own Camino pilgrimage in Spain, birthplace of flamenco and deep song, then faces her mother's shocking, wrongful death just days after her return. The music of Bach, the psychology of Jung, folktales, poetry, and alchemy keep her company as she meanders through a gypsy territory rich in colour, music, and dance. Running through the book is the scarlet thread of Marlene's gypsy dreams.

This book celebrates fantasy, yearning, and the strange unbidden passions that lie inside our souls. As we explore this gypsy landscape, what opens before us is a whole new way of imagining our lives.

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March 22, 2018
Books mentioned in this post
Homes

Homes

A Refugee Story
edition:Paperback
tagged :
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Journey through Genocide

Journey through Genocide

Stories of Survivors and the Dead
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
More Info
Journey through Genocide

Journey through Genocide

Stories of Survivors and the Dead
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
More Info
The World's Most Travelled Man

The World's Most Travelled Man

A Twenty-Three-Year Odyssey to and through Every Country on the Planet
edition:Hardcover
More Info

edition:
also available: Hardcover Book Book
tagged :
More Info
Collapse of a Country

Collapse of a Country

A Diplomat's Memoir of South Sudan
edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
More Info
Powered by Love

Powered by Love

A Grandmothers' Movement to End AIDS in Africa
edition:Paperback
More Info

Couchsurfing in Iran

Revealing a Hidden World
edition:Paperback
More Info
Gypsy Fugue

Gypsy Fugue

An Archetypal Memoir
edition:Paperback
More Info
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