11 Books that Write the World

Books can take you places, and sometimes those places aren't even metaphorical. Travel to Spain, New Mexico, Mozambique, Vietnam, Italy, India, Goa, Israel, Lebanon, Lithuania, and Nepal through the pages of these remarkable works of fiction. 

*****

Proof I Was Here, by Becky Blake

About the book: What's the point of trying to leave a mark when everything disappears? This question is at the heart of Proof I Was Here, a novel that tells the picaresque coming-of-age story of a young thief and aspiring artist who attempts to reboot her life on the streets of Barcelona after an unexpected breakup. Hailing from Toronto, where she has criminal charges waiting, Niki is outside of Canada for the first time. The pickpockets, squatters and graffiti artists she meets challenge her to reassess her ideas about luck and art. With the help of a passionate Catalan separatist who dreams of building a new country from the ground up, Niki realizes that starting her life over from scratch could be an opportunity—if she can just find a way to clear her name.

Why we're taking notice: This is Barcelona like you've never seen it in a tourist guidebook. In her debut novel, Blake paints a rich and colourful view of the city.  

*

With My Back to the World, by Sally Cooper

About the book: In an ambitious, yet intimate novel set in Taos, New Mexico, and Hamilton, Ontario, Sally Cooper explores unexpected motherhood, creativity, race, love and faith. With My Back to the World tells the stories of three women: Rudie, who is editing a documentary in Hamilton in 2010; historical artist Agnes Martin, who decides in 1974 after seven years' exile in New Mexico to begin painting again; and Ellen, a black woman burying her husband in 1870 on an Ontario homestead. Each of these women is waiting for the arrival of an unexpected child and their interconnected stories explore how society's, and our own, ideas of what it means to be a woman, a mother and an artist change over time. Evocative and introspective, With My Back to the World tells the complicated stories of how different women find faith in themselves in extraordinary circumstances.

Why we're taking notice: With My Back to the World is one title on a fantastic list of "Editors' Picks" for Spring 2019 published by the good people at the Hamilton Review of Books

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Children of the Moon, by Anthony De Sa

About the book: From celebrated author Anthony De Sa comes a raw and compelling novel of love, war, and the heartbreaking effects of memory.

You must listen to my words. You must promise to tell my story the way I have shared it with you.

Tanzania, 1956. A Maasai woman gives birth to a child with albinism. The child is seen as a curse upon her tribe, and so begins Pó's tumultuous story. As Pó navigates the world, she must claim her life in the face of violence and ostracism.

Further south, in Portuguese-controlled Mozambique, Ezequiel struggles for acceptance too. Adopted by missionaries, he is not recognized by his Portuguese father's community, or by his Makonde mother's tribe. When civil war erupts, he must choose who to fight for and who to leave behind. Pó and Zeca come together in a time of momentous change. Love connects these two outsiders, forcing them to confront the shattering impact of colonialism and war. Children of the Moon is a stunning and unforgettable exploration of the love of two people at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control.

Why we're taking notice: This is the latest from bestseller De Sa, whose previous works are Kicking the Sky and Barnacle Love, the latter which was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.  

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Forbidden Purple City, by Philip Huynh

About the book: A man returns to Hoi An in his retirement to compose a poem honouring his parents. Two teenagers, ostracized in a private school, forge an unlikely bond. A son discovers the truth about his father's business ventures and his dreams of success. A young bride, isolated on a remote island with her new husband, finds community in a group of abalone divers.

Taking the title for his debut collection of short fiction from the walled palace of Vietnam's Nguyen dynasty, Philip Huynh dives headfirst into the Vietnamese diaspora. In these beautifully crafted stories, crystalline in their clarity and immersive in their intensity, he creates a universe inhabited by the deprivations of war, the reinvention of self in a new and unfamiliar settings, and the tensions between old-world parents and new-world children. Rooted in history and tradition yet startlingly contemporary in their approach, Huynh's stories are sensuously evocative, plunging us into worlds so all-encompassing that we can smell the scent of orange blossoms and hear the rumble of bass lines from suburban car stereos.

Why we're taking notice: The title story was published in last year's Journey Prize Stories anthology, and it was terrific. 

*

We All Fall Down, by Daniel Kalla

About the book: Not since Pandemic have we seen a thriller like this from bestselling author Daniel Kalla: The plague has hit Italy. Can Dr. Alana Vaughn find the source in time to save the world?

No person is left unscathed, no family untouched. Death grows insatiable.

Alana Vaughn, an infectious diseases expert with NATO, is urgently summoned to Genoa by an ex-lover to examine a critically ill patient. She’s stunned to discover that the illness is a recurrence of the Black Death. Alana soon suspects bioterrorism, but her WHO counterpart, Byron Menke, disagrees. In their desperate hunt to track down Patient Zero, they stumble across an 800-year-old monastery and a medieval journal that might hold the secret to the present-day outbreak. With the lethal disease spreading fast and no end in sight, it’s a race against time to uncover the truth before millions die.

Why we're taking notice: Your next gripping thriller is here! 

*

Paper Lions, by Sohan Koonar

About the book: Paper Lions is Sohan Koonar's new novel. Told from three distinct points of view, Paper Lions is an epic multi-generational novel of India from just before the Second World War to the 1960s. Its characters—Bikram, Basanti, and Ajit and their families and children—endure heartbreaks, despair, and insurmountable challenges often leading to poignant, tragic, or exhilarating moments and rare wins. Yet they find a way to continue.

The novel also recounts the story of two tribes of nomads—Bajigars—of which very little remains in modern Indian culture. Vast in its scope, range and emotion, Paper Lions brings historical India itself to life in the voices of its characters. It's like a Downton Abbey for India, complete with the family secrets, class struggles, and great drama for all of the characters. Through their struggles India, with its newfound freedoms after partition, comes of age as they do.

Why we're taking notice: Did you see the part that said, "It's like a Downton Abbey for India"? Yes, please! 

*

Coconut Dreams, by Derek Mascarenhas

About the book: Coconut Dreams explores the lives of the Pinto family through seventeen linked short stories. Starting with a ghost story set in Goa, India, in the 1950s, the collection weaves through various timelines and perspectives to focus on two children, Aiden and Ally Pinto. These siblings tackle their adventures in a predominantly white suburb with innocence, intelligence and a timid foot in two distinct cultures.

In these stories, Derek Mascarenhas takes a fresh look at the world of the new immigrant and the South Asian experience in Canada, as a daughter questions her father's love at an IKEA grand opening; an aunt remembers a safari-gone-wrong in Kenya; an uncle's unrequited love is confronted at a Goan Association picnic; a boy tests his faith amidst a school-yard brawl; and a childhood love letter is exchanged during the building of a backyard deck. Singularly and collectively, these stories will move the reader with their engaging narratives and authentic voices.

Why we're taking notice: With beautiful and evocative imagery, Mascarenhas sets his linked stories in Goa, India, and also in suburban Ontario. Alissa York calls this book "a moving, multifaceted debut."

*

Birds of a Kind, by Wajdi Mouawad, translated by Linda Gaboriau

About the book: Is it really important to cling to our lost identities?

A terrorist attack in Jerusalem puts Eitan, a young Israeli-German genetic researcher, in a coma, while his girlfriend Wahida, an Moroccan graduate student, is left to uncover his family secret that brought them to Israel in the first place. Since Eitan’s parents erupted at a Passover meal when they realized Wahida was not Jewish, he has harboured a suspicion about his heritage that, if true, could change everything.

In this sweeping new drama from the prolific Wajdi Mouawad, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hits close to home as a straight-laced family is forced to confront everything they know about their identities.

Why we're taking notice: Governor General's Award-winning Gaboriau translates this work by Mouawad, whose plays have been presented all over the world. 

*

The Allspice Bath, by Sonia Saikaley

About the book: It is 1970. The evergreens are thick with snow despite it being the month of April. In an Ottawa hospital, another daughter is born to the Azar family. The parents are from Kfarmichki, a village in Lebanon but their daughters were born in Canada. Four daughters, to be precise. No sons. Youssef is the domineering father. Samira is the quiescent mother. Rima, Katrina and Mona are the traditional daughters. Then there is Adele, the newest member. "You should've been born a boy," Samira whispers to Adele shortly after her entrance into the world. As she grows, Adele learns there are certain rules Lebanese girls must follow in order to be good daughters. First off, they must learn to cook, master housework, learn Arabic and follow the traditions of their culture. Above all, they must save themselves for marriage. But Adele dreams of being an artist. When she is accepted to the University of Toronto, this is her chance to have a life outside the confines of her strict upbringing. But can she defy her father?

When Youssef surprises her with a family trip to her ancestral home, Adele is excited about the journey. In Lebanon, she meets Elias. He is handsome and intelligent and Adele develops feelings for him until Elias confides to her that her unexpected meeting with him was actually a well-devised plan that is both deceitful and shocking. Will this unravel the binding threads of this close-knit Lebanese family? Crisscrossing between Ottawa, Toronto, and Lebanon, The Allspice Bath is a bold story about the cultural gap and the immigrant experience.

Why we're taking notice: Author Terri Favro writes: "Honest, unflinching and unsentimental, the story of Adele's journey to womanhood, her self-transformation from resentful daughter to independent artist, from rejection of her family to reconciliation with them, captures the emotional complexities faced by many first-generation daughters of immigrant families."

*

Provisionally Yours, by Antanas Sileika

About the book: After World War I and the collapse of Czarist Russia, former counterintelligence officer Justas Adamonis returns to Lithuania, a fragment of the shattered Empire. He's not entirely sure what he’ll find. His parents are dead, he hasn’t seen his sister since she was a teenager, and Kaunas has become the political centre of the emerging state. He’s barely off the train when he’s recruited back into service, this time for the nascent government eager to secure his loyalty and experience. Though the administration may be new, its problems are familiar, and Adamonis quickly finds himself ensnared in a dangerous web of political corruption and personal betrayal. Antanas Sileika's Provisionally Yours is a vivid depiction of realpolitik—as well as an unforgettable story about treachery and the enduring human capacity for love.

Why we're taking notice: This is the latest book by Sileika, former Director of the Humber School for Writers. Her previous work has been shortlisted for the Toronto Book Award and the Leacock Medal for Humour.

*

All of Us In Our Own Lives, by Majushree Thapa

About the book: A beautiful story of strangers who shape each other's lives in fateful ways, All of Us in Our Own Lives delves deeply into the lives of women and men in Nepal and into the world of international aid.

Ava Berriden, a Canadian lawyer, quits her corporate job in Toronto to move to Nepal, from where she was adopted as a baby. There she struggles to adapt to her new career in international aid and forge a connection with the country of her birth.

Ava's work brings her into contact with Indira Sharma, who has ambitions of becoming the first Nepali woman director of a NGO; Sapana Karki, a bright young teenager living a small village; and Gyanu, Sapana's brother, who has returned home from Dubai to settle his sister's future after their father's death. Their journeys collide in unexpected ways.

All of Us in Our Own Lives is a stunning, keenly observant novel about human interconnectedness, about privilege, and about the ethics of international aid (the earnestness and idealism and yet its cynical, moneyed nature).

Why we're taking notice: Madeleine Thien calls this book "a beautiful novel [that] begins kaleidoscopic and then, almost without the reader realizing, coheres into an extraordinary train of thought and action, driven by both happenstance and connection." A fascinating view of Nepal and the way in which distant lives are interconnected. 

*

May 9, 2019
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