These days under lockdown, it's books that can let us travel and explore the world. There's something here for every kind of reader, with journeys to every continent, memoir and fiction, thrillers and dramas. Where is literature going to take you next?
Keepers of the Faith, by Shaukat Ajmeri
About the book: Keepers of the Faith is set within a small Muslim sect of India, ruled by an avaricious priesthood that demands absolute submission while enforcing archaic social customs. When a section of the community rebels, it is summarily excommunicated, shunned by friends and family and denied religious rites. The peaceful community is split into two.
The novel follows the fates of two blissful young lovers, Akbar and Rukhsana, in the historic city of Udaipur. When the communal split occurs, their families are on opposite sides; the lovers' dream of a happy life together is shattered, and they are forced into separate destinies. Akbar, from the rebel group, goes on to become a writer and family man in Mumbai, while Rukhsana gets married to an immigrant engineer from the United States fanatically devoted to the priesthood.
Years later, Akbar's and Rukhsana's paths cross again. Much has changed and much has not, and they are presented with soul-destroying choices about the rest of their lives.
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.
What the Oceans Remember, by Sonja Boon
About the book: Author Sonja Boon’s heritage is complicated. Although she has lived in Canada for more than thirty years, she was born in the UK to a Surinamese mother and a Dutch father. Boon’s family history spans five continents: Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia, South America, and North America. Despite her complex and multi-layered background, she has often omitted her full heritage, replying “I’m Dutch-Canadian” to anyone who asks about her identity. An invitation to join a family tree project inspired a journey to the heart of the histories that have shaped her identity. It was an opportunity to answer the two questions that have dogged her over the years: Where does she belong? And who does she belong to?
Boon’s archival research—in Suriname, the Netherlands, the UK, and Canada—brings her opportunities to reflect on the possibilities and limitations of the archives themselves, the tangliness of oceanic migration, histories, the meaning of legacy, music, love, freedom, memory, ruin, and imagination. Ultimately, she reflected on the relevance of our past to understanding our present.
Deeply informed by archival research and current scholarship, but written as a reflective and intimate memoir, What the Oceans Remember addresses current issues in migration, identity, belonging, and history through an interrogation of race, ethnicity, gender, archives and memory. More importantly, it addresses the relevance of our past to understanding our present. It shows the multiplicity of identities and origins that can shape the way we understand our histories and our own selves.
The Library of Legends, by Janie Chang
About the book: “Myths are the darkest and brightest incarnations of who we are . . .”
China, 1937. When Japanese bombs begin falling on the city of Nanking, nineteen-year-old Hu Lian and her classmates at Minghua University are ordered to flee. Lian and a convoy of students, faculty and staff must walk 1,000 miles to the safety of China’s western provinces, a journey marred by the constant threat of aerial attack. And it is not just the refugees who are at risk; Lian and her classmates have been entrusted with a priceless treasure: a 500-year-old collection of myths and folklore known as the Library of Legends.
The students’ common duty to safeguard the Library of Legends creates unexpected bonds. Lian becomes friends and forms a cautious romance with the handsome and wealthy Liu Shaoming. But after one classmate is arrested and another one is murdered, Lian realizes she must escape before a family secret puts her in danger too. Accompanied by Shao and his enigmatic maidservant, Sparrow, Lian makes her way to Shanghai in the hopes of reuniting with her mother.
During the journey, Lian learns of the connection between her two companions and a tale from the Library of Legends, The Willow Star and the Prince. This revelation comes with profound consequences, for as the ancient books travel across China, they awaken immortals and guardian spirits who embark on an exodus of their own, one that will change the country’s fate forever.
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 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 through 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.
Daughters of Silence, by Rebecca Fisseha
About the book: Ash from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano fills the skies. Flights are grounded throughout Europe. Dessie, a cosmopolitan flight attendant from Canada, finds herself stranded in Addis Ababa—her birth place.
Grieving her mother's recent death, Dessie heads to see her grandfather, the Shaleqa—compelled as much by duty as her own will. But Dessie's conflicted past stands in her way. Just as the volcano's eruption disordered Dessie's work life, so too does her mother's death cause seismic disruptions in the fine balance of self-deceptions and false histories that uphold her family.
As Dessie reacquaints herself with her grandfather's house, familiar yet strangely alien to her diasporic sensibilities, she pieces together the family secrets: the trauma of dictatorship and civil war, the shame of unwed motherhood, the abuse met with silence that gives shape to the mystery of her mother's life.
Reminiscent of the deeply immersive writing of Taiye Selasi and Arundhati Roy, Rebecca Fisseha's Daughters of Silence is psychologically astute and buoyed both by metaphor and by the vibrant colours of Ethiopia. It's an impressive debut.
Music for Tigers, by Michelle Kadarusman
About the book: From Governor General’s Literary Award finalist Michelle Kadarusman comes a novel about a young violinist who discovers her mother’s family secretly harbor a sanctuary for extinct Tasmanian tigers in the remote Australian rainforest
Shipped halfway around the world to spend the summer with her mom’s eccentric Australian relatives, middle schooler and passionate violinist Louisa is prepared to be resentful. But life at the family’s remote camp in the Tasmanian rainforest is intriguing, to say the least. There are pig-footed bandicoots, scary spiders, weird noises and odors in the night, and a quirky boy named Colin who cooks the most amazing meals. Not the least strange is her Uncle Ruff, with his unusual pet and veiled hints about something named Convict Rock.
Finally, Louisa learns the truth: Convict Rock is a sanctuary established by her great-grandmother Eleanor—a sanctuary for Tasmanian tigers, Australia’s huge marsupials that were famously hunted into extinction almost a hundred years ago. Or so the world believes. Hidden in the rainforest at Convict Rock, one tiger remains. But now the sanctuary is threatened by a mining operation, and the last Tasmanian tiger must be lured deeper into the forest. The problem is, not since her great-grandmother has a member of the family been able to earn the shy tigers’ trust.
As the summer progresses, Louisa forges unexpected connections with Colin, with the forest, and—through Eleanor’s journal—with her great-grandmother. She begins to suspect the key to saving the tiger is her very own music. But will her plan work? Or will the enigmatic Tasmanian tiger disappear once again, this time forever?
Tiny Lights for Travellers, by Naomi K. Lewis
About the book: Why couldn’t I occupy the world as those model-looking women did, with their flowing hair, pulling their tiny bright suitcases as if to say, I just arrived from elsewhere, and I already belong here, and this sidewalk belongs to me?
When her marriage suddenly ends, and a diary documenting her beloved Opa’s escape from Nazi-occupied Netherlands in the summer of 1942 is discovered, Naomi Lewis decides to retrace his journey to freedom. Travelling alone from Amsterdam to Lyon, she discovers family secrets and her own narrative as a second-generation Jewish Canadian. With vulnerability, humour, and wisdom, Lewis’s memoir asks tough questions about her identity as a secular Jew, the accuracy of family stories, and the impact of the Holocaust on subsequent generations.
The Showrunner, by Kim Moritsugu
About the book: The hiring of a new assistant triggers a power struggle between an aging TV show creator and her former protégée.
Rising-star showrunner Stacey McCreedy has one goal: to leave behind her nerd-girl origins and become a power player—like Ann Dalloni, her former mentor and current producing partner. Ann, meanwhile, is feeling her age and losing her mind. But she’ll be damned if she cedes control of their hit primetime TV show to Stacey.
After Ann hires Jenna, a young actress hoping to restart her stalled career, as an assistant, the relationship between Ann and Stacey deteriorates into a blood feud. Soon, Jenna must choose whom to support and whom to betray to achieve her own ends. And Stacey will find out if she possesses the killer instinct needed to stay on top.
Know the Night, by Maria Mutch
About the book: Finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for Non-Fiction. An unforgettable, moving and beautifully written memoir on isolation, human connection and love, that will draw in readers of Annie Dillard and Joan Didion.
For about two years, Maria Mutch's son Gabriel, who is severely autistic and has Down's syndrome, slept very little. In her incisive and poetic memoir, Maria shares the intensely personal challenges and revelations brought about by this period. As a baby, Gabriel's first words and affinity for sign language enthralled his adoring parents. When these words fell away, and his medical diagnoses multiplied, Maria committed herself entirely to Gabe's care. As his sleeping hours dwindled, care took place within an isolated, wakeful, often frightening world in which Maria's desire for connection and meaning expanded. She became fascinated with stories of Antarctic exploration, and found a companion in Admiral Richard Byrd, an explorer who lived by himself in the polar darkness for months in 1934 and later wrote about his struggle for survival in a book called Alone.
Re-imagining Byrd's story and interweaving it with her own, Maria illuminates a search for love and understanding against the terrors of the unknown that will resonate with anyone who has lain awake in the dark, or longed to protect a loved one. Know the Night is a powerful journey into the mysteries of the night and the human mind, and a testament to the extraordinary bond between mother and child.
Beyond the Trees, by Adam Shoalts
About the book: In the spring of 2017, Adam Shoalts, bestselling author and adventurer, set off on an unprecedented solo journey across North America's greatest wilderness. A place where, in our increasingly interconnected, digital world, it's still possible to wander for months without crossing a single road, or even see another human being.
Between his starting point in Eagle Plains, Yukon Territory, to his destination in Baker Lake, Nunavut, lies a maze of obstacles: shifting ice floes, swollen rivers, fog-bound lakes, and gale-force storms. And Shoalts must time his departure by the breakup of the spring ice, then sprint across nearly 4,000 kilometers of rugged, wild terrain to arrive before winter closes in.
He travels alone up raging rivers that only the most expert white-water canoeists dare travel even downstream. He must portage across fields of jagged rocks that stretch to the horizon, and navigate labyrinths of swamps, tormented by clouds of mosquitoes every step of the way. And the race against the calendar means that he cannot afford the luxuries of rest, or of making mistakes. Shoalts must trek tirelessly, well into the endless Arctic summer nights, at times not even pausing to eat.
But his reward is the adventure of a lifetime.
Heart-stopping, wonder-filled, and attentive to the majesty of the natural world, Beyond the Trees captures the ache for adventure that afflicts us all.
The Last Resort, by Marissa Stapley
About the book: The Harmony Resort promises hope for struggling marriages. Run by celebrity power couple Drs. Miles and Grace Markell, the “last resort” offers a chance for partners to repair their relationships in a luxurious setting on the gorgeous Mayan Riviera.
Johanna and Ben have a marriage that looks perfect on the surface, but in reality, they don’t know each other at all. Shell and Colin fight constantly: after all, Colin is a workaholic, and Shell always comes second to his job as an executive at a powerful mining company. But what has really torn them apart is too devastating to talk about. When both couples begin Harmony’s intensive therapy program, it becomes clear that Harmony is not all it seems—and neither are Miles and Grace themselves. What are they hiding, and what price will these couples pay for finding out?
As a deadly tropical storm descends on the coast, trapping the hosts and the guests on the resort, secrets are revealed, loyalties are tested and not one single person—or their marriage—will remain unchanged by what follows.
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).
It Begins in Betrayal, by Iona Whishaw
About the book: Summer descends over the picturesque King’s Cove as Darling and Lane’s mutual affection blossoms. But their respite from solving crime is cut short when a British government official arrives in Nelson to compel Darling to return to England for questioning about the death of a rear gunner under his command in 1943.
In Darling’s absence, Ames oversees the investigation into the suspicious death of a local elderly woman and uncovers a painful betrayal inflicted forty years earlier. Meanwhile, Lane follows Darling to London, where he is charged with murder and faces hanging. While desperately seeking answers, Lane is presented with a proposal that could save the man she loves, but only if she returns to the very life she sought to leave behind.
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