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Interviews, Recommendations, and More

Preoccupied by Time

A recommended reading list by Margaret Sweatman (author of The Gunsmith’s Daughter), who is appearing at the Winnipeg International Writers Festival's THIN AIR this year.

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Every September since 1997, the Winnipeg International Writers Festival presents THIN AIR, a celebration of books and ideas. Their curated line-up is a perfect fit for curious readers who are ready to discover strong voices and great storytelling in practically every genre. For 2022, they're presenting a hybrid festival featuring more than 50 writers, live events, and a destination website.

To watch video content Margaret Sweatman has prepared for THIN AIR, visit the festival website.


Book Cover The Gunsmith's Daughter

Here’s a list of beautiful, interesting books that I’ve loved and admired. I assembled the list without thinking of a thematic connection, but while writing a sentence or two about each of them, I realized that they’re either historical or preoccupied by Time.


Book Cover The Autobiography of Red

The Autobiography of Red, by Anne Carson

Carson makes epic art humane, emotional, funny, devastating. Geryon is a boy who is also a winged monster. He’s red. Carson shreds epic myth and narrative, she frees the myth, lets it expand, braiding fragments and epigrams, electrically. There are few such entertaining originals in the world.


Book Cover Elle

Elle, by Douglas Glover

Glover compresses this historical narrative till it morphs into something original and genuine, startling and extreme. A funny and heartbreaking novel—a strangely spiritual reading experience—it contains one of the saddest passages I’ve ever read.

Book Cover Oyrx and Crake

Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood,

I realize that Atwood doesn’t need a plug, but Snowman, the thuggish Pigoons, biological and environmental catastrophes, they follow me, especially here, at the end of our world.


Book Cover Five Wives

Five Wives, by Joan Thomas

Joan Thomas has x-ray vision. She explodes salient details in her ultra-vivid scenes. Exciting pacing, clear and surprising conflicts, and her extensive, astute, empathetic research, it’s seamlessly active. This novel is partly an interrogation of absolutes—the difficult work of a novelist performed masterfully.


Book Cover The Collected Works of Billy the Kid

The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, by Michael Ondaatje

There are so many astonishing passages in this short book, it’s tattooed on my memory. I love the fluidity of the writing, the radical generosity of Ondaatje’s imagination.


Book Cover A Message for the Emperor

A Message for the Emperor, by Mark Frutkin

Frutkin’s vivid historical fiction, seems to efface Time. This adventure, quest, meditation, is the tale of Li Wan, a landscape painter of the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) who must deliver a message to the Chinese Emperor. You will live this journey, it’s magical.


Book Cover St. Boniface Elegies

St. Boniface Elegies, by Catherine Hunter

If you’re lucky, you will have insomnia or take a long bus ride to work, and you will have this book of poems with you. Poems, as you know, should be read with serial monogamy, but sometimes I read this book to enjoy the range in its subtle sequencing, astonished by the way the light strikes its deep currents.


Book Cover Completed Field Notes

Completed Field Notes, by Robert Kroetsch

I had this book with me at a lake with my mother who chewed off a bit of it, tasted its profound simplicity, and blurted, “He must be very rich!” Kroetsch’s poetry can always reach us with its Zen plumb-blue lines.


Book Cover A Russian Sister

A Russian Sister, by Caroline Adderson

We live in 19th-century Russia with this elegant, perceptive portrait of Anton Chekhov and his sister Masha. Adderson’s detailed research vivifies, injects emotional thrust. And if you’ve ever known a talented womanizer, you’ll recognize him here. It’s a brilliant portrait of a writer: obsessive, slightly predatory, selfish, surprised by success and whingey over failure. Quite familiar and strange.


Book Cover The Gunsmith's Daughter

Learn more about The Gunsmith's Daughter:

1971. Lilac Welsh lives an isolated life with her parents at Rough Rock on the Winnipeg River. Her father, Kal, stern and controlling, has built his wealth by designing powerful guns and ammunition. He’s on the cusp of producing a .50 calibre assault rifle that can shoot down an airplane with a single bullet, when a young stranger named Gavin appears at their door, wanting to meet him before enlisting for the war in Vietnam. Gavin’s arrival sparks an emotional explosion in Lilac’s home and inspires her to begin her own life as a journalist, reporting on the war that’s making her family rich.

The Gunsmith’s Daughter is both a coming-of-age story and an allegorical novel about Canada-US relations. Psychologically and politically astute, and gorgeously written, Margaret Sweatman’s portrait of a brilliant gunsmith and his eighteen-year-old daughter tells an engrossing story of ruthless ambition, and one young woman’s journey toward independence.

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