In Cities of Refuge, Michael Helm’s keenly anticipated new novel, a single act of violence resonates through several lives, connecting closeby fears to distant political terrors. At the story’s centre is the complex, intensely charged relationship between a 28-year-old woman and the father who abandoned her when she was young.
One summer night on a side street in downtown Toronto, Kim Lystrander is attacked by a stranger. Thrown deep into turmoil, in the weeks and months that follow, she confronts her fear by returning to the night, in writing, searching for harbingers of the incident, and clues to the identity of her assailant. The attack also torments Kim's father, Harold, an historian of Latin America. As he investigates the crime on his own, the darkest hours from his past revisit him, and he gradually begins to unravel. Entwined in their story are Kim’s ailing mother, Marian; Father André Rowe, whose mission to guide others involves him in a decision with troubling consequences; Rodrigo Cantero, a young Colombian man, living illegally in the city; and Rosemary Yates, a woman whose faith-based belief in the duty to give asylum to any who seek it, even those judged guilty, draws Harold to her, before a fateful choice changes the future for them all.
Cities of Refuge is a novel of profound moral tension and luminous prose. It weaves a web of incrimination and inquiry, where mysteries live within mysteries, and stories within stories, and the power to save or condemn rests in the forces of history, and in the realm of our deepest longings.
Michael Helm is the author of The Projectionist, a finalist for The Giller Prize, In the Place of Last Things, a finalist for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and a regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book, and, most recently, Cities of Refuge. His writings on fiction, poetry, and photography have appeared in North American newspapers and magazines, including Brick, where he serves as editor. He teaches at York University, in Toronto.
"[A] stunning read..., gripping, thought-provoking, ultimately haunting.... Cities of Refuge may be the future of The Canadian Novel: intrinsically and internally varied, polyvalent, confident, contemporary and challenging. If this is the future, bring it on."
— Edmonton Journal
"Michael Helm has never quite gained the acclaim his accomplished work merits. His new novel ... might just change that."
— Globe and Mail
"[W]hat [Helm] shows in a remarkable display of multiple-perspective sympathy, is how, in a world where we’re all inter-connected as never before, guilt and innocence are all but impossible to apportion with finality.... Cities of Refuge establishes him as one of Canada’s most commanding writers."
— Montreal Gazette
"Smart, soulful writers usually get noticed in Canada. So it’s a bit mystifying that Michael Helm, despite some major short list appearances, hasn’t already achieved star status. Cities of Refuge should get him the attention he deserves...."
— Now magazine
"'Where is the Great Toronto Novel?'.... Hats off ... to Michael Helm for Cities of Refuge.... The novel's thematic breadth pushed Helm into the front ranks of Canadian novelists."
— Quill and Quire
"[A] powerful...novel.... What is best ... is Helm's patient evocation of his deeply wounded characters."
— Globe and Mail