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Fiction War & Military

Minister Without Portfolio

by (author) Michael Winter

Penguin Group Canada
Initial publish date
Feb 2014
War & Military, Literary, Friendship
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2014
    List Price

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Henry Hayward has been living life the way he's wanted—working hard, playing hard—but when his girlfriend tells him she's leaving, it destroys him. In a quest to recover, he joins an army-affiliated contracting crew that takes him overseas to a Canadian base in Afghanistan. In the company of friends, he begins to mend: having laughs and being rebellious, blithely unaware of all he's left behind. But everything changes during a roadside incursion when a routine patrol turns fatal. And Henry, who survives, knows in his heart that he is responsible.

Upon returning home, tormented by guilt, he resolves to take care of the people and places around him: Martha Groves, whose boyfriend was killed in Afghanistan; his friends and neighbours; and a summer home that needs revitalizing. Henry tries his best to seek roots after a rootless life, collecting around himself a "community of a hundred people" for whom he cares deeply and is responsible. But he hasn’t factored in family history and social infidelity—and Martha has a revelation of her own that may change everything.

Minister Without Portfolio illuminates the power and violence of self-creation. It asks: To whom are we beholden? Who do we adopt—and who couldn't we live without? It is an emotionally affecting work, filled with truths about the frailties and miracles of human nature, by a writer of exceptional talent.

About the author

Michael Winter is the author of The Big Why (winner of the Drummer General's Award and nominated for Ontario's Trillium Book Award and the Atlantic Book Awards Thomas Head Raddall Fiction Prize), This All Happened (winner of the Winterset Award and nominated for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize), the short-story collection One Last Good Look, and more recently the novels The Architects Are Here and The Death of Donna Whalen.

Michael Winter's profile page


  • Long-listed, Canada Reads

Editorial Reviews

Longlisted for Canada Reads 2016
Toronto Star fiction bestseller

"[Winter] is a writer who dangles the delicate bait because he knows we will take it, then sets the hook and reels us in hard. And when he has us in his boat, all we can do is stare up at him, gasping, not sure if he'll club or release us. And frankly, as readers, we don't care. We're thrilled, simply, to be along with him for the ride." - Joseph Boyden, Giller Prize-winning author of Through Black Spruce

“Evocatively told with spare, poetic elegance, this is a story of the love and life which can grow from a terrible loss. Henry is a man torn between escaping a past tragedy, and embracing its implications fully within his own life. Set in rural Canada, where the reverberations of world events can both shatter lives and offer the potential for redemption, Minister Without Portfolio is an essential, modern, Canadian novel.” - Vincent Lam, Giller Prize-winning author of Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures and The Headmaster's Wager

“Michael Winter gives us the story of a man who suffers a shock, searches for a foundation, and rescues a home. This is a book about old-fashioned love, the very unlikely, smoking hot, so lucky you came across it kind. The lasting kind of love that blazes like a forest fire. In Minister Without Portfolio Michael Winter takes a ballpeen hammer to your heart and finds the veins of gold. Every sentence is an ungrounded wire, megawatts of ebullience, wonder and sparking-spitting joy. Electric prose.” - Lisa Moore, author of February and Caught

“Reading Michael’s fiction is a lot like hearing him talk about his life. Packed with odd but compelling incidents that in anyone else’s hands would feel exaggerated or fake. Harrowing, in an after-the-fact hilarious way. Full of wonder and mystery. A hangover you wouldn’t miss for the world.” - Michael Crummey, author of Galore and River Thieves

“Minister Without Portfolio is a masterful examination of the very marrow of life. . . the stylistic comparisons between Winter and Hemingway (or Winter and Carver) are pretty much rote, but they’re accurate. . . Minister Without Portfolio is essential reading, an honest, and at times frank-to-the-point-of-discomfort exploration of guilt, loss, faint hope and struggle. It peels back the surface calm and reveals the roiling, cold depths beneath, the currents that threaten to pull one down, that must be fought with all our strength.” - National Post

"Another tour-de-force from one of Canada’s most exciting writers" - – Zoomer

"Almost Tolstoyan in its sense of weighty importance." - Toronto Star

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