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Fiction Historical

The Spawning Grounds

by (author) Gail Anderson-Dargatz

Knopf Canada
Initial publish date
May 2017
Historical, Literary, 21st Century
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    May 2017
    List Price

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The long-awaited new novel by the two-time Giller-shortlisted author is full of the qualities Gail Anderson-Dargatz's fans love: it's an intimate family saga rooted in the Thompson-Shuswap region of British Columbia, and saturated with the history of the place. A bold new story that bridges Native and white cultures across a bend in a river where the salmon run.

On one side of the river is a ranch once owned by Eugene Robertson, who came in the gold rush around 1860, and stayed on as a homesteader. On the other side is a Shuswap community that has its own tangled history with the river--and the whites. At the heart of the novel are Hannah and Brandon Robertson, teenagers who have been raised by their grandfather after they lost their mother. As the novel opens, the river is dying, its flow reduced to a trickle, and Hannah is carrying salmon past the choke point to the spawning grounds while her childhood best friend, Alex, leads a Native protest against the development further threatening the river. When drowning nearly claims the lives of both Hannah's grandfather and her little brother, their world is thrown into chaos. Hannah, Alex, and most especially Brandon come to doubt their own reality as they are pulled deep into Brandon's numinous visions, which summon the myths of Shuswap culture and tragic family stories of the past.
The novel hovers beautifully in the fluid boundary between past and present, between the ordinary world and the world of the spirit, all disordered by the human and environmental crises that have knit the white and Native worlds together in love, and hate, and tragedy for 150 years. Can Hannah and her brother, and Alex, find a way forward that will neither destroy the river nor themselves?

About the author

Gail Anderson-Dargatz, whose fictional style has been coined as "Pacific Northwest Gothic" by the Boston Globe, has been published worldwide in English and in many other languages. A Recipe for Bees and The Cure For Death By Lightning were international bestsellers, and were both finalists for the prestigious Giller Prize in Canada. The Cure For Death By Lightning won the UK’s Betty Trask Prize among other awards. A Rhinestone Button was a national bestseller in Canada and her first book, The Miss Hereford Stories, was short-listed for the Leacock Award for humour. Her most recent novel, The Spawning Grounds, released in fall 2016, was again a bestseller. After nearly a decade of teaching within the Optional-Residency MFA program in creative writing at the University of British Columbia, Gail now mentors writers around the world through her own on-line forums. She lives in the Shuswap, the landscape found in so much of her writing.

Gail Anderson-Dargatz's profile page


  • Short-listed, Canadian Authors Association Literary Award - Fiction
  • Nominated, OLA Evergreen Award
  • Long-listed, Sunburst Award

Editorial Reviews

Nominee - 2017 Forest of Reading® Evergreen Award™
Shortlisted - 2017 Canadian Authors Association Award for Fiction

“Beginning with the most stunning opening chapter I’ve read in years, The Spawning Grounds envelops us in its electric currents: the mysteries of a troubled family, a damaged nation, a defiled river, and the great rich spirit of the sockeye salmon—climaxing in a storm of lives struggling to renew themselves and the spirit of a magical place.” —Brian Brett, award-winning author of Trauma Farm and Tuco: The Parrot, the Others and the Scattershot World
“You must read The Spawning Grounds, a stunning tour de force about the conflict between cultures, generations, nature and man. Magical yet profoundly down to earth, Gail Anderson-Dargatz tells stories within stories, shifting back and forth through time, to create a kaleidoscopic tapestry, unified by the frightening presence of a spirit seeking to right wrongs. I was so deeply moved by this beautifully written, spellbinding novel I read it twice.” —Sandra Gulland, author of the internationally bestselling Josephine B. Trilogy

"Anderson-Dargatz has set the bar dauntingly high for every new work; it’s a measure that The Spawning Grounds more than meets. . . . The Spawning Grounds is a powerful, complex mélange of story forms and approaches, including magic realism, domestic drama, historical fiction, and stories about coming of age and coming to the end of life, leavened with elements of romance and considerable humour and understanding. Anderson-Dargatz writes with a direct, often subversive appeal to narrative, powerful storytelling, and skilfully drawn characters carrying complex social, political, cultural, and spiritual conflicts with an unobtrusive ease.” —The Georgia Straight

[W]orth the wait. In the undercurrent of The Spawning Grounds is a clever recasting of the man versus nature story, as nature versus man. Anderson-Dargatz weaves in environmental concerns and the effects of climate change without letting them overwhelm a story that is ultimately about loss, debilitating grief and the power of redemption. . . . [W]riting as fluid as the river that runs through the story. . . . With insight and intimate knowledge of small-town life, she takes on the sensitive topic of the culture clash that continues to plague native-white relations, rendering both non-native and First Nations characters as excruciatingly real people. A master storyteller, Anderson-Dargatz sets out with a tale of the familiar and seamlessly takes the reader where they never imagined they could go. With her deceptively simple prose and all-too-human characters, she woos the reader into suspending any disbelief in the mythical world and accompanying Hannah and Brandon on their journey into the spiritual.” —Toronto Star

“Sharp imagery and spare dialogue are put to good use in Gail Anderson-Dargatz’s ghost tale. . . . [V]ividly drawn.” —The Globe and Mail

“The Canadian novelist writes what’s sure to be classic literature.” —Huffington Post

“Part love story and part family drama combined with a thrilling dollop of magic realism. . . . Cinematic in its scope, the novel explores some of Anderson-Dargatz’s favourite themes—the environment and the fearsome double-edges of domestic life.” Edmonton Journal

“[A] must read this fall.” The Manitoulin Expositor
“[G]enerally well-tuned novel. . . . The Spawning Grounds is a fine addition to Anderson-Dargatz’s ongoing efforts to mine a vein of rich and complex cultural geography.” Quill & Quire
“Gail Anderson-Dargatz writes lovely novels about unlovely people: unlovely people who grow beautiful under her compassionate, masterful, sly authorial gaze.” Quill & Quire


“Exquisite. . . . Anderson-Dargatz creates a strong sense of the complexity of ordinary life.” —The Globe and Mail
Turtle Valley lives up to [Anderson-Dargatz’s] gothic reputation, with ghosts dashing out from behind the farmhouses, mysterious flocks of ladybugs clinging to the ceilings, stoves leaping to life at strange hours and horrible secrets hiding in the family well. . . . It’s a tense, passionate story of family and memory, haunting and history.” —Vancouver Courier

“Ghosts weave in and out of the smoke, decades-old passions are re-examined, life-changing options present themselves, life and loss continue, unabated. It’s both haunting and haunted (as it’s both a romance-mystery and a ghost story) and it carries powerful magic all its own.” —The Hamilton Spectator

“Gail Anderson-Dargatz’s latest is part mystery, part memory story, part eco-conscious tale, but a rare take on illness in the context of a marriage is what makes Turtle Valley a winner. . . . Along with the passion, there’s suspense, too. The raging fires just keep getting closer. This is a haunting novel with emotionally haunted characters. Gripping.” —NOW (Toronto)

“In Turtle Valley, her fourth novel, Gail Anderson-Dargatz captures place with her trademark exquisite sensory detail. . . . Anderson-Dargatz creates a strong sense of the complexity of ordinary life. Her use of the concrete gives rise to the power of feeling through the stark juxtaposition of thing and idea. . . . the author is skilled at peeling back the layers of love, commitment and confusion that most families experience.” —The Globe and Mail

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