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Top 40: CBC Canada Reads 2014

By monnibo
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tagged: canada reads, cbc
"What is the one novel that could change Canada?" That's the question CBC Canada Reads announced earlier in 2013, then opened up for recommendations. This is the Canada Reads 2014 Top 40. Voting will be held to find a Top 10.
Accusation

Accusation

edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook Paperback
tagged : literary

Selected as an Amazon.ca Best Book of 2013, a Canada Reads Top 40 Pick, and a NOW Magazine Book of the Year

While in Copenhagen, Sara Wheeler, a Toronto journalist, happens upon Cirkus Mirak, a touring Ethiopian children's circus. She later meets and is convinced to drive the circus founder, Raymond Renaud, through the night from Toronto to Montreal. Such chance beginnings lead to later fateful encounters, as renowned novelist Catherine Bush artfully confronts the destructive power of allegations …

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Afterlands

Afterlands

edition:Paperback
tagged :

In 1872, the USS Polaris sailed for the Arctic on a mission to hoist the U.S. flag at the North Pole. But the expedition was a failure, and half of the party – nineteen men, women and children of different nationalities–were cast adrift on an ice floe off the coast of Ellesmere Island, where they endured six desperate months of starvation, bloodshed and other horrors. Afterlands, a profoundly moving and gripping book, takes characters drawn from history and transforms their experiences into …

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Excerpt

One
BURY ME AT SEA

But what thinks Lazarus? Can he warm his blue hands by holding them up to the grand northern lights? Would not Lazarus rather be in Sumatra than here? Would he not far rather lay him down lengthwise along the line of the equator . . . go down to the fiery pit itself, in order to keep out this frost?
–Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

Wanted to shadow the three of you, all scattered
by the one storm. Tracked you (or some sediment,
cinder of you) to churchyards along the seaboard
near Mystic, or indio graveyards above the gaunt
gorges of Sinaloa – a search party of one, a mere
century-plus late. No, more – with every resource
I searched, clue traced, a shade more of your oblivious
withdrawal, waning to ash, as I scrawled my course
(it seemed) ever nearer, through tiered detritus
downward, by the spadeful, a volunteer
unwilling to leave the warlike scene –
recovering just fragments, fallout, DNA.

–Dawson City, Yukon, September 2001

Hartford, Connecticut, September 1876

An Esquimau playing Mendelssohn is a tremendous novelty. The local gentry fill the seats of the Main Street Memorial Hall, whiskery gentlemen in frock coats and wing collars, the ladies in gowns and layer-cake hats trimmed with ribbon and mock flora. Their elegant figures are shored up by trusses or corsets – synthetic exoskeletons fortified with whalebone. If any members of this audience make a connection between their own underclothes and the presence onstage of a child from the Arctic whaling grounds, they don’t let on. They are effusive in their praise of the little Esquimau. She is clearly a prodigy. She is only ten years of age! She has been playing the piano for only three years! How charming she looks in her cream cotton dress with the puffed sleeves, the ends of her braids joined at the small of her back with a red ribbon bow. As they whisper and nod, a lush welling of self-appreciation and security warms their chests.

In fact, Punnie is not playing as well as she did when rehearsing for the recital with her teacher, Mr Chusley, who will be performing after her and before the chief attraction, a master recitalist from Leipzig who is said to have known Mendelssohn personally. This lean and tousled master, seated severely in the front row, will be aware that the girl has committed a few slips. What he doesn’t know is that her playing also lacks its usual earnest, beguiling zest. Punnie is dizzy and has to concentrate to suppress the dry scraping cough that has been gaining on her since April. Throughout the summer holiday she has been practising, as much as four hours a day. There is something unnerving, quietly violent, in her discipline. She’s the sort of only child who lives for the endorsement of adults. More and more these days she coughs while she rehearses. She and her parents, Tukulito and Ebierbing – Hannah and Joe is how they are known to Americans – came down from the Arctic after the rescue over three years ago, but the poor child still carries the Far North in her lungs. So Mr Chusley puts it. He even urges her to practise less.

Actually Punnie’s cough began not in the Arctic but after their journey south.

Stiff in the aisle seat of a middle row, Tukulito sees that her daughter is struggling, but the audience is so caught up in the spectacle of this oddly pallid Esquimau child playing one of Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words – op. 30, no. 1 in E flat – that they don’t notice. Tukulito’s face has the waxen stillness of somebody watching the last stages of a shipwreck, trying to contain her alarm – a stillness that could be mistaken for calm. This is her usual expression. Only her eyes, sharp with practical understanding and quick sympathy, lend life to her face; enough life for a dozen faces.

In fact, the child is something of a prodigy. Mr Chusley, a soft little man with sombre brown eyes, rumpled clothes and clove-scented breath (and, unluckily for his dreams, stumpy hands and fingers), has said that he foresees fine fine things for the girl. Very fine indeed. And Tukulito grasps that this is not a man given to flattery. A stutterer, he keeps his utterances short. I’ve never yet tutored a child possessed of such a, such a faculty of silent concentration. Your Punnie seems to me utterly undistractable. Chusley does not then detour into ethnological conjecture, like some of the well-meaning Groton neighbours, on whether this is a specialized trait–a result of the savage’s need for vigilance by the seal’s breathing hole, or his wife’s Oriental patience, acquired in the igloo waiting with the children for her mate’s return. . . . For some years the life of the Esquimaux has gripped the romantic imagination. They’ve become a staple of polar adventure novels, which emphasize their fortitude, their loyalty, their stealth, their rare inscrutable lapses into cunning and violence. In the 1860s the fascination with Esquimaux even hatched a short-lived fad for duelling with bone harpoons. The Polaris debacle and Lieutenant Tyson’s subsequent drift on the ice with eighteen other castaways have made them even more popular; Tukulito’s husband Ebierbing was in some ways the hero of Tyson’s published account of the drift (as Second Mate Kruger was its villain), and this Esquimau family have been celebrities since settling in the port town of Groton, Connecticut.

Tukulito still thinks about Mr Kruger but has not heard from him in some time.

The child is small for her age, no grand piano ever looked huger. She will start a piece straight-backed on the bench but as she plays she will tip gradually forward so that by the last bar her face is just above the keys. (Mr Chusley has tried to correct this.) Her playing is stronger now, op. 67, no. 5 in B minor, “The Shepherd’s Complaint.” Those firm-pacing, stately notes in the minor until, just as the ear is tiring of the solemnity, the tune resolves into major.

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Anil's Ghost

Anil's Ghost

Following the phenomenal success of Michael Ondaatje’s Booker Prize-winning third novel, The English Patient, expectations were almost insurmountable. The internationally acclaimed #1 bestseller had made Ondaatje the first Canadian novelist ever to win the Booker. Four years later, in 1996, a motion picture based on the book brought the story to a vast new audience. The film, starring Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche, went on to win numerous prizes, among them nine Academy Awards, including …

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Chapter One

She arrived in early March, the plane landing at Katunayake airport before the dawn. They had raced it ever since coming over the west coast of India, so that now passengers stepped onto the tarmac in the dark.

By the time she was out of the terminal the sun had risen. In the West she'd read, The dawn comes up like thunder, and she knew she was the only one in the classroom to recognize the phrase physically. Though it was never abrupt thunder to her. It was first of all the noise of chickens and carts and modest morning rain or a man squeakily cleaning the windows with newspaper in another part of the house.

As soon as her passport with the light-blue UN bar was processed, a young official approached and moved alongside her. She struggled with her suitcases but he offered no help.

'How long has it been? You were born here, no?'

'Fifteen years.'

'You still speak Sinhala?'

'A little. Look, do you mind if I don't talk in the car on the way into Colombo — I'm jet-lagged. I just want to look. Maybe drink some toddy before it gets too late. Is Gabriel's Saloon still there for head massages?'

'In Kollupitiya, yes. I knew his father.'

'My father knew his father too.'

Without touching a single suitcase he organized the loading of the bags into the car. 'Toddy!' He laughed, continuing his conversation. 'First thing after fifteen years. The return of the prodigal.'

'I'm not a prodigal.'

An hour later he shook hands energetically with her at the door of the small house they had rented for her.

'There's a meeting tomorrow with Mr. Diyasena.'

'Thank you.'

'You have friends here, no?'

'Not really.'

Anil was glad to be alone. There was a scattering of relatives in Colombo, but she had not contacted them to let them know she was returning. She unearthed a sleeping pill from her purse, turned on the fan, chose a sarong and climbed into bed. The thing she had missed most of all were the fans. After she had left Sri Lanka at eighteen, her only real connection was the new sarong her parents sent her every Christmas (which she dutifully wore), and news clippings of swim meets. Anil had been an exceptional swimmer as a teenager, and the family never got over it; the talent was locked to her for life. As far as Sri Lankan families were concerned, if you were a well-known cricketer you could breeze into a career in business on the strength of your spin bowling or one famous inning at the Royal-Thomian match. Anil at sixteen had won the two-mile swim race that was held by the Mount Lavinia Hotel.

Each year a hundred people ran into the sea, swam out to a buoy a mile away and swam back to the same beach, the fastest male and the fastest female fêted in the sports pages for a day or so. There was a photograph of her walking out of the surf that January morning — which The Observer had used with the headline 'Anil Wins It!' and which her father kept in his office. It had been studied by every distant member of the family (those in Australia, Malaysia and England, as well as those on the island), not so much because of her success but for her possible good looks now and in the future. Did she look too large in the hips?

The photographer had caught Anil's tired smile in the photograph, her right arm bent up to tear off her rubber swimming cap, some out-of-focus stragglers (she had once known who they were). The black-and-white picture had remained an icon in the family for too long.

She pushed the sheet down to the foot of the bed and lay there in the darkened room, facing the waves of air. The island no longer held her by the past. She'd spent the fifteen years since ignoring that early celebrity. Anil had read documents and news reports, full of tragedy, and she had now lived abroad long enough to interpret Sri Lanka with a long-distance gaze. But here it was a more complicated world morally. The streets were still streets, the citizens remained citizens. They shopped, changed jobs, laughed. Yet the darkest Greek tragedies were innocent compared with what was happening here. Heads on stakes. Skeletons dug out of a cocoa pit in Matale. At university Anil had translated lines from Archilochus — In the hospitality of war we left them their dead to remember us by. But here there was no such gesture to the families of the dead, not even the information of who the enemy was.

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Annabel

Annabel

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Hardcover Paperback
tagged : literary

A finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Governor General's Literary Award, the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, and a #1 national bestseller, Kathleen Winter's spectacular debut novel is now available in a new edition.

In 1968, into the beautiful, spare environment of remote coastal Labrador, a mysterious child is born: a baby who appears to be neither fully boy nor girl, but both at once. Only three people are privy to the secret — the baby's parents, Jacinta and Treadway, and a tr …

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The Blue Light Project

The Blue Light Project

edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
tagged : literary

From one of Canada’s finest writers comes a masterful novel about the clash of art and advertising, the cultish grip of celebrity and the intense connections that can form in times of crisis.
 
An unidentified man storms a television studio where KiddieFame, a controversial children’s talent show wherein kids who are too talented are “killed off,” is being filmed. He is armed with an explosive device, and issues only a single demand: an interview with journalist Thom Pegg. It’s a stra …

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Excerpt

She’s beautiful. Let me just say that at the outset. A person could pretend they didn’t notice, but that person would probably be lying. I’ve lied before. I’ve lied notably, some might even say infamously. But this is the truth: she’s a classic willowy, green-eyed beauty. And she carries it in a way that might surprise if you’ve based your impression on the ads and the television spots. In person, there is nothing endorsement, nothing podium about her. No flashing of the winning smile. No casual glancing around for the nearest camera. In person, it’s all about health and natural athleticism, straw-blond hair and a perfect dusting of freckles over tanned cheekbones. I’ve heard her described as having “Midwestern” looks, but that doesn’t quite get to the essence of it either. The essence is that she seems beyond regions and sources. As if she came from everywhere and so belonged to everyone. As if, and this is related, she came from nowhere and belonged to no one.

I know how this sounds coming from a person like me, who has worked for years too long inside the machinery of fame, leaned in close against the grind and squelch of it. The fan is always the mark. Celebrity is a con. Who wrote that, years ago, as if it were a great insight? Me, of course. I wrote that years ago as if it were a great insight. Still, when I first saw her, I was hit by the whole suite of symptoms: the adrenal spike, the sense of brightening, of possibilities opening wide. And like the strike of a crystal bell in my inner ear, like a breath whispering through my body at the cellular level, I heard her name: Eve Latour.

Of course, everybody up in the Heights that morning seemed to be slightly lost. I’d been wandering the city myself since first light, a dread chill in the air, flinty breeze off the river, the skies above me all smoky and heaving. The pale October sun leaked only briefly through bruised and purple clouds before slouching away. I stood just a few blocks from the plaza, which had been the epicenter of the troubles, and evidence was still everywhere. Broken glass glittering in the street. Sirens scoring the air. Smoke rising. I saw the remains of a car that rioters had burned earlier, the interior gutted and blackened, soaked by fire hoses and steaming in the watery light. Police and troops wandering around. The recent events continuing to dominate every news broadcast. The Meme Media Hostage Crisis, as we were all calling it. On the hour and the half hour, they laid it out again and again, from inception to climax, and made no further sense of anything. You could see it in the anchors’ faces. Incomprehension in the furrows between plucked eyebrows even as they tried to explain how events unfolded. The Meme studio theater stormed in ghostly silence. A strange pulse of energy felt on the skin by everyone in a six-block radius. And then the strange agitations of a stricken crowd: a vigil turned riot in the predawn blue.

We stumbled. We reeled. We looked into each other’s faces for clues. Eve Latour stood holding a newspaper in one hand. A fingernail of her other hand traced across her cheek as she read. Mill-town sky, the clouds sagging low behind her. She stood against this backdrop, tall and lean, with an easy grace and natural strength. While reflected in the broken front window of a dog grooming salon, I saw myself: addled, disarranged. My expression confused, smudged with lack of sleep.

I looked as creased and untucked as my clothes. As lost as the one shirt collar point popping free of my jacket.
Police cars and fire trucks crisscrossed the hillside. Helicopters hovered watchfully, dipping down out of sight behind rooflines, or pivoting in place and angling off to other quadrants of the city. I could hear the city’s landmark waterfall down at the river, the never-ending white keen of it. Eve stood calmly in the midst of this, reading, thinking.
I’d walked from the north side, from my hotel downtown across the river where the streets were almost untouched by what had happened here. I’d crossed one of the bridges and made my way through the inner-city area of Stofton, then on up into the gentrified Slopes. I knew these neighborhoods, having been born and raised here, long ago. Yet as I covered the ground, I’d slowly become aware of my own uncertainty about where I was exactly or where I was going as I pushed on, going block by block, turning down a street or cutting through a park. And everywhere I saw people who looked to be in a similar condition, heads turning, faces slack, drifting through the strange familiar.
There were no birds anywhere. No pigeons, crows, no geese or grebes. When I crossed the boulevard that marked the boundary of the Heights, a man stopped his car and rolled down the window to tell me that hundreds of people had been arrested and were being held in temporary detention centers down by the east side rail yards. I judged from his face—from his suit jacket, his car, his wristwatch with many dials—that he wasn’t the sort of person who believed rumors easily, but that something had changed. Belief was now very close. Belief that some hidden badness had been flushed into the open and exposed. A hidden badness in us. A plague of ourselves upon ourselves.

I climbed up the streets and into the Heights. Traffic clotted and broke out of its patterns. The main routes up into the plaza were cordoned off, yellow tape shimmering in the light and wind. Armored cars were parked next to the fountains, between the park benches, in front of cafés. Troops wore gray-mottled city camo fatigues with black knee pads and throat mikes, helmet-mounted cameras. I took a random turn into a narrow avenue lined with high-end clothiers and boutique law firms, a cosmetic surgeon. Broken glass in the street. The air smelled of rubber, burnt sugar, nylon. Eve Latour didn’t belong in the scene at all, I thought. She lived in my memory as a heroic figure on alpine landscapes with crisp air and wide sight lines. Yet as I stood staring, I felt that our arrival there had somehow been planned: place and persons, trembling moment. She sensed me standing there. People who spend their lives in the public eye develop a kind of radar. They feel the eyes, the longing, the volatile desire. Some love it, thrive on it. Others are smartly wary. Eve Latour was wary, I think, but also kind. So she didn’t ignore me or pretend to be distracted with something else. She looked up instead and inventoried me in a single glance. The clothes. That shirt collar point sticking up. Shoes, hands, face. History and disappointments. The fear and the fatigue.

Then she closed the distance. She stepped towards me and extended her hand.

Strange thing, that. They don’t normally touch you, in my experience. I mean the really big stars. The name brands. The people of iconic wealth and wellness. The people who could surely envy only God. It’s less a germ issue than it is a matter of observing the sacred separation between you and them. But Eve was going to surprise me in various ways, and the handshake was only the first instance. She took my hand, applied the faintest pressure. The nod, the rounded eyebrows to signal that we both understood at least one part of what the other was feeling. And then we had the same conversation that thousands of strangers were having that morning. We worked our way back in time together to where we’d been when the crisis began.

I told her that I’d been on the West Coast, where I lived. That I’d been on a date, at dinner. I told her about the unexpected phone call, the shock, the terrible dawning, the rush to the airport to fly here. But past that point, past liftoff—I remembered a cream leather cabin—my memory frayed and sputtered. My forehead twitching, my cheeks flushing with effort as the details jammed. She said: Journalist. You’re a journalist. We’ve met. Which sounded familiar, so I told her: Yes, I remember. Although I wasn’t at all sure that I did.

And here she nodded and turned away, not coming back with her own story immediately, but waiting in silence for several seconds instead, the air textured all around us with radio squelch, rotor wash, the sound of the falls, all those uncountable sirens. I recognized in her pause the long habit of self concealment around journalists. Forget about all those interviews and profiles after her gold-medal win in Geneva eight years before. The tide of curiosity as her athletic fame so quickly morphed into something bigger. The celebrity engagement to the French film director. The paparazzi outside her Paris hotel after he left her for the tennis player. Her high profile term as a UNICEF Global Ambassador. She’d faced them all squarely, the photographers and the networks. She’d accommodated the local press on her return home from Europe, their loved daughter. Always gracious, never minding that they called her Evey like she wasn’t thirty-two years old but still a kid. It was true that she had lived in the media, lived in our gaze. But none of it would have prepared her for this occasion, as we stood together in the post-normal. This lean, unwavering beauty. The slumped and damaged hack opposite.

Something blinked to life in my memory. Eve Latour had given an interview to a men’s magazine several years before. One of those cleavage and six-pack catalogs. Eve Latour sitting in an old Ukrainian deli, a famous place in this city. In the Heights, I thought. Not too far from where we were standing. In the photograph, she was wearing an impressively ugly cable knit sweater, her head cracked back laughing, mid-conversation with the old guy who ran the place. She told the interviewer that she planned never to leave the city again. She didn’t want to. More importantly, she didn’t need to. She’d seen the world and seen what it had to give. She knew now that everything required in life was right there close at hand, at home. And if it wasn’t—whatever thing or experience—then she could certainly learn to live without it.

I loved that detail, then and now. That Eve Latour was the kind of person who didn’t let herself be tormented by those desires that could not be satisfied.

Eve Latour continued to think of something else, a long loop of thought that took her away from me, her eyes drifting to the buildings opposite, to the sky, to a jet passing overhead. Military. Heading east. It made a sound like a God-scale fabric being torn down the length of its seam.

Then she surprised me again. She motioned we should walk. She took my arm. Again, the physical contact. Again the willing, familiar touch. This time with a new authority. So it was that I crossed the broken Heights, over to the shoulder of the hill, walking arm in arm with Eve Latour. And right at the crest—where the whole downtown delta was revealed, those high and magical spires, each one shimmering in its individual haze of sorrow and money, poised to carry on—right there, she started talking.

She’d been at home, she said. As for so many others, the first images of the Meme Media Hostage Crisis had flickered to consciousness in the upholstered safety of a living room. She remembered the fire, the first gunshots. All of which had been terrible, but not nearly as terrible as what followed. That spilling of events from the inside to the outside, that sense of contagion, violence spreading from one to so many and with such seeming ease. She wondered if it had happened that way, if people had lost themselves in these events, because so many of the hostages had been children.

I didn’t say anything. I just kept walking as she steered us into the street, dead intersection lights overhead, swaying in the breeze off the river. Her foot crunched broken glass and pieces of brick. We crossed to the opposite sidewalk and she asked my name. And when I told her she repeated it quickly, as if it had been there, right on the tip of her tongue.

Thom Pegg, she said. And she turned to look at me, her eyebrows raised. She seemed, incredibly, to be finding some upside in the moment, to be tapping some secret source of hope. But she didn’t tell me what it was, just then. She only nodded again and tightened her grip on my arm, pulling me along. Towards something. That much seemed clear. But what was it? Where was it? I didn’t ask, and she offered no answers. And while I might have pressed on another day, in another frame of mind, on that day, in that frame of mind—shifting gaps in my memory and a pervasive sense of being lost—I let myself be pulled down the street by this famous and mysterious person, this angel. I let her lead me, walking briskly now, dropping down the hill towards the river, the sound of the falls growing and growing. The wind unseasonably high.
 

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The Cellist of Sarajevo

The Cellist of Sarajevo

edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover

This brilliant novel with universal resonance tells the story of three people trying to survive in a city rife with the extreme fear of desperate times, and of the sorrowing cellist who plays undaunted in their midst.

One day a shell lands in a bread line and kills twenty-two people as the cellist watches from a window in his flat. He vows to sit in the hollow where the mortar fell and play Albinoni’s Adagio once a day for each of the twenty-two victims. The Adagio had been re-created from a fr …

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The Cellist

It screamed downward, splitting air and sky without effort. A target expanded in size, brought into focus by time and velocity. There was a moment before impact that was the last instant of things as they were. Then the visible world exploded.

In 1945, an Italian musicologist found four bars of a sonata’s bass line in the remnants of the firebombed Dresden Music Library. He believed these notes were the work of the seventeenth-century Venetian composer Tomaso Albinoni, and spent the next twelve years reconstructing a larger piece from the charred manuscript fragment. The resulting composition, known as Albinoni’s Adagio, bears little resemblance to most of Albinoni’s work and is considered fraudulent by most scholars. But even those who doubt its authenticity have difficulty denying the Adagio’s beauty.

Nearly half a century later, it’s this contradiction that appeals to the cellist. That something could be almost erased from existence in the landscape of a ruined city, and then rebuilt until it is new and worthwhile, gives him hope. A hope that, now, is one of a limited number of things remaining for the besieged citizens of Sarajevo and that, for many, dwindles each day.

And so today, like every other day in recent memory, the cellist sits beside the window of his second-floor apartment and plays until he feels his hope return. He rarely plays the Adagio. Most days he’s able to feel the music rejuvenate him as simply as if he were filling a car with gasoline. But some days this isn’t the case. If, after several hours, this hope doesn’t return, he will pause to gather himself, and then he and his cello will coax Albinoni’s Adagio out of the firebombed husk of Dresden and into the mortar-pocked, sniper-infested streets of Sarajevo. By the time the last few notes fade, his hope will be restored, but each time he’s forced to resort to the Adagio it becomes harder, and he knows its effect is finite. There are only a certain number of Adagios left in him, and he will not recklessly spend this precious currency.

It wasn’t always like this. Not long ago the promise of a happy life seemed almost inviolable. Five years ago at his sister’s wedding, he’d posed for a family photograph, his father’s arm slung behind his neck, fingers grasping his shoulder. It was a firm grip, and to some it would have been painful, but to the cellist it was the opposite. The fingers on his flesh told him that he was loved, that he had always been loved, and that the world was a place where above all else the things that were good would find a way to burrow into you. Though he knew all of this then, he would give up nearly anything to be able to go back in time and slow down that moment, if only so he could more clearly recall it now. He would very much like to feel his father’s hand on his shoulder again.

He can tell today won’t be an Adagio day. It has been only a half-hour since he sat down beside the window, but already he feels a little bit better. Outside, a line of people wait to buy bread. It’s been over a week since the market’s had any bread to buy, and he considers whether he might join them. Many of his friends and neighbours are in line. He decides against it, for now. There’s still work to do.

It screamed downward, splitting air and sky without effort. A target expanded in size, brought into focus by time and velocity. There was a moment before impact that was the last instant of things as they were. Then the visible world exploded.

When the mortars destroyed the Sarajevo Opera Hall, the cellist felt as if he were inside the building, as if the bricks and glass that once bound the structure together became projectiles that sliced and pounded into him, shredding him beyond recognition. He was the principal cellist of the Sarajevo Symphony Orchestra. That was what he knew how to be. He made the idea of music an actuality. When he stepped on stage in his tuxedo he was transformed into an instrument of deliverance. He gave to the people who came to listen what he loved most in the world. He was as solid as the vice of his father’s hand.

Now he doesn’t care whether anyone hears him play or not. His tuxedo hangs in the closet, untouched. The guns perched on the hills surrounding Sarajevo have dismantled him just as they have the opera hall, just as they have his family home in the night while his father and mother slept, just as they will, eventually, everything.

The geography of the siege is simple. Sarajevo is a long ribbon of flat land surrounded on all sides by hills. The men on the hills control all the high ground and one peninsula of level ground in the middle of the city, Grbavica. They fire bullets and mortars and tank shells and grenades into the rest of the city, which is being defended by one tank and small hand-held weapons. The city is being destroyed.

The cellist doesn’t know what is about to happen. Initially the impact of the shell won’t even register. For a long time he’ll stand at his window and stare. Through the carnage and confusion he’ll notice a woman’s handbag, soaked in blood and sparkled with broken glass. He won’t be able to tell whom it belongs to. Then he’ll look down and see he has dropped his bow on the floor, and somehow it will seem to him that there’s a great connection between these two objects. He won’t understand what the connection is, but the feeling that it exists will compel him to undress, walk to the closet and pull the dry cleaner’s plastic from his tuxedo.

He will stand at the window all night and all through the next day. Then, at four o’clock in the afternoon, twenty-four hours after the mortar fell on his friends and neighbours while they waited to buy bread, he will bend down and pick up his bow. He will carry his cello and stool down the narrow flight of stairs to the empty street. The war will go on around him as he sits in the small crater left at the mortar’s point of impact. He’ll play Albinoni’s Adagio. He’ll do this every day for twenty-two days, a day for each person killed. Or at least he’ll try. He won’t be sure he will survive. He won’t be sure he has enough Adagios left.

The cellist doesn’t know any of this now, as he sits at his window in the sun and plays. He isn’t yet aware. But it’s already on its way. It screams downward, splitting air and sky without effort. A target expands in size, brought into focus by time and velocity. There is a moment before impact that is the last instant of things as they are. Then the visible world explodes.

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Cockroach

Cockroach

edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover eBook

Cockroach is as urgent, unsettling, and brilliant as Rawi Hage's bestselling and critically acclaimed first book, De Niro's Game.

The novel takes place during one month of a bitterly cold winter in Montreal's restless immigrant community, where a self-described thief has just tried but failed to commit suicide. Rescued against his will, the narrator is obliged to attend sessions with a well-intentioned but naive therapist. This sets the story in motion, leading us back to the narrator's violent …

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The Disappeared

The Disappeared

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
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A sixteen year old girl falls in love with a Cambodian student.

A revolutionary closes the borders of a country for four years.

Families, friends, lovers disappear.

Kim Echlin’s powerful new novel tells the story of Anne Greves, from Montreal, who meets Serey, a Cambodian student forced into exile when he cannot return home during Pol Pot’s time of terror. Anne and Serey meet in a jazz club where their shared passion for music turns into a passion for each other, against the will of her f …

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