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Saga Central

By kileyturner
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Chances are, some of your most beloved books of all time include a saga or two – long, powerful stories often stretching across years or even centuries whose most potent ingredients are suffering, love, and heroism in the face of unbelievable odds.
The Ghost Keeper

The Ghost Keeper

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Paperback

Winner of the Canadian Jewish Literary Award for Fiction

Winner of the HarperCollins Publishers/UBC Prize for Best New Fiction, this powerful, sweeping novel, set in Vienna during the 1930s and ’40s, centres on a poignant love story—and a friendship that ends in betrayal.

 

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Mary Cyr

Mary Cyr

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback

A fresh new novel from a Canadian literary legend--this time with an extraordinary and unforgettable woman protagonist who is sure to become one of the great characters in our literature.

Mary Cyr opens in Mexico, just as a disaster strikes a small town: a coal-mine has collapsed, with thirteen men trapped inside. Less than forty-eight hours later, the authorities summarily decide to abandon all hope of finding survivors and seal up the mine entrance--willfully oblivious to the half-dozen souls …

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The Dictionary of Animal Languages

The Dictionary of Animal Languages

edition:Paperback

Shortlisted for the 2019 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize
Longlisted for the 2019 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize
A novel of love, longing, and art set in interwar Paris, The Dictionary of Animal Languages will appeal to readers of All the Light We Cannot See and The Disappeared.

Ivory Frame is a renowned artist. Now in her nineties, the famously reclusive painter remains devoted to her work. She has never married, never had a family, never had a child. So when a letter arrives disclosing t …

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My eyes became her eyes, the eyes of someone who died young. Which makes them hard to live with. But Skeet doesn’t know this. Or Ondine. Or Valentina even. The only one left who knows is me.

Any eggs in the coop, Frame?

Yes, I tell him. But he hasn’t heard. He’s shaken out the coffee beans and ground out my voice.

The fork tines clink rhythmically against the steel bowl like the metallic call of a long-legged grassland bird I have transcribed. I am attuned to sounds. After all the animals I have recorded, read glyphic and elemental, like songs. He turns on the tap at the sink. He knows water works better than milk. It occurs to me we are a woman and a man in a stone house. The man making breakfast. It could be one of those tender moments that occur, the kind between sex and full- dressed protocol. But this isn’t that. I haven’t told him of the letter. It is a bit of a trick, this timing between it and Skeet arriving out of nowhere by the same low sun.

We eat our food slowly, in comfortable silence. My legs dangle from the too-high chair like a child’s. Skeet butters the bread in angular little lines, and says, This place is smaller than I thought.

I know, I say. It’s intensely orchestrated, three-quarter size. She must have culled everything and photographed from cunning angles. What is that? High or low, I can never remember.

High.

He sips his coffee looking straight ahead. I am reminded of my fondness for him. How nothing between us is insincere.

You know this valley has been called the Playground of Kings, I say. The Garden of France. Which makes you think it should be those things, but all I see are these hot yellow fields of sunflowers that will soon be cut, gleaming and bristling like a big cat’s pelt. They could be cornfields in middle America. I hold up my mug, feeling the steam on my skin. This coffee doesn’t taste like anything. It has happened to food too.

He looks out the window and blinks at the sun.

I suppose it has a certain kind of beauty. He eats his toast. The beauty of death.

I’ve missed you, Skeet.

Anyway Frame, what does it matter? You’re like an animal. Not even one percent changed by geography. He pauses. How are you?

Well you and I both know that isn’t true. The leg is better, I tell him, but that is hardly an event. Aren’t you going to ask me?

What?

About le grand projet.

Oh.

He is distracted. Normally this is his first line of inquiry. His eyes downcast, on the envelope with the letterpressed insignia and the same French font as all the graveurs on the table by the front door. A letter is pulled from a postbox and everything is pulled with it. Maybe it is me who is distracted.

Skeet gets up and paces the room, his fingers following the papers taped to the walls. I forgot this about him. He cannot sit for more than a few minutes. He goes quiet for a while and then turns to face me.

The photographs are everywhere, interlocking and branching patterns, extreme density interspersed with silences. All the data, the transcriptions in fieldbooks and papers with rubber bands in shopping bags on the floor. For a moment, I see the way someone else would see it. Not Skeet, but someone normal. How barking mad it all looks. As though I might have finally and definitely lost my mind. Despite feeling off-pitch, the project reassures me. I have always known myself in it.

After a long silence, Skeet sucks in air. Fuck.

Oh my god. What?

He stops dead. Frame. What?

I don’t know how to tell you this.

What? You look so worried. This look on your face, I’ve never seen it before.

He breathes out. He’s not sure which thing to tell, there are so many.

What’s going on? Is it about the project? I say, unsure.

Well— he hesitates. Yes and no.

Thud. We both startle at the sound. The bird again. It began hurling itself at the window before I left the house yesterday morning. I switched off the light and removed the keys and discs from the windowsill, all the deceptive things, to warn it off. Thud. It hit the glass again. The sun was bright and the wisp-white clouds passed above as I walked out to the car. In the  country you are always driving. The glass is hot; the driver’s seat swings wildly. I keep a breadboard wedged behind it, which allows my feet to touch the pedals and fixes the seat in position. The sky is vast and clear. There is only one road out. The fields blur, silvered by clouds that momentarily close over them. A relief from the gold sizzle that rattles the grasses dry and forces dogs to lie in shade, ribcages labouring. Everything grows from the cracks. Roses, ditches of poppies, trees bending with fruit. This time of year people come. They file into castles with conical spires. They pose in front of churches. I have no emotion for it. The beauty is general. The car radio crackles. What’s-her-name is singing, Yeah what have I got? / Nobody can take away. And it suddenly strikes me as funny that we see ourselves as immortal. What I have got somebody is about to take away. Nobody gets out of here alive. The sun flickers in like a heartbeat through the evenly spaced plane trees that parallel the road, their wide calico trunks tessellate.

For months nothing arrived from the conservatory or the university, but today, in the small metal postbox, finally, a letter. I think of countless fieldbooks full of animal sounds shaped into images, webbed maps, rough chorales, thin silver frequencies. They all funnel into this single gesture, a woman swivelling on her heel, handing me a white rectangle, eyes fixed on the next person in line. Except they don’t. I open it standing at the blue and yellow counter. Everything is bright and vibrating in the room. Pain swings and pits behind my eyes. Every little thing shoots off course, like looking up at the night sky of another hemisphere, not a single star you can name.

I drive home with the open letter on my lap, passing right by the short gravel lane to the house. It seems impossible that something that weighs almost nothing can contain such stunning facts. My breathing is panicked and sharp. The fields ripple and ride in waves from the wind. White cows all facing the same direction, lining up not as the farmers say to predict rain, but because the earth is one big magnet. The windows are down, open to birdsong and the thin layer of dust that bangs up from the cracked dirt road. These things I have seen a hundred times before I am now observing with total attention. The sky is saturated and smooth as stone, cut through with small grey wings. Cold perspiration films on my body, my clothes stuck to the leather seat. My hands are shaking. Of all the time it has taken between it and now. Facts never come soon enough. What is a fact? So much of life is lost vacant time of which you remember almost nothing. Memory is not a fact. But what is memory? Billions of infinitesimal particles collected from outerspace, Edison said.

Skeet moves his chair, the low timbre of wood dragging across the stone floor.

I first met Skeet years ago, at an airport, a kind of shack at the end of the tarmac where I was waiting for him in Whitehorse. He was tall with a good set of eyes, a bit of wildness in them. He looked serious, but had a part-grin that hid crooked teeth, the kind you don’t see anymore. The first thing he said after looking around was, You get the feeling that this is a town where people arrive on horseback. He is friendly but remote. The fieldwork is such a welcome antidote to all the hours bent over laboratory recording equipment. We spend great swaths of time sitting in cold, dry snow, waiting. Our eyes darting, anticipating the flashes of grey that will appear against the blinding white. In town we see a raven kick snow off a roof that slides and lands on a man’s head. It fits with the legend, where the Haida say they are the creator, but also the trickster. There is a white raven in legend too. Supposedly it brought the world into existence. It stole the sun and the moon and then flew through a smoke hole, turning black but also bringing light to the world.

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A Brightness Long Ago

A Brightness Long Ago

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback

From the internationally bestselling author of Tigana and The Lions of Al-Rassan comes a masterful new novel set in a vivid world evoking early Renaissance Italy and offering an extraordinary cast of characters whose lives come together through destiny, love, and ambition.

In a chamber overlooking the nighttime waterways of a maritime city, a man recalls his youth and the people who shaped his life. Danio Cerra's intelligence won him entry to a renowned school even though he was only the son of a …

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CHAPTER I

A man no longer young in a large room at night. There are lanterns and lamps, torches in brackets, a handsome table, tall, shuttered win­dows, paintings in shadow on the walls. He is not alone. Even so, he finds his mind turning back to when he was, indeed, still young. We all do that. A scent carries us, a voice, a name, a person who reminds us of someone we knew . . .
 
There are events going forward in this moment, but there is also a delay, a pause in the rush of people coming and going, and the past is closer at night.
 
He is thinking of a story from when he was learning the world and his place in it. He cannot tell all the tale, and he won’t. We see only glimpses of history, even our own. It is not entirely ours—in memory, in writing it down, in hearing or in reading it. We can reclaim only part of the past. Sometimes it is enough . . .

 
The sailors say the rain misses the cloud even as it falls through light or dark into the sea. I miss her like that as I fall through my life, through time, the chaos of our time. I dream of her some nights, still, but there is nothing to give weight or value to that, it is only me, and what I want to be true. It is only longing.

I remember that autumn night very well. It would be odd if I didn’t, since it set me on a different path from the one I’d thought I was on. It changed the arc of my days, as Guarino might have put it. I could easily have died. No arc at all, if so. I had images of knives come into my mind for a long time after. The one I carried, the one that had been used before my own.
 
I owe my life to Morani di Rosso. I light candles to his memory. He was a good man; I think it is fair to say any friend of Guarino’s had to be. Morani was chief steward of the palace in Mylasia. He had accepted me on Guarino’s recommendation. Which is why I was in the palace on the night Uberto the count, also named the Beast, was killed by the girl.
 
It seems necessary to say that though I was a pupil in Guarino’s school it was not because my father had any rank at all. Guarino, the best man of our time I believe, when invited to open a school at the court in Avegna made it a condition that he be allowed to admit a number of lesser-born children—clever ones, showing signs of promise—to be educated with the sons and some of the daughters of nobility.
 
I was admitted that way. My father was a tailor in Seressa. I feel no shame in saying that. I know what he was, I know what I was, and am. The cleric in our neighbourhood sanctuary by the great canal was the one who noticed me. I had quickness, he declared, was a well-formed, well-mannered young man, had taken easily to my letters and numbers.
 
Tailors in Seressa (and elsewhere) do have a little status. They enter the homes and intimate chambers of the great, conversing with them at fittings, learning their needs (not just in clothing), sometimes guiding those needs. Ours is a time when public display matters. Most times are, I suppose.
 
At our cleric’s urging, my father mentioned me to one of his patrons, a member of the Council of Twelve, then the cleric wrote a letter to that same man, and . . . matters were set in motion. I have a memory of my mother the morning I left—she saved a yellow bird from the cat. She chased the cat away, then turned and hugged me goodbye. I don’t know if she cried; if she did, it was after I had gone.
 
I spent seven years with Guarino in Avegna. There is a bust of him now in a palace courtyard there, outside the rooms where the school used to be. The school has been closed for years. Guarino is gone, my father (Jad defend his soul) is gone, many of those who mattered in my life are. It happens if you live long enough.
 
In that school in Avegna I lived through and left my childhood. I learned to write with skill, not merely competence. To speak grace­fully in good company and debate with clarity. To deal with weapons and the new form of accounting. To sing (with less grace, in truth), and to ride and handle horses—which became my joy in life.
 
I learned to address my betters properly and my equals and infe­riors also properly, and to do so with at least an illusion of ease. I was taught something of the history of Batiara and of events in our own time—though we were spoken to carefully as to that last, because certain things were not said, even at the school. Towards the end, I was helping with the younger students. I was in no great hurry to leave that sheltered place.
 
Some of us learned to read texts of the Ancients. We learned of Sarantium in the east, the City of Cities, what it had been a thou­sand years ago, what it was now, and how the Asharites, the star-worshippers, threatened it in our time. We heard tales of emperors and charioteers.
 
Those languages and stories of the past, along with access to Avegna’s palace horses, were a good part of why I stayed with my teacher longer than most. Those things, and loving him.
 
I had begun to think I might become a bookseller and book­binder at home in Seressa where the trade was growing, but Guarino said I was suited to serve at a court, to use and share what he’d taught me. He regarded that as part of his task, sending men and sometimes women into the world to have an influence, guide others towards a better way to be, during a time when violent men were ruling and warring through Batiara and beyond.
 
Time enough to make and sell books later, he said—if you decide you want that. But first, take a position where you can give back some of what you have been given here.
 
He’d written a letter to an old friend, which is how Morani di Rosso and Mylasia came into my life. Morani offered me a position at the court there. The Beast’s court.
 
We make our own choices sometimes, sometimes they are made for us.
 
I’ve thought often about what my life might have been had I gone home to Seressa instead and opened or joined in running a bookshop. My cousin Alviso had just started one, alongside one of the smaller canals. But Alviso hadn’t been to the celebrated school in Avegna. He hadn’t had that gift in his life. Opportunities given are responsibilities. They taught us that.
 
So, I went to Mylasia. There were and there are bad men ruling some of the larger and smaller city-states of Batiara, but I don’t think many would dispute that Uberto of Mylasia was among the very worst in those days.
 
It was interesting, I suppose it still is, how vicious men can take power and be accepted, supported by those they govern, if they bring with them a measure of peace. If granaries are full and citi­zens fed. If war doesn’t bring starvation to the walls. Uberto was a man who had sealed an enemy in a cask to see if he might observe the soul escaping when his prisoner died.
 
If men and women are to be killed we want that to happen somewhere else. We are like that, even as we pray. In these years, as hired armies go up and down the hills and river valleys, fighting for a city-state that’s hired them or raiding for themselves, as High Patriarchs war with half the nobility and conspire with the other half, some have seen the conflicts of the great as sweet, seductive chances to expand their own power.
 
Villages and towns are destroyed by angry, hungry soldiers, then sacked again a year later. Famine comes, and disease with it. In times of hard peril, a leader strong enough—and feared enough—to keep his city safe will be permitted a great deal in terms of viciousness, what he does within his palace.
 
There was no secret to it. Uberto of Mylasia was well known for what happened in his chambers at night when the mood was upon him. There were stories of youthful bodies carried out through the smaller palace gates in the dark, dead and marred. And good men still served him—making their peace with our god as best they could.
 
Balancing acts of the soul. Acquiescence happens more than its opposite—a rising up in anger and rejection. There are wolves in the world, inside elegant palaces as well as in the dark woods and the wild.
 
People sent their daughters away from Mylasia and the nearby farms in those years because Uberto was what he was. When young girls sufficiently appealing were not readily found, he had boys brought to him.
 
It was known, as I say. We’d heard the tales in Avegna. Some of the others at school, better born than I, had even joked that having women brought to them (no one joked about the boys, it would have been a risky jest) was one of the appealing aspects of power. They didn’t talk—to be fair—about killing them, just the pleasures of a night, or more than one.
 
Uberto never had anyone brought for more than one night. Most of his guests survived, went home, were even rewarded with coins—given that marriage would be difficult for the girls, after, and the boys were shamed.
 
Not all left his palace alive, however. Not all of them did.

The first way I might have died that windy autumn night was if Morani had not sent me for wine by way of the servants’ stairs when word came that the girl had arrived.
 
When someone was brought to the count at night, Morani took the post outside Uberto’s chambers himself. As if he would not burden another soul with what this was. He had done so for years, apparently.
 
That summer and fall he liked me to stay with him before and after the arrival—but not when the girl or boy came up the stairs. This had happened three times already. That night was the fourth. I do not believe in sacred numbers, I am just telling my story as I remember it.
 
Outside the count’s rooms Morani and I would converse of the wisdom of the past. I’d recite poetry for him, on request, while behind the door Uberto did what he did. We would hear things sometimes. Morani’s face would be sorrowful, and I thought I saw other things in him, too. Mostly he would keep me talking—about philosophers, precepts of restraint, learned indifference to fortune’s wheel. He’d drink the wine I’d brought up, but never too much.
 
He couldn’t protect me from knowing what was happening, only from being part of sending someone in. He did have me stay with him after. Perhaps he found it hard to be there alone. Perhaps he thought I needed to learn some of the dark things about the world, alongside the bright ones. In certain ways, I have since thought, that is the condition of Batiara in our time: art and philosophy, and beasts.
 
Had I been standing beside him when the girl was led up the staircase between torches, had the guards who brought her seen me with him there, I’d have been held equally responsible, without any least doubt, for what ensued.
 
But they did not see me. Only Morani was there to greet her gently, usher her through the door after searching her, carefully, for any weapon she might have. The guards would have done so down­stairs already, but as the palace’s chief steward, Morani was formally responsible outside that door.
 
I was there, however. I did see her.
 
I had come back up with the wine flask already, was standing in the shadows on the back stairs, out of sight of the guards and the girl, but with a view of them. And so I saw who she was.
 
I didn’t believe she’d have remembered me at all, had I been vis­ible, but I knew her on sight. It hadn’t been so long. And I realized, immediately, that something was wrong.
 
I did nothing, I said nothing. I let it happen.
 
Morani di Rosso’s death is on me, you may fairly say. I owed him a great deal, I liked him a great deal. He was a kind man, and had small children, and I recognized the woman and still let things pro­ceed to where they went, which included his execution and dis­memberment in the square not long after.
 
I have often thought that the world the god has made—in our time, at least—is not generally kind to good men. I do not know what that says about me and my own life.
 
We accumulate sins and guilt, just by moving through our days, making choices, doing, not doing. His is a death for which I will be judged. There are others.

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Greenwood

Greenwood

A Novel
edition:Hardcover

WINNER OF THE ARTHUR ELLIS AWARD
LONGLISTED FOR THE 2019 SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE
A CBC BOOKS "BEST CANADIAN FICTION" TITLE OF THE YEAR
NATIONAL BESTSELLER
From the award-winning author of If I Fall, If I Die comes a propulsive, multigenerational family story, in which the unexpected legacies of a remote island off the coast of British Columbia will link the fates of five people over a hundred years. Cloud Atlas meets The Overstory in this ingenious nested-ring epic set against the devastation o …

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2038

THE GREENWOOD

ARBOREAL CATHEDRAL

They come for the trees.

To smell their needles. To caress their bark. To be regenerated in the humbling loom of their shadows. To stand mutely in their leafy churches and pray to their thousand-year-old souls.

From the world’s dust-choked cities they venture to this exclusive arboreal resort—a remote forested island off the Pacific Rim of British Columbia—to be transformed, renewed, and reconnected. To be reminded that the Earth’s once-thundering green heart has not flatlined, that the soul of all living things has not come to dust and that it isn’t too late and that all is not lost. They come here to the Greenwood Arboreal Cathedral to ingest this outrageous lie, and it’s Jake Greenwood’s job as Forest Guide to spoon-feed it to them.

God’s Middle Finger

As first light trickles through the branches, Jake greets this morning’s group of Pilgrims at the trailhead. Today, she’ll lead them out among the sky-high spires of Douglas fir and Western red cedar, between granite outcrops plush with electric green moss, to the old-growth trees, where epiphany awaits. Given the forecasted rain, the dozen Pilgrims are all swaddled in complimentary Leafskin, the shimmery yet breathable new fabric that’s replaced Gore-Tex, nano-engineered to mimic the way leaves bead and repel water. Though the Cathedral has issued Jake her own Leafskin jacket, she seldom wears it for fear of damaging company property; she’s already deep enough in debt without having to worry about a costly replacement. Yet trudging through the drizzling rain that begins just after they set out on the trail, Jake wishes she’d made an exception today.

Despite the liter of ink-black coffee she gulped before work this morning, Jake’s hungover brain is taffy-like, and it throbs in painful synchronization with every step she takes. Though she’s woefully unprepared for public speaking, once they reach the first glades of old-growth she begins her usual introduction.

“Welcome to the beating heart of the Greenwood Arboreal Cathedral,” she says in a loud, theatrical voice. “You’re standing on fifty-seven square kilometers of one of the last remaining old-growth forests on Earth.” Immediately, the Pilgrims brandish their phones and commence to feverishly thumb their screens. Jake never knows whether they’re fact-checking her statements, posting breathless exclamations of wonder, or doing something entirely unrelated to the tour.

“These trees act like huge air filters,” she carries on. “Their needles suck up dust, hydrocarbons, and other toxic particles, and breathe out pure oxygen, rich with phytoncides, the chemicals that have been found to drop our blood pressure and slow our heart rates. Just one of these mature firs can generate the daily oxygen required by four adult humans.” On cue, the Pilgrims begin to video themselves taking deep breaths through their noses.

While Jake is free to mention the Earth’s rampant dust storms in the abstract, it’s Cathedral policy never to speak of their cause: the Great Withering—the wave of fungal blights and insect infestations that rolled over the world’s forests ten years ago, decimating hectare after hectare. The Pilgrims have come to relax and forget about the Withering, and it’s her job (and jobs, she’s aware, are currently in short supply) to ensure they do.

Following her introduction, she coaxes the Pilgrims a few miles west, into a grove of proper old-growth giants, whose trunks bulge wider than mid-sized cars. These are trees of such immensity and grandeur they seem unreal, like film props or monuments. In the presence of such giants, the Pilgrims assume hushed, reverent tones. Official Holtcorp policy is to refer to the forest as the Cathedral and its guests as Pilgrims; Knut, Greenwood Island’s most senior Forest Guide and Jake’s closest friend, claims that this is because the forest was the first (and now, perhaps, the last) church. Back when air travel didn’t command a year’s salary, Jake once visited Rome on a learning exchange and saw only curving limbs and ropy trunks in its columns and porticoes. The leafy dome of the mosque; the upward-soaring spires of the abbey; the ribbed vault of the cathedral—which faith’s sacred structures weren’t designed with trees as inspiration?

Now some of the Pilgrims actually begin to embrace the bark for long durations without irony or embarrassment. In their information packages, the Pilgrims are instructed not to approach the trees too closely, as their weight compacts the soil around the trunks and causes the roots to soak up less water. But Jake holds her tongue and watches the Pilgrims commune, photograph, and huff the chlorophyll-scrubbed air with a reverence that is part performance, part genuine appreciation, though it’s difficult for her to estimate in which proportions. Soon they barrage her with impossibly technical questions: “So how much would a thing like this weigh?” asks a short man with a Midwestern accent. “This reminds me of being a girl,” a fifty-something investment banker declares, caressing a moss-wrapped cedar.

While most of the Pilgrims seem to be tuning in to the Green magnificence, a few appear lost, underwhelmed. Jake watches the short Midwestern man place his palm against a Douglas fir’s bark, gaze up into the canopy, and attempt to feel awed. But she can sense his disappointment. Soon he and the others retreat back into their phones for the relief of distraction. This is to be expected. Even though they’ve paid the Cathedral’s hefty fees and endured the indignities of post-Withering travel, there are always a few who can’t escape the burden of how relaxed they’re supposed to be at this moment, and how dearly it’s costing them to fail.

The Pilgrims are easily mocked, but Jake also pities them. Hasn’t she remained here on Greenwood Island for the same purpose? To glean something rare and sustaining from its trees, to breathe their clean air and feel less hopeless among them? On the Mainland, the Pilgrims live in opulent, climate-controlled towers that protect them from rib retch—the new strain of tuberculosis endemic to the world’s dust-choked slums, named after the cough that snaps ribs like kindling, especially in children—yet they still arrive at the Cathedral seeking something ineffable that’s missing from their lives. They’ve read that article about the health benefits of shinrin-yoku, the Japanese term for “forest bathing.” They’ve listened to that podcast about how just a few hours spent among trees triples your creativity. So they’re here to be healed, however temporarily, and if Jake weren’t mired in student debt and hadn’t embarked on such a pitifully unmarketable career as botany, she’d gladly be one of them.

When Jake notices a patrol of Rangers creeping through some cedars in the distance, she carefully herds the Pilgrims to the picnic area for their prepared lunches, dubbed “Upscale Logging Camp” by the resort’s Michelin-starred chef. Today, it’s artisanal hot dogs with chanterelle ketchup and organic s’mores. While watching them photograph their food, Jake’s eye snags on a particular Pilgrim sitting apart from the group, wearing large sunglasses and an unfashionable cap pulled low. He’s wealthy, some Holtcorp executive or actor no doubt, though Jake would be the last person to know. Because she can’t afford a screen in her staff cabin—her student loan interest payments don’t leave her enough for Internet access—she seldom recognizes the resort’s famous visitors. Still, the true celebrities can be identified by that glittery aura they exude, the sense that they’ve forged a deeper connection to the world than regular people like her.

After lunch Jake escorts the Pilgrims to the tour’s grand finale, the largest stand on Greenwood Island, where she hits them with a poetic bit she wrote and memorized years back: “Many of the Cathedral’s trees are over twelve hundred years old. That’s older than our families, older than most of our names. Older than the current forms of our governments, even older than some of our myths and ideologies.

“Like this one,” she says, patting the foot-thick bark of the island’s tallest Douglas fir, a breathtaking tree that she and Knut have secretly named “God’s Middle Finger.” “This two-hundred-and-thirty-foot titan was already a hundred and fifty feet tall when Shakespeare sat down and dipped his quill to begin writing Hamlet.” She pauses to watch a stoic solemnity grip the group. She’s laying it on thick, but her hangover has cleared and she’s finally found her rhetorical groove. And when she gets going, she wants nothing less than to wow the Pilgrims with the wonders of all creation. “Each year of its life, this tree has expanded its bark and built a new ring of cambium to encase the ring of growth that came the year before it. That’s twelve hundred layers of heartwood, enough to thrust the tree’s needled crown into the clouds.”

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Night of Power

Night of Power

A Novel
edition:Paperback

"A searing and beautiful novel." --Lawrence Hill, author of The Book of Negroes and The Illegal
Featured on CBC's "30 books to read now"
A portrait of a Muslim family--from the heady days in Uganda to hard times in a new country, and the tragic accident that forces them to confront the ghosts of the past

It's 1998. And Mansoor Visram has lived in Canada for 25 years, ever since dictator Idi Amin expelled South Asians from Uganda. As a refugee with a wife and child, Mansoor has tried his best to r …

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Excerpt

Prologue 
Mansoor Visram wakes to a fluting sound, a distant melody like a muezzin’s call. He half-opens his eyes. Dark fields extend to the horizon and merge seamlessly with the night sky. A perfect circle. The prairie hills are massive fro­zen waves. He feels something pecking at his feet. He lifts his head. A small domed shape bobs up and down at his feet, hammering at his icy body. The bird flies up and hovers over his chest. Her body is brilliant blue; her crown golden. Her breast is plump and glazed with rhinestone tassels instead of feathers. Mansoor is amazed that she can fly. He swipes the air and tries to catch her, but she flies up and out of reach. He plants his hands on the snow and struggles to stand, his veins a map of frozen rivers. The bird flies ahead of him and waits, like a siren willing him forward. A few steps and he falls to his knees. His clothes are an armour of ice. In the distance, the city lights are a pale smudge in the sky. He tries to stand again but his body jars, like a ship caught in icy waters. “Get up, Visram!” he orders himself. “Move!” Instead he falls, curls in the soft snow, and drifts off again. The bird lands on his shoulder. She nudges her way up to his ear and begins to sing.

Chapter 1

Mansoor tries to clear the frost from the glass door of his store with a handkerchief. Instead, he creates a pattern of semicircles over the front sign, M.G. Visram & Son Dry Cleaners, Inc., Suiting Canada Since 1987. Outside, a thin, sharp snow is falling, the flurries visible only under the street lamps. It’s past seven in the morning and still pitch dark. The winter sun will not rise for at least another hour. Most of the stores in the shopping plaza, located in an upscale neigh­bourhood in southwest Calgary, are closed: the travel agency, the hairdresser, the dentist’s office, the video store. Only the dry cleaners and the twenty-four-hour convenience store are open, like fluorescent snow globes in the dark.
   Mansoor turns around and inspects his store, just as he does each morning. It’s a small space, only five hundred and fifty-three square feet, but it’s well organized and this gives him a great deal of satisfaction. Gold frames pock the wall above the cash register, like a collage of family photographs. In one, a dollar bill, the first one he earned in Canada, from August 1973. In another, his business licence, and yet another, his pledge to his customers. “I may not have the answer, but I will find it. I may not have the time, but I will make it.” Against another wall, a short bookshelf holds his books with titles like In Search of Excellence and Men’s Strength & Power Training, as well as biographies of men like Henry Ford, Bill Gates, and Neil Armstrong. The front of the store is separated from the back by a glass wall, allowing his customers to see what a well-organized operation he runs. Rows of suits and shirts, swathed in plastic, hang on a conveyor belt like headless men.
   In the backroom, he flips open a calendar to an image of a lone Arctic wolf. A note under today’s date, January 21, has been circled in red and starred. Banker, 3:30 p.m. Mansoor is ready. Fully prepared. He has been for months now. He needs the funds for a dry-cleaning plant, which is central to his new business plan. He has been waiting even longer to share his plan with his son, Ashif. He is the only one who will truly understand its enormity and significance in the marketplace. He is, after all, a brilliant businessman. Just like his father. Tomorrow, Mansoor will finally get his chance. Ashif is com­ing home for lunch when he is here from Toronto to attend important work meetings.
   Above Mansoor’s desk hangs a massive portrait of his father, a copy of the original photo that hung in all of their stores in Uganda, next to the image of Idi Amin, decreed by law, and one of the Imam, expected by the community. A trinity of men. In the photograph, his father stands proudly in front of his flagship store in Kampala. He is tall and rotund, his body weight proof of his wealth. He is in an ivory three-piece suit; a gold pocket watch, purchased in London, hangs from the vest pocket. His hands rest regally on top of a cane with a silver lion’s head. High above him, the sign reads, Visram P. Govindji & Son, Established 1929.

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The Storm

The Storm

A Novel
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Paperback
tagged : sagas, historical

Inspired by the 1970 Bhola Cyclone, in which half a million people perished overnight, The Storm seamlessly interweaves five love stories that, together, chronicle fifty years of Bangladeshi history.

 

Shahryar, a recent Ph.D. graduate and father of nine-year-old Anna, must leave the US when his visa expires. As father and daughter spend their last remaining weeks together, Shahryar tells Anna the history of his country, beginning in a village on the Bay of Bengal, where a poor fisherman and his …

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The Boat People

The Boat People

edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback

By the winner of The Journey Prize, and inspired by a real incident, The Boat People is a gripping and morally complex novel about a group of refugees who survive a perilous ocean voyage to reach Canada – only to face the threat of deportation and accusations of terrorism in their new land.
 
When the rusty cargo ship carrying Mahindan and five hundred fellow refugees reaches the shores of British Columbia, the young father is overcome with relief: he and his six-year-old son can finally put …

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Excerpt

 
Beginning
July 2009
 
Mahindan was flat on his back when the screaming began, one arm right-angled over his eyes. He heard the whistle and thud of falling artillery, the cries of the dying. Mortar shells and rockets, the whole world on fire.
     Then another sound. It cut through the clamour so that for a drawn-out second there was nothing else, only him and his son and the bomb that arched through the sky with a shrill banshee scream, spinning nose aimed straight for them. Mahindan fought to open his eyes. His limbs were pinned down and heavy. He struggled to move, to call out in terror, to clamber and run. The ground rumbled. The shell exploded, shards of hot metal spitting in its wake. The tent was rent in half. Mahindan jolted awake.
     Heart like a sledgehammer, he sat up frantic, blinking into the darkness. He heard someone panting and long seconds later realized it was him. The echoing whine of flying shrapnel faded and he returned to the present, to the coir mat under him, back to the hold of the ship.
     There were snores and snuffles, the small nocturnal noises of five hundred slumbering bodies. Beneath him, the engine’s monotonous whir. He reached out, instinctive, felt his son Sellian curled up beside him, then lay down again. The back of his neck was damp.
     His pulse still raced. He smelled the sourness of his skin, the raw animal stink of the bodies all around. The man on the next mat slept with his mouth open. His snore was a revving motorcycle, so close Mahindan could almost feel the warm exhales.
     He put his hand against Sellian’s back, felt it move up and down. Gradually, his own breathing slowed to the same rhythm. He ran a hand through his son’s hair, fine and silky, the soft strands of a child, then stroked his arm, felt the roughness of his skin, the long, thin scratches, the scabbed-over insect bites. Sellian was slight. Six years old and barely three feet tall. How little space the child occupied, coiled into himself, his thumb in his mouth. How precarious his existence, how miraculous his survival.
     Mahindan’s vision adjusted and shapes emerged out of the gloom. The thin rails on either side of the ladder. Lamps strung up along an electrical cord. Outside the porthole window, it was still pitch-black.
     Careful not to wake Sellian, he stood and gingerly made his way across the width of the ship toward the ladder, stepping between bodies huddled on thin mats and ducking under sleepers swaying overhead, cocooned in rope hammocks. It was hot and close, the atmosphere suffocating.
     Hema’s thick plait trailed out on the dirty floor. Mahindan stooped to pick it up and laid it gently on her back as he passed by. Her two daughters shared the mat beside her; they lay on their sides facing each other, knees and foreheads touching. A few feet on, he passed the man with the amputated leg and averted his gaze.
     During the day the ship was rowdy with voices, but now he heard only the slap of the electrical cord against the wall, everyone breathing in and out, recycling the same stale, diesel-scented air.
     A boy cried out in his sleep, caught in a nightmare, and when Mahindan turned toward the sound, he saw Kumuran’s wife comfort her son. With both hands grasping the banisters, Mahindan hoisted himself up the ladder. Emerging onto the deck, inhaling the fresh scent of salt and sea, he felt immediately lighter. From overhead, the mast creaked and he gazed up to see the stars, the half-appam moon glowing alive in the sky. At the thought of appam – doughy, hot off the fire – his stomach gave a plaintive, hollow grumble.
     It was dark, but he knew his way around the ship. A dozen plastic buckets were lined up along the stern. He squatted in front of one and formed his hands into a bowl. The water was tepid, murky with twigs and bits of seaweed. He splashed water on his face and the back of his neck, feeling the grit scratch his skin.
     The boat – a sixty-metre freighter, past its prime and jerry-rigged for five hundred passengers – was cruising through calm waters, groaning under the weight of too much human cargo. Mahindan held on to the railing, rubbing a thumb against the blistered rust.
     A few others were out, shadowy figures keeping silent vigil on both levels of the deck. They had been at sea for weeks or months, sunrises blurring into sunsets. Days spent on deck, tarps draped overhead to block out the sun, and the floor burning beneath them. Stormy nights when the ship would lurch and reel, Sellian cradled in Mahindan’s lap, their stomachs tumbling with the pitch and yaw of the angry ocean.
     But the captain had said they were close and for days they had been expecting land, a man posted at all times in the crow’s nest.
     Mahindan turned his back to the railing and slid down to sit on the deck. Exhaustion whenever he thought of the future; terror when he remembered the past. He yawned and pressed a cheek to raised knees, then tucked his arms in for warmth. At least here on the boat they were safe from attack. Ruksala, Prem, Chithra’s mother and father. The roll call of the dead lulled him to sleep.
——
He awoke to commotion and gull shrieks. A boy ran down the length of the ship calling for his father. Appa! Appa! There were more people on the deck now, all of them speaking in loud, excited voices.
     The man they called Ranga stood at the railing beside him, staring out. Mahindan was dismayed to see him.
     Land is close, Ranga said.
     Mahindan scanned the straight line of the ocean, trying not to blink. Nearby, a young man stood on the rail and levered his body half out of the boat. An older woman called out: Take care!
     After all this time, finally we have arrived, Ranga said. He grinned at Mahindan and added: Because of you only, I am here.
     Nothing to do with me, Mahindan said. We all took our own chance.
     Mahindan kept his gaze fixed on the horizon. At first he saw the head of a pin, far in the distance, but as he kept watching, the vision emerged. Purple-brown land and blue mountains like ghosts rising in the background. The newspaperman came to join them as the slope of a forest appeared. Mahindan had spoken to him a few times but could not recall his name. Someone said he had been working for a paper in Colombo before he fled.
     We will be intercepted, the newspaperman said. Americans or Canadians, who will catch us first?
     Catch us? Ranga repeated, his voice rising to a squeak.
     But now there were people streaming onto the deck, squeezing in for a view at the railing, and the newspaperman was jostled away. Mahindan edged aside too, relieved to put distance between himself and Ranga.
     There were voices and bodies everywhere. Women plaited their hair over one shoulder. Men pulled their arms through their T-shirts. Most were barefoot. People pressed up around him. The boat creaked and Mahindan felt it list, as everyone crowded in. They stood shoulder to shoulder, people on both levels of the deck, hushing one another, children holding their breath. The trees, the mountains, the strip of beach they could now make out up ahead, it all seemed impossibly big, unreal after days and nights of nothing but sea and sky and the rumbling of the ship. Nightmares of rusted steel finally giving way, belching them all into the ocean.
     Sellian appeared, squeezing himself between legs, one fist against his eyes. Appa, you left me!
     How to leave? Mahindan said. Did you think I jumped in the ocean? He picked his son up in the crook of one arm and pointed. Look! We’re here.
     The clouds burned orange. Mahindan squinted. People shouted and pointed. Look!
     There was a tugboat in the water and a larger ship, its long nose turned up, speeding toward them, sleek and fast, with a tall white flagpole. The wind unfurled the flag, red and white, majestic in the flaming sky. They saw the leaf and a great resounding cheer shook the boat.
     The captain cut the engine and they floated placid. Overhead, there was a chopping sound. Mahindan saw a helicopter, its blades slicing the sky, a red leaf painted on its belly. There were three boats now, all of them circling the ship, a welcome party. On the deck, people waved with both hands. The red-and-white flag snapped definitive.
     Mahindan gripped his son. Sellian shivered in his arms, from fear, from exhilaration, he couldn’t tell. Soon Mahindan was shaking too, armpits dampening. His teeth clattered.
     Their new life. It was just beginning.

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