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2020 Amazon Canada First Novel Award
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2020 Amazon Canada First Novel Award

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Amazon Canada and The Walrus announced the shortlists for the 44th annual First Novel Award (amazon.ca/firstnovelaward), which honours the achievements of Canadian authors and their debut novels, as well as young writers and their short stories. The winner of the grand prize will receive $60,000, with $6,000 going to each of the shortlisted authors. The winner of the Youth Short Story category will be awarded $5,000 and a virtual mentorship workshop with The Walrus editors. Learn more at https://thewalrus.ca/fna/
Western Alienation Merit Badge, The

Western Alienation Merit Badge, The

edition:Paperback

Set in Calgary in 1982, during the recession that arrived on the heels of Canada's National Energy Program, The Western Alienation Merit Badge follows the Murray family as they struggle with grief and find themselves on the brink of financial ruin. After the death of her stepmother, Frances "Frankie" Murray returns to Calgary to help her father, Jimmy, and her sister, Bernadette, pay the mortgage on the family home. When Robyn, a long-lost friend, becomes their house guest old tensions are reign …

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Going Dutch

Going Dutch

A Novel
edition:Paperback
also available: Audiobook Hardcover eBook

ONE OF ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY’S 10 BEST DEBUT NOVELS OF THE YEAR
“A charming, well-observed debut,” (NPR) featuring a gay male graduate student who falls for his brilliant female classmate, “you’ll tear through this tale of a thoroughly modern love triangle” (Entertainment Weekly).

Exhausted by dead-end forays in the gay dating scene, surrounded constantly by friends but deeply lonely in New York City, and drifting into academic abyss, twenty-something graduate student Richard has plen …

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Mooncalves

Mooncalves

edition:Paperback
tagged : literary

Mooncalves follows the bloody implosion of a cult in Sainte-Pétronille, Quebec, understood through the urgent voices of the living and a ring of ghostly, shape-shifting watchers. Sensing the impending dissolution of society by technological progress, the charismatic, utterly unhinged Joseph Reiser forms "Walden", a collective of Luddite devotees--most still in their teens. A vicious act of sexual violence shatters the collective, and devotee Erica Strickland barely escapes with her life. Throug …

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Aria

Aria

edition:Paperback

National Bestseller
This extraordinary, gripping debut is a rags-to-riches-to-revolution tale about an orphan girl's coming of age in Iran.
"Aria is a feminist odyssey, about a girl in a time of intolerance as the revolution in Iran is breaking out . . . a poised and dramatic historical novel with contemporary relevance." --John Irving
"Here comes a sweeping saga about the Iranian revolution as it explodes--told from the ground level and the centre of chaos. A Doctor Zhivago of Iran." --Margaret …

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Excerpt

Trucks rumbled along the gravel road in the dead of the night, vibrating like a line of ants, thick tarpaulins shaking as engines whirred and wheels lifted dust, fogging the cold February air. Behrouz Bakhtiar closed his eyes. A film of dirt coated the skin covering the thin bones of his face. He watched by moonlight as four eight-wheelers filled with young men from the provinces rolled away.

He would not be driving the young men home as usual. This was the first night of his four days off. He would instead place a cigarette in his mouth, light it with the last match he had in his pocket, and walk home down the red mountain, where earth min­gled with snow, then stride through the city from north to south. This was his Tehran, and he was its secret guardian, the angel perched on the mountaintop counting buildings, trees, lights, and people who walked about like insects, unaware of being watched.

Strange how people are, Behrouz thought, the cigarette between his thin lips. And he began his walk down and through the city just as he had planned, just as he had been anticipating all day. He slid down the slopes effortlessly, taking a drag from his cigarette every once in a while. He whistled when the mood struck him. He had walked this path many times, since he had first learned to drive up the mountain. How old had he been, seventeen? He was thirty-three now, so that made it sixteen years. With time off mul­tiplied by sixteen, that made about four thousand times he had walked up and down the slopes of Darakeh.

Sometimes, of course, the generals gave him permission to drive down and save himself the three-hour walk. And when Behrouz first got married, the general in command had not only encouraged him to drive, he’d let him off early to encourage hus­bandly duties—but not without reminding Behrouz how old his new wife was. “Think that wife of yours’ll be able to handle fresh little you?” the general had said.

Behrouz had married Zahra when he was nineteen, upon his father’s urging. “The Prophet was a boy, his wife was forty when he took her,” his father had said. But Zahra was no prophet’s wife. She was thirty-six, had never married, and had a son, Ahmad, who was the same age as Behrouz. Ahmad hadn’t come to the wedding. That night, when Behrouz asked his new wife where her son was, Zahra replied, “Somewhere in the prison halls.” Then she had forced herself on him.

When he’d first started driving trucks in the army, Behrouz had been more talkative. The soldiers liked him. They would reveal themselves, telling him about their lives on the farms or in small towns. If they were Tehrani boys, they talked about their schools and their girlfriends. The only one who had never opened up was a member of the royal family—a cousin of the king. But Behrouz supposed that was different. He had been ordered not to look the boy in the eyes.

Behrouz had begun learning to drive at sixteen because he wasn’t strong enough to fight, or smart enough to read. His father had taught him the basics. He could have sold bread on the streets like his father, or worked the oil mines like his uncles. But the one time he had suggested this, his father slapped him so hard, Behrouz saw stars for days. And that was the end of that.

Now, as he walked, the red dirt beneath his boots remained frozen. Three nights ago there had been a storm. But now the snow had settled and was packed along the path. The walk wasn’t as bad as he’d expected. He swiftly made it down Darakeh, to the northern tip of Pahlavi Street. Here there were cobblestone roads and the houses were old. He’d heard that the king’s father once lived here.

He walked past the old car parked along the street, searching his pocket in vain for another smoke. A man was walking toward him.

“Could I trouble you for a cigarette?” Behrouz asked. He had learned how to speak politely, like the people did up here. The man pulled out a single smoke from his pack. Behrouz took it and placed it between his lips. The man held out a lighter, its flame flickering in the slight breeze.

“Thank you,” Behrouz said, and began to walk away.

“No money?” the man said.

Behrouz waited.

“No money?” the man asked again.

“You want money for the light?” Behrouz said.

“What do you think?”

Behrouz searched both pockets awkwardly.

“Only kidding. Stupid man.” The man laughed as he walked away.

Behrouz stepped up his pace and cut through alleyways. He knew he was somewhere in Youssef-Abad district, midway through the city. He normally walked the main street, but tonight he felt like a change. Streams of sewer water ran in the gutters, but blos­soming mulberry trees flanked the roads. This district was one of his favourites. He liked the corner shops and the cinema and cafés, which were old but patronized by rich people.

He was staring at the letters on the front of the cinema when he heard the cry—like a cat in pain. He walked closer to where he thought the sound was coming from, but water gurgling in the gutter muffled its location. He crossed into another alley—nothing there. He continued to move from alley to alley, jumping over gut­ters. The more he found nothing, the more urgently he searched. His only help was the moon; there were no lights in the nearby homes; it seemed the rest of the world was asleep.

He finally reached the mulberry tree, which was flanked by rows of garbage. Staring up at him was a pack of wild dogs. He imagined them tearing the tiny creature who had made the sound limb from limb.

He grabbed a stick from the ground and charged. But none of the dogs moved. How long had they been there? As he neared, the dogs sat and watched quietly. At last, Behrouz bent down and lifted the baby into his arms. The dogs sniffed his feet, turned and left.

He sped toward the edge of town, past abandoned buildings in which the poor secretly lived, past stacks of cardboard where the even poorer slept. He wondered how long the child had gone without food. The stores were still closed, but his wife must have bought some milk, he thought frantically.

The baby didn’t look more than three days old. His head hurt. The stars whirled in the sky. At last, not far in the distance, he saw the pale outline of his house.

For three hours, Behrouz sat in his living room, trying to feed the child. He had woken a sleeping neighbour, who had found some milk, though the baby threw up most of it. Now, once again, he dipped the cap of his fountain pen into the bowl of milk beside him on the floor. He held the tiny vessel to the baby’s lips, careful not to tilt it too far. The milk flowed onto her lips, but only a few drops got in. He wiped her face clean with the back of his pinky finger. In a minute, he would try again.

Zahra was sleeping. Her son, Ahmad, out of jail only two days, had left his dirty boots on the kitchen table. He’d landed in prison for cutting someone’s fingers off, and Behrouz knew he would already be back to stealing.

By morning, Behrouz was struggling to keep his eyes open. From the north-facing window, he watched the rising sun. The rays crept toward him, along the floor. In the bedroom, his wife still slept soundly. He got up, walked into her room, and stood at her bedside, the baby to his chest. Zahra lay tightly wrapped in her blan­kets. She was fair-skinned, with straight, fine hair that turned a shade of light brown in summer. She liked to curl it these days, using little plastic rolls.

He returned to the living room and laid the baby gently on the floor. Then he walked quietly back to the bedroom.

“We have to talk,” Behrouz whispered.

Zahra covered her eyes to block the sun. “You’re home. Figured you’d be killing yourself with opium all night.”

“Come with me.” He pulled her out of bed.

In the living room, the baby’s arms and legs shook and she struggled like an overturned insect.
“I think she’s hungry,” Behrouz said. “I gave her some milk, but she hardly drank. She needs to suck it, I think.”

Zahra backed away from the infant. “Where did you find it? Is this some mess of yours we have to fix?” Her voice was sharp.

Behrouz picked up the baby. “Nothing like that,” he said. “Last night in the alley, there was waste all around her. I found her in Youssef-Abad.”

“That’s the North-City,” Zahra said. “What were you doing with those people? Listen to me: You put that baby where you found it so the trash who are her people can take it back.”

“There were dogs around her. I don’t know what they wanted, but—”

“Get it out of my house. And I know you do your own nasty business. You never touch me—as if I were made of fire and would burn you. But men are men. You must be touching somebody.” Zahra grabbed the baby’s face. “Did you take a look at its eyes? They’re blue. I swear on Imam Hossein you’ve brought a blue-eyed devil into my house.”

“Her eyes are green,” Behrouz said.

“No. There’s blue in them. You’ve brought evil into this house, Mr. Bakhtiar.”

Behrouz listened silently as Zahra walked away and into the bed­room, still shouting at him. Fourteen years with her and the rage had only worsened. He looked at the baby. Zahra was right. There was blue in those eyes. He couldn’t think how to comfort her. It had been so easy when he’d been a little boy and would play pretend. He would rock his baby, feed his baby, just like the neighbourhood girls did. And he’d been careful to never let his father know. But now, here was a real baby. The only thing he could think to do was speak to it, human to human. Not human to doll or master to slave. Yes, he would do what humans had always done, from the first crack of life.

“Want me to tell you a story?” he whispered to the little girl. Her wrinkled eyelids were shut tight, as if she would never want to face the world. “Want me to tell you the story of the Tooba Tree?”
Behrouz said again. And so he began, hoping to drown out Zahra’s shouts. “Past the clouds and the sky, way up in heaven, there is a tree, the Tooba Tree, from whose roots spring milk, and honey, and wine.”

“I curse the day I married a boy,” Zahra yelled from the other room.
Behrouz kept on: “Milk to nourish you, honey to sweeten you, wine to take you to the land of dreams.”

Zahra yelled louder. “Think you were my saviour, Mr. Bakhtiar? You only made hell last longer.”
Behrouz lifted the baby closer to his lips and whispered in her ear. “The Tooba Tree belongs to the orphans of heaven, for there is nothing that matters more, my little one.”

He stopped and listened for Zahra again, but she had finished her rant. The baby had opened her eyes but was falling back asleep. “You sang to me from that alley,” he whispered to her, “and I heard your song. Yet if I hadn’t, and if you had not been saved, the Tooba Tree would have been waiting for you and you would have been all right just the same.” Behrouz paused. He wondered if saving the little girl had been the right thing to do after all. But, since he had saved her and forced her into this thing called life, there was one more thing he needed to do.

“I used to love music, you know, when I was a little boy,” he said, putting his pinky finger in the baby’s mouth so she could suckle. “I used to sing, in secret, so my father wouldn’t know. I used to sing arias. Know what they are? Little tales, cries in the night. If you sing an aria, the world will know all about you. It will know your dreams and secrets. Your pains and your loves.”

Behrouz heard Zahra throw a pillow against the bedroom wall, and paused. After a few moments, hearing nothing more, he kept on. “I’ll name you Aria, after all the world’s pains and all the world’s loves,” he said. “It will be as if you had never been aban­doned. And when you open your mouth to speak, all the world will know you.”

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Dishwasher, The

Dishwasher, The

edition:Paperback

WINNER OF THE AMAZON CANADA FIRST NOVEL AWARD NOMINATED FOR CANADA READS A NEW YORK TIMES NEW & NOTEWORTHY BOOK A NOW MAGAZINE BEST BOOK TO READ FOR SUMMER 2019 As heard on CBC's The Sunday Edition with Michael Enright

 

It’s October in Montreal, 2002, and winter is coming on fast. Past due on his first freelance gig and ensnared in lies to his family and friends, a graphic design student with a gambling addiction goes after the first job that promises a paycheck: dishwasher at …

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Excerpt

AN EXCERPT FROM THE DISHWASHER

THE SNOWPLOW’S ROTATOR BEACONS light up the buildings’ white-coated façades as it slogs up Hochelaga pushing snow. We finally manage to pass it and turn onto a small, dimly lit street. Low-hanging cottony clouds fill the dark sky. The comfortable warmth of the car interior is almost enough to put me to sleep. You can just hear the dispatcher’s voice on the CB. Mohammed turns down his music the moment I get into his black Sonata. He keeps his car immaculately clean. No crumpled up newspaper floor mats, no old coffee cups or leftover food in the compartment under the radio. Just a small Koran with an illuminated cover and a receipt book. The leather seats are good as new. A fresh, minty aroma suffuses the car.

We pull onto Rue Ontario. Tall snowbanks line either side of the street.

Mohammed ignores a call on his cell. He never answers when he’s with a customer. In the extra rear-view mirrors he has mounted on each side of the windshield, I can see his serene face and wrinkled, baggy eyes under bushy eyebrows. We keep driving to Sicard, then turn right. I don’t have to give him directions. Mohammed knows the route by heart, has for some time. Mohammed, Car 287, is senior driver at the cab stand on the corner of Beaubien and des Érables. Mohammed is the cabbie who nightly takes home half the bar and restaurant workers who ply their trade in Rosemont. Mohammed is a fifty-four-year-old Algerian. He’s owed favours by every taxi driver working the area between Saint-Laurent and l’Assomption from west to east, Jean-Talon and Sherbrooke north to south. Even the old guard, the holdouts still driving for Taxi Coop, respect him to a man. Every second time I catch a taxi at the stand, I don’t have to say where I’m going; every third time I don’t even give my address. It doesn’t matter who’s driving. They know me because I’m a customer of #287. Mohammed is as generous as they come. The kind of guy who’d pull over to help two people moving, stuck under a fridge on their outdoor staircase.

I remember one time two or three years ago. We were driving down D’Iberville, getting close to my house, must have been 1:30 in the morning. The moment we turned onto Hochelaga I had a nagging doubt. This was back when I was closing by myself. At the end of a busy night I’d be so spent I’d sometimes forget some of the closing jobs, like making sure the heat lamps were turned off, or that the cooks hadn’t left the convection oven on. That night I just couldn’t remember if I’d locked the back door of the restaurant after taking out the dining room garbage. Mohammed stopped in front of my place. He looked at me in one of his mirrors. I still wasn’t certain, but I convinced myself I must have done it automatically. I got out of the cab. I stood there next to the car, hesitating, with my hand on the open door. Mohammed turned around and said:

“Get back in, my friend. We’re going back.”

He didn’t turn the meter back on. It turned out I hadn’t locked the back door, and the meat order hadn’t been put away in the cooler. When we got back to Aird and La Fontaine, where we’d started, I held out sixty dollars.

“No no, my friend. The usual fare.”

He wouldn’t take more than twenty.

“It was my pleasure. You’ll sleep better tonight.”

Sometimes, deep in the night, you come across people like Mohammed. After years of night shifts, years of going to bed at four in the morning, I’ve gotten to know all kinds of characters, from young kids so jacked up on coke they chatter uncontrollably to hard cases content to ride their downward spiral all the way to rock bottom. The night sadly doesn’t belong to the Mohammeds of this world. But they’re out there, making it a more hospitable place for its denizens.

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When We Were Vikings

When We Were Vikings

edition:Paperback

Indie Next Pick for February 2020
Book of the Month January 2020
LibraryReads January 2020 Pick
Bookreporter New Release Spotlight
New York Post “Best Books of the Week”
Goodreads “January’s Most Anticipated New Books”
The Saturday Evening Post “10 Books for the New Year”
PopSugar “Best Books in January”
Book Riot Best Winter New Releases
“Zelda is a marvel, a living, breathing three-dimensional character with a voice so distinctive she leaps off the page.” —The New York …

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