Looking for a good book or two? Here are ten of my favourite Canadian books paired with ten favourites by writers from away. For your long weekend reading pleasure.
- A Disappearance in Damascus, the true story of reporter Deborah Campbell’s time in Syria. Excellent background on the reasons behind the Syrian disaster. The search for her missing fixer will keep you on the edge of your seat. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid follows a young married couple who have to leave a a fictional city that can only be Damascus. Their migration takes them to Mykonos, London and San Francisco.
- Lands of Lost Borders is Kate Harris’ own story about cycling the various arteries of the silk road. The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan is a history of the world from a Persian perspective. A refreshing alternative to the Greco-Roman version most of us grew up with. Even the Renaissance was dependent on our relationship with the east.
- Bury the Bones by Louise Penny has Inspector Gamache solving the mystery of Champlain’s final resting place in Quebec city. In Champlain’s Dream David Hackett Fischer draws a straight line between many of the values we take for granted in Canada and this remarkable French explorer.
- The Trickster by Eden Robinson and The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander revolve around father-son testiness, mixed with intrigue, strong mothers and spirits. Trickster is set in Northwestern BC. Special Cases in Buenos Aires during the “disappearances.”
- Mad Enchantment is Ross King’s lively background account of Claude Monet’s famous water lilies. Were some of them black? Check out Michel Bussi’s mystery Black Water Lillies set in Monet’s home village of Givery.
- Fighting for Space by Travis Lupick is the story of the plucky people including the Vancouver Association of Drug Users who responded quickly to Vancouver’s opioid crisis months before the formal system got its act together. Pair it with the Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St. Aubyn. There are 5 of them. It’s an intimate, gripping story of one person’s descent into drug use and addiction. It has just been made into a BBC series starring Benedict Cumberbatch.
- Love and Power a reflection by one of the world’s most effective peacemaker Adam Kahane on the importance of balanced tension between love and power. Goes well with The Power by Naomi Alderman. Same theme, same tension but off balance. Written as science fiction but more like reality.
The Heart Does Break: Canadian Writers on Grief and Mourning by George Bowering and Jean Baird and The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Deeply personal reflections on a universal experience.
The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston tells the story of larger than life Joey Smallwood leading Newfoundland into Canada and becoming its first premier. Barkskins by Anne Proulx makes life in New France in the late 17th century come alive in unforgettable detail. Two examples of historical fiction at its best.
- Rudy Wiebe’s Big Bear and The Temptations of Big Bear tell the story of an extraordinary Indigenous leader and his lonely struggle to resist an unfair treaty pressed on his people by the Canadian government. Pair this with Bury the Chains by Adam Hochschild. It’s the story of the extraordinary English abolitionists, particularly Thomas Clarkson, who successfully campaigned to end the British slave trade in the early 19th century. The burden of leadership wore Big Bear and Clarkson out. Their methods and resolve still shine brightly.
A story is a shifting creature, an eternal mirror that catches our lives at unexpected angles. ~ Madeleine Thien