Friday, 3 July 2020

14th Canadian Reading Challenge: Book Club Overview

I offered to do a book discussion each month and there were some signs of interest. To make it easier to participate, I am choosing the books for the year now to give people time to seek them out. I have decided specifically not to choose brand new books, so people may be able to find them in libraries or used book stores if cost is an issue.
Near the end of the month, I will do a Zoom meeting for anyone interested to talk about the book. For those with poor internet connections, there will also be a post where you can make comments.

July 2020: Marie Chapdelaine by Louis Heman
   This is one of Canada's earliest novels and it is available free online if you can't find a copy.
August 2020: The Afterlife of George Cartwright by John Steffler
   The novel takes a closer look at an historical figure from 18th-century Labrador
September 2020: Starlight by Richard Wagamese
   The last book from one of our cherished Indigenous writers, with themes of mercy and compassion
October 2020: Obasan by Joy Kogawa
   A story of the Japanese Canadians, their evacuation, relocation and treatment during WWII
November 2020: The Wars by Timothy Findley
  One of the best novels written about the First World War, in honor of Remembrance Day
December 2020: Hockey Dreams by David Adams Richards
    Part essays, part memoir, a look at what hockey means to Canadians
January 2021: The Break by Katherena Vermette
    Award-winning family saga with Métis characters
February 2021The Tin Flute by Gabrielle Roy
  Another classic French Canadian novel with themes of poverty
March 2021: As For Me and My House by Sinclair Ross
   A classic story of life in the Depression era told in the form of a journal
April 2021: Sanaaq: An Inuit Novel by Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk
   The first Inuit novel, written by an Inuit woman over two decades
May 2021: The House of All Sorts by Emily Carr
   Before getting recognition for her art, Carr ran a small apartment building and these stories tell of
   those experiences
June 2021:  A Map to the Door of No Return by Dionne Brand
   A book that explores the relevance and nature of identity and belonging in a diverse world

My Discovery of America

Finished June 30
My Discovery of America by Farley Mowat

This short book is the story of a few days in the spring of 1985 when Mowat attempted to fly to the United States for a planned book tour and speaking engagement at a private college. At the airport, he cleared customs and immigration and was waiting at his gate when an immigration agent came to him and asked him to return to the immigration area. After an interview, he was denied entry with no explanation.
He didn't just return home. He contacted his publishers, and went to their office in Toronto, and he worked with them to find out what was happening and why. It turned out that the McCarran Act, enacted in the McCarthy era to keep certain types of visitors to the United States out with no transparency was still on the books, and that under Reagan, its use have been revived. Despite being told various stories of past actions dating back to 1968, Mowat had visited the U.S. many times, including other book tours. Perhaps it was the topic of his most recent book, Sea of Slaughter, that drew new attention, but the government wasn't going into details.
There are a lot of echoes here of more recent U.S. immigration barriers and attitudes, including one immigration staffer who was on record as saying "We also exclude rapists, drug pushers and terrorists -- not just Canadians." When I read that I was reminded of Trumps remarks about Mexican immigrants.
Mowat received extensive media coverage, in Canada, the United States and internationally. He also received many letters from individual Americans, and it is this discovery that the title refers to. With the exception of three letters, every letter he received was apologetic, embarassed, or otherwise unhappy with their government's actions. It is this that he discovered, that Americans are not necessarily the government that represents them.
One can only hope that that is still true.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

July Reviews for 14th Annual Canadian Book Challenge

This is where you post your reviews for books that you've read in July 2020
Leave a comment after posting

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Without a Guide

Finished June 29
Without a Guide: Contemporary Women's Travel Adventures edited by Katherine Govier

This collection of experiences by women writers, many of them Canadian, ranges widely and shows interesting, not always pleasant experiences by women traveling in the recent decades. Despite the title, there are sometimes guides and sometimes the women are part of a group. But the experiences show the way that the women came to travel in these instances, their decisions and how it affected the experiences that they had.
There are seventeen essays here.
* Hanan al-Shaykh in Cairo with a documentary-making friend
* Margaret Atwood in the Galapagos Islands with her husband, parents, and child as part of a group
* Clare Boylan in London with her mother
* Wendy Law-Yone using marriage to escape Burma and taking her brother with her
* Ann Beattie tagging along with Japanese tourists in San Francisco along with a photographer friend
* Ysenda Maxtone Graham on a misguided trek into the Grand Canyon with a friend
* Katherine Govier in Morocco with her husband
* Bapsi Sidhwa in the remote Black Mountains of Pakistan with her husband and a military guide
* Susan Musgrave in Panama and Colombia with an ex-con drug smuggler
* Robin Davidson across the Outback in Australia with her dog and four camels
* Irene Guilford in the Czech Republic retracing the steps of her Lithuanian refugee mother when she escaped Russian forces following the Second World War
* Michelene Adams revisiting the Jamaica of her birth and finding what she'd thought she'd lost
* Kirsti Simonsuuri visiting northern Finland in the height of winter
* Janice Kulyk Keefer describing her robbery and its aftermath in Spain
* Alice Walker in China with a group of other writers
* E. Annie Proulx on a nightmare train trip from Montreal to Chicago and back
* Carol Shields on a singular encounter on her last day in Japan
As you can see, some wonderful writers here and a wide range of experiences. Well worth the read.

Divide Me by Zero

Finished June 29
Divide Me by Zero by Lara Vapnyar

An interesting novel. The narrator and main character, Katya Geller grew up in Russia and emigrated to the United States as a young adult with her mother and new husband. Katya's father was in the Russian navy and was killed at sea when she was very young. Her mother was very affected by this loss, and only gradually came back to herself and Katya mentally. Her mother was a mathematician and a mathematics teacher, and she wrote quite a few textbooks on the subject in Russia.
As the book opens, Katya is in the middle of a divorce, and has just realized that her mother is dying. Over the course of the book, we discover how she came to this place in her life.
When she was a schoolgirl, she fell in love with one of her friend's teachers, referred to throughout as B. He had a special relationship with her and yet emigrated to the United States with his wife and child. Katya eventually moved on and fell in love with a young man, Len. Len is a computer scientist, and although had not planned to leave Russia before marrying Katya, is easily convinced when she and her mother get accepted to immigrate.
Katya finds life in the States different than she expected, and struggles to find a job and a way forward. She and Len have two children, and her mother lives with them as well.
The chapters of the novel are interspersed with mathematical phrases and statements written by Katya's mother as part of a new textbook she is working on. Katya is both narrator and a writer herself, seemingly of the novel we are reading. Katya has strong emotions and often acts before thinking, especially in her personal life.
This is a very different novel, with elements of Russian novelistic style as well as the elements of math that repeatedly appear throughout.

The Deepest Night

Finished June 27
The Deepest Night by Shana Abe

This is the second book in the series that started with The Sweetest Dark. It is 1915 and Lora Jones is a scholarship student at Iverson, a prestigious boarding school for upper class young ladies housed in an old castle on England's southern coast. Lora grew up in an orphanage, and spent some time in a mental institution as well due to the music that she hears due to her special abilities. In the first book in the series, Lora discovered that she wasn't an ordinary human girl, but one that could change into a dragon. Here, she is recovering from injuries she received then, and has a new mission, to rescue Aubrey the eldest son of her benefactor, who is in a POW prison in Austria.
To help her, she has only the younger son of her benefactor, Armand, a young man who has fallen in love with her although her love is elsewhere. Armand does what he can to protect Lora, whether at the school, or outside of it. Even sometimes from his own father. And Lora does what she can to protect Armand, even as he begins to go through the changes that will bring him into his own dragon transformation.
I enjoyed the first book and always meant to follow up on the series, and am glad that I did. A lot of the plot here has to do with social classes, but there is also World War One which figures strongly in the book. Lora has her baggage from the past, and she has challenges in the present with not only the mission that the stars have for her now, but also with some of the girls that she goes to school with and with the social situation that she finds herself in. I really liked her as a character, and how she developed over the course of the book.
Looking forward to reading the third one

Free Day

Finished June 23
Free Day by Inès Cagnati, translated by Liesl Schillinger

This is a heartbreaking story. The narrator Galla is a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl who has been able to attend high school in a nearby town due to a scholarship her teacher put her down for. Her father does not support this endeavour, but her mother does to an extent. She misses Galla's help with the other children. She boards at school and returns home to visit on a regular basis. The visit on this day though is an unplanned one, and it doesn't go well.
Galla's family is poor, making a subsistence living. Her family is not accepted welcomingly in the community, and it's hard to tell whether her father's attitude is due to this or the community's behaviour is a result of his attitude. Galla is the oldest of many children, and she has often been left to look after them by her parents. Her father is prone to rages which affect everyone from his family to community members.
On this trip Galla is hoping to surprise her mother, and her story is told through memories that arise as she travels the twenty miles by bicycle to her family home in the marshes. She also talks to herself about what she sees now, about her feelings about things from her family to her situation at school where she can't even afford to purchase appropriate supplies. She deeply cares for her mother and her siblings, particularly her sisters, and this becomes clear by her actions and the memories she brings forward.
Galla's father is not welcoming to her and she is unable to see other family members on her visit, and it only becomes clear what is happening towards the end of the book.
One leaves this book with a desperate hope that Galla will be able to escape this life for a better future and bring her siblings along with her.