It's 2034 and Jake Greenwood is a storyteller and a liar, an overqualified tour guide babysitting ultra-rich vacationers in one of the world's last remaining forests. It's 2008 and Liam Greenwood is a carpenter, fallen from a ladder and sprawled on his broken back, calling out from the concrete floor of an empty mansion. It's 1974 and Willow Greenwood is out of jail, free after being locked up for one of her endless series of environmental protests: attempts at atonement for the sins of her father's once vast and violent timber empire. It's 1934 and Everett Greenwood is alone, as usual, in his maple syrup camp squat when he hears the cries of an abandoned infant and gets tangled up in the web of a crime that will cling to his family for decades.
And throughout, there are trees: thrumming a steady, silent pulse beneath Christie's effortless sentences and working as a guiding metaphor for withering, weathering, and survival. A shining, intricate clockwork of a novel, Greenwood is a rain-soaked and sun-dappled story of the bonds and breaking points of money and love, wood and blood—and the hopeful, impossible task of growing toward the light.
Winner of the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel.
This Lecture is part of the 2021-22 Literary Lecture Series, a popular series has been described as a cross between a traditional book club and a university course without exams. Registration for this event is restricted to registration for the Tuesday Subscription Series (available here), or the full subscriptions series (available here). Please note that late purchasers of the series will be provided all videos released before the date of purchase.
“Myths are the darkest and brightest incarnations of who we are . . .”
China, 1937. When Japanese bombs begin falling on the city of Nanking, nineteen-year-old Hu Lian and her classmates at Minghua University are ordered to flee. Lian and a convoy of students, faculty and staff must walk 1,000 miles to the safety of China’s western provinces, a journey marred by the constant threat of aerial attack. And it is not just the refugees who are at risk; Lian and her classmates have been entrusted with a priceless treasure: a 500-year-old collection of myths and folklore known as the Library of Legends.
The students’ common duty to safeguard the Library of Legends creates unexpected bonds. Lian becomes friends and forms a cautious romance with the handsome and wealthy Liu Shaoming. But after one classmate is arrested and another one is murdered, Lian realizes she must escape before a family secret puts her in danger too. Accompanied by Shao and his enigmatic maidservant, Sparrow, Lian makes her way to Shanghai in the hopes of reuniting with her mother.
During the journey, Lian learns of the connection between her two companions and a tale from the Library of Legends, The Willow Star and the Prince. This revelation comes with profound consequences, for as the ancient books travel across China, they awaken immortals and guardian spirits who embark on an exodus of their own, one that will change the country’s fate forever.
This Lecture is part of the 2021-22 Literary Lecture Series, a popular series has been described as a cross between a traditional book club and a university course without exams. Registration for this event is restricted to registration for the Thursday Subscription Series (available here), or the full subscriptions series (available here). Please note that late purchasers of the series will be provided all videos released before the date of purchase.
To survive the Holocaust, a young Jewish woman must pose as a Christian farmer’s wife in this unforgettable novel. It is a story of terror, hope, love, and sacrifice, inspired by true events, that vividly evokes the most perilous days of World War II.
It is the autumn of 1943, and life is becoming increasingly perilous for Italian Jews like the Mazin family. With Nazi Germany now occupying most of her beloved homeland, and the threat of imprisonment and deportation growing ever more certain, Antonina Mazin has but one hope to survive—to leave Venice and her beloved parents and hide in the countryside with a man she has only just met.
Nico Gerardi was studying for the priesthood until circumstances forced him to leave the seminary to run his family’s farm. A moral and just man, he could not stand by when the fascists and Nazis began taking innocent lives. Rather than risk a perilous escape across the mountains, Nina will pose as his new bride. And to keep her safe and protect secrets of his own, Nico and Nina must convince prying eyes they are happily married and in love.
But farm life is not easy for a cultured city girl who dreams of becoming a doctor like her father, and Nico’s provincial neighbors are wary of this soft and educated woman they do not know. Even worse, their distrust is shared by a local Nazi official with a vendetta against Nico. The more he learns of Nina, the more his suspicions grow—and with them his determination to exact revenge. As Nina and Nico come to know each other, their feelings deepen, transforming their relationship into much more than a charade. Yet both fear that every passing day brings them closer to being torn apart . .
At the center of Foregone is famed Canadian American leftist documentary filmmaker, Leonard Fife, one of sixty thousand draft evaders and deserters who fled to Canada to avoid serving in Vietnam. Fife, now in his late seventies, is dying of cancer in Montreal and has agreed to a final interview in which he is determined to bare all his secrets at last, to demythologize his mythologized life. The interview is filmed by his acolyte and ex–star student, Malcolm MacLeod, in the presence of Fife’s wife and alongside Malcolm’s producer, cinematographer, and sound technician, all of whom have long admired Fife but who must now absorb the meaning of his astonishing, dark confession.
Imaginatively structured around Fife’s secret memories and alternating between the experiences of the characters who are filming his confession, the novel challenges our assumptions and understanding about a significant lost chapter in American history and the nature of memory itself. Russell Banks gives us a daring and resonant work about the scope of one man’s mysterious life, revealed through the fragments of his recovered past.
Sandra Martin will interview Russell Banks.
A brilliant and bitingly funny collection of stories united around a single crumbling apartment building in Ukraine. A bureaucratic glitch omits an entire building, along with its residents, from municipal records. So begins Reva's "darkly hilarious" (Anthony Doerr) intertwined narratives, nine stories that span the chaotic years leading up to and immediately following the fall of the Soviet Union. But even as the benighted denizens of 1933 Ivansk Street weather the official neglect of the increasingly powerless authorities, they devise ingenious ways to survive.
In "Bone Music," an agoraphobic recluse survives by selling contraband LPs, mapping the vinyl grooves of illegal Western records into stolen X-ray film. A delusional secret service agent in "Letter of Apology" becomes convinced he's being covertly recruited to guard Lenin's tomb, just as his parents, not seen since he was a small child, supposedly were. Weaving the narratives together is the unforgettable, chameleon-like Zaya: a cleft-lipped orphan in "Little Rabbit," a beauty-pageant crasher in "Miss USSR," a sadist-for-hire to the Eastern Bloc's newly minted oligarchs in "Homecoming."
Finalist for the 2020 Writer’s Trust Prize for Fiction
Professor Suanne Kelman will interview Maria Reva.
A debut novel in the tradition of Zadie Smith and Marlon James, from a brilliant Caribbean writer, set in Barbados, about four people each desperate to escape their legacy of violence in a so-called "paradise."
In Baxter Beach, Barbados, moneyed ex-pats clash with the locals who often end up serving them: braiding their hair, minding their children, and selling them drugs. Lala lives on the beach with her husband, Adan, a petty criminal with endless charisma whose thwarted burglary of one of the Baxter Beach mansions sets off a chain of events with terrible consequences.
A gunshot no one was meant to witness. A new mother whose baby is found lifeless on the beach. A woman torn between two worlds and incapacitated by grief. And two men driven by desperation and greed who attempt a crime that will risk their freedom -- and their lives.
Good Morning America's Bookclub pick for February, 2021.
But I had known since forever that it's colours that keep the world turning, that keep a person going.
One glimpse of the tiny painted house that folk art legend, Maud Lewis, shared with her husband, Everett, in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia, during the mid-twentieth century and the startling contrast between her joyful artwork and her life's deprivations is evident. One glimpse at her photo and you realize, for all her smile's shyness, she must've been one tough cookie. But, beneath her iconic resilience, who was Maud, really? How did she manage, holed up in that one-room house with no running water, married to a miserly man known for his drinking? Was she happy, or was she miserable? Did painting save or make her Everett's meal ticket? And then there are the darker secrets that haunt her story: the loss of her parents, her child, her first love.
Against all odds, Maud Lewis rose above these constraints—and this is where you'll find the Maud of Brighten the Corner Where You Are: speaking her mind from beyond the grave, freed of the stigmas of gender, poverty, and disability that marked her life and shaped her art. Unfettered and feisty as can be, she tells her story her way, illuminating the darkest corners of her life. In possession of a voice all her own, Maud demonstrates the agency that hovers within us all.
All Amanda Jetté Knox ever wanted was to enjoy a stable life. She never knew her biological father, and while her mother and stepfather were loving parents, the situation was sometimes chaotic. While still a teenager, she met the love of her life. They were wed at 20, and the first of three children followed shortly. Jetté Knox finally had the stability she craved--or so it seemed. Their middle child struggled with depression and avoided school. The author was unprepared when the child she knew as her son came out as transgender at the age of eleven. Jetté Knox became an ardent advocate for trans rights.
For many years, the author had coped with her spouse's moodiness, but that chronic unhappiness was taking a toll on their marriage. A little over a year after their child came out, her partner also came out as transgender. Knowing better than most what would lie ahead, Jetté Knox searched for positive examples of marriages surviving transition. When she found no role models, she determined that her family would become one.
The shift was challenging, but slowly the family members noticed that they were becoming happier and more united. Love Lives Here is a story of transition, frustration, support, acceptance, and, of course, love.
Spanning three continents, Butter Honey Pig Bread tells the interconnected stories of three Nigerian women: Kambirinachi and her twin daughters, Kehinde and Taiye. Kambirinachi believes that she is an Ogbanje, or an Abiku, a non-human spirit that plagues a family with misfortune by being born and then dying in childhood to cause a human mother misery. She has made the unnatural choice of staying alive to love her human family but lives in fear of the consequences of her decision.
Kambirinachi and her two daughters become estranged from one another because of a trauma that Kehinde experiences in childhood, which leads her to move away and cut off all contact. She ultimately finds her path as an artist and seeks to raise a family of her own, despite her fear that she won't be a good mother. Meanwhile, Taiye is plagued by guilt for what her sister suffered and also runs away, attempting to fill the void of that lost relationship with casual flings with women. She eventually discovers a way out of her stifling loneliness through a passion for food and cooking.
But now, after more than a decade of living apart, Taiye and Kehinde have returned home to Lagos. It is here that the three women must face each other and address the wounds of the past if they are to reconcile and move forward.
For readers of African diasporic authors such as Teju Cole and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Butter Honey Pig Bread is a story of choices and their consequences, of motherhood, of the malleable line between the spirit and the mind, of finding new homes and mending old ones, of voracious appetites, of queer love, of friendship, faith, and above all, family.
Finalist for the 2020 Governor General’s Award for Fiction
Saskia and Jenny are twins who are alike only in appearance. Saskia is a hard-working grad student whose interests are solely academic, while Jenny, an interior designer, is glamourous, thrill-seeking, capricious and narcissistic. Still, when Jenny is severely injured in an accident, Saskia puts her life on hold to be with her sister.
Sara and Mattie are sisters with a difficult relationship. Mattie, the younger sister, is affectionate, curious and intellectually disabled. As soon as Sara is able, she leaves home, in pursuit of a life of the mind and the body: she loves nothing more than fine wines, sensual perfumes, and expensive clothing.
But when their mother dies, Sara inherits the duty of caring for her sister. Arriving at the house one day, she finds out that Mattie has married Robert, her wealthy mother's handyman. Though Mattie seems happy, Sara cannot let this go, forcing the annulment of the marriage and the banishment of Robert. With him out of the picture, though, she has no choice but to become her sister's keeper, sacrificing her own happiness and Mattie's too. When Robert turns up again, another tragedy happens. The waves from these events eventually engulf Sara and Saskia, sisters in mourning, in a quest for revenge.
Nominated for the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize
A deeply affecting portrait of a long partnership and a clear-eyed account of the impact of a serious illness, writing as consolation, and the enduring significance of poetry from one of Canada's most celebrated voices.
When we ran off together in 1978, abandoning our marriages and leaving wreckage in our wake, I was a promising writer, Patrick had just won the Governor General's Award. I was so happy for him, and I've continued to be every time an honour comes his way, but I knew if I didn't grow, if I remained merely someone who showed potential, we wouldn't last. I swore I wouldn't play the dutiful wife, cheerleader, and muse of the great male writer, and he didn't envision a partner like that. We aspired to flourish together and thrive in words and books and gardens.
When Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane met at a poetry workshop in 1976, they had no idea that they would go on to write more than forty books between them, balancing their careers with their devotion to each other, and to their beloved cats, for decades. Then, in January 2017, their life together changed unexpectedly when Patrick became seriously ill. Despite tests and the opinions of many specialists, doctors remained baffled. There was no diagnosis and no effective treatment plan. The illness devastated them both.
During this time, Lorna turned to her writing as a way of making sense of her grief and for consolation. She revisited her poems, tracing her own path as a poet along with the evolution of her relationship with Patrick. The result is an intimate and intensely moving memoir about the difficulties and joys of creating a life with someone and the risks and immense rewards of partnership. At once a spirited account of the past and a poignant reckoning with the present, it is, above all, an extraordinary and unforgettable love story.
Told with unflinching honesty and fierce tenderness, Through the Garden is a candid, clear-eyed portrait of a long partnership and an acknowledgement, a tribute, and a gift.
Finalist for the 2020 Hilary Weston Writer’s Trust Prize for Non-fiction
Nanurjuk, “the bear-spirited one,” is hunting for seals on Hudson Bay, where ice never lasts more than one season. For her and her young, everything is in flux.
From the top of the world, Hudson Bay looks like an enormous paw print on the torso of the continent, and through a vast network of lakes and rivers, this bay connects to oceans across the globe. Here, at the heart of everything, walks Nanurjuk, or Nanu, one polar bear among the six thousand that traverse the 1.23 million square kilometers of ice and snow covering the bay.
For millennia, Nanu’s ancestors have roamed this great expanse, living, evolving, and surviving alongside human beings in one of the most challenging and unforgiving habitats on earth. But that world is changing. In the Arctic’s lands and waters, oil has been extracted—and spilled. As global temperatures have risen, the sea ice that Nanu and her young need to hunt seal and fish has melted, forcing them to wait on land where the delicate balance between them and their two-legged neighbors has now shifted.
This is the icescape that author and geographer James Raffan invites us to inhabit in Ice Walker. In precise and provocative prose, he brings readers inside Nanu’s world as she treks uncertainly around the heart of Hudson Bay, searching for nourishment for the children that grow inside her. She stops at nothing to protect her cubs from the dangers she can see—other bears, wolves, whales, human beings—and those she cannot.
By focusing his lens on this bear family, Raffan closes the gap between humans and bears, showing us how, like the water of the Hudson Bay, our existence—and our future—is tied to Nanu’s. He asks us to consider what might be done about this fragile world before it is gone for good. Masterful, vivid, and haunting, Ice Walker is an utterly unique piece of creative nonfiction and a deeply affecting call to action.
In 2020, James Raffan was named by Canadian Geographic as one of the “90 most influential explorers in the nation’s recorded history.”
It’s Northern Ontario in 1972, and seven-year-old Clara’s teenage sister Rose has just run away from home. At the same time, a strange man – Liam – drives up to the house next door, which he has just inherited from Mrs. Orchard, a kindly old woman who was friendly to Clara and relied on the girl to feed her cat Moses.
A Town Called Solace follows Clara and her fractured family - a sister who is missing and parents who won’t ever tell her the truth; Liam’s escape from a mid-life crisis in this crumbling house which he was given unexpectedly by a woman he hasn’t seen since he was five; and Mrs Orchards’ final days in hospital, as her memories spiral back to the real mystery at the heart of this novel – what happened between her and Liam so many years ago.
As these characters, who lives are joined by fate in ways they don't yet understand, reckon with personal crises and tragic pasts, we see that change and, for some, a new life is possible. By turns gripping and heart-warming, A Town Called Solace carefully uncovers the layers of grief, remorse and love that connect families, both the ones we're born into and the ones we choose, and steadily builds towards an assured, affecting and uplifting ending. It’s a beautiful portrait of a small town, a little girl and an exploration of childhood.
Ben McNally will interview Mary Lawson.
Winner of the 2018 HarperCollins/UBC Prize for Best New Fiction Michelle Good's FIVE LITTLE INDIANS, told from the alternating points of view of five former residential school students as they struggle to survive in 1960s Vancouver—one finding her way into the dangerous world of the American Indian movement; one finding unexpected strength in motherhood; and one unable to escape his demons - and the bonds of friendship that sustain them, inspired by the author's experiences.
Winner of the 2020 Governor General’s Prize for Fiction and the 2018 HarperCollins/UBC Prize for Best New Fiction
A journalist in Washington, DC, Liz has turned lemons into lemonade after her husband walked out on her a decade ago. She likes her life—she’s the editor of Her Turn, a weekly column in which readers write about their lives, has a few romantic nibbles—some better than others—a good relationship with her teen-aged son, and has come to terms with the shock and heartbreak of her divorce.
Or so she thinks.
One day at work, she receives a letter for the column she can’t ignore, because it’s written by her ex-husband’s current wife—AKA the other woman. It is the beginning of an unexpected correspondence between the two women—but only Liz knows the truth about their connection. Could it be she still cares? How far will she take this unusual relationship? And what happens if the truth comes out?
Klara and the Sun, the first novel by Kazuo Ishiguro since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her.
Klara and the Sun is a thrilling book that offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, and one that explores the fundamental question: What does it mean to love?
Professor Suanne Kelman will deliver a lecture on Klara and the Sun.
When Julia Zarankin saw her first red-winged blackbird at the age of thirty-five, she didn’t expect that it would change her life. Recently divorced and auditioning hobbies during a stressful career transition, she stumbled on birdwatching, initially out of curiosity for the strange breed of humans who wear multi-pocketed vests, carry spotting scopes and discuss the finer points of optics with disturbing fervour.
What she never could have predicted was that she would become one of them. Not only would she come to identify proudly as a birder, but birding would ultimately lead her to find love, uncover a new language and lay down her roots.
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