Canada Reads 2018 – Favs and Predictions

Debates kick off next week. Have you read them all yet?

It’s almost time! The debates kick off next week from March 26-29, 2018. In advance of the debates, I have read all five novels and have broken down the five into two lists. One, based on which ones I enjoyed the most and two, based on how the book best fits this year’s theme. Don’t forget to click on the links to read my full reviews on each novel!

Let’s start with the theme: One Book to Open Your Eyes. Here is how I think the debates will unfold and which book I think will be the winner.

Predictions:

5) The Marrow Thieves –  Putting a dystopian YA novel in with other quality pieces of literature is always going to be a gamble and while the topic of the treatment of Native Americans is important the execution of this story just didn’t match up with the other contenders. The loose concept of dreams being stuck in bone marrow was a bit of stretch too.

4) Precious Cargo – I thoroughly enjoyed this read. It draws attention to children and families living with disabilities. The writing is lighthearted and humorous but lacks the depth of the other contending novels.

3) Forgiveness – Rife with Canadian history as well lesser-known war details about Canada’s time in Hong Kong during WWII. The author’s grandparents come to terms with the terrible misfortunes that the war has brought them and learn to forgive as their families come together.  The writing can be a bit clunky and did not feel like a finished whole.

2) American War – Another dystopian though catered to a very adult audience. The content of this book is violent and brutal and draws a lot of attention to the realities of war and the politics behind it as well as the people that suffer in its wake.

1) The Boat People – Despite the slow start to this novel, this book takes the cake when it comes to the theme this year. The book is inspired by a real refugee crisis that happened in Canada in 2010 and it really opens your eyes past all the media and politics to the real issue facing refugees.

In terms of the books I enjoyed the most, however, I would rank the novels as such. It was tough this year as I found the difference in genres made it challenging as I enjoyed a few of the stories equally.

Enjoyability:

5) The Marrow Thieves – This book just didn’t click with me. The storytelling tradition aspects of the book are beautiful but the general YA premise just didn’t work for me.

4) Precious Cargo – I thoroughly enjoyed this novel as it was the most uplifting of the five. Had the other books not been as poignant it would have been higher up on this list.

3) Forgiveness –  Despite the issues I had with the writing style, the content about Hong Kong and the author’s time in a Japanese POW was absolutely captivating.

2) American War – This book surprised me the most. I was completely drawn into this world and the ending left me gutted.

1) The Boat People – Based on the first quarter of this book, I thought it was going to be on the bottom of this list, thankfully the dry story quickly came together to create something phenomenal and beautiful. This book combines dynamic and visceral characters paired with a memorable and important story that will be sure to tug on anyone’s conscience.

What do you think of my predictions and favourites? Do you agree? Comment and let me know!

Here are a few more details to get you prepped and ready for the debates! The contenders and their chosen books are:

Ali Hassan from CBC’s Laugh Out Loud will host for the second year in a row.

The debates will air on CBC Radio One at 11:05 a.m. ET, CT, MT, PT; 1:05 p.m. in Atlantic Canada; and at 1:35 p.m. in Newfoundland and Labrador. They will also be live-streamed on CBC Books at 11 a.m. ET and can be seen on CBC Television at 4 p.m. local time.

The Boat People by Sharon Bala

“Canada is not in the business of turning refugees away. If we err, let it be on the side of compassion.” – Brian Mulroney, Former Canadian Prime Minister

4/5 stars.
ebook, 363 pages.
Read from March 6, 2018 to March 12, 2018.

The Boat People is inspired by a real refugee crisis as detailed in the author’s notes. The MV Sun Sea incident happened in 2010 when a boat docked in British Columbia carrying nearly 500 illegal refugees who were trying to escape the Sri Lankan civil war. The journey took three months…three months of squalor and close living quarters, three months without a proper bath or meal, three months of nightmares from the horrors they left behind. Yet the intentions of the refugees were questioned when they were detained at the harbour. This work of fiction tries to capture what may have gone on during that time, not only for the refugees but the works, lawyers and politicians working with and against them.

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The actual boat, the MV Sun Sea, arriving off the coast of Victoria full of Tamil refugees in 2010.

According to the author, in the real incident, there was a man who was a mechanic back in Sri Lanka that had to work with the Tiger terrorist group and it was this man that inspired the main character, Mahindan. After Mahindan’s wife dies in childbirth he becomes the sole provider of his son Sellian. As civil war tensions rise, Mahindan is left with no choice but to try and get aboard a smuggling ship to save the life of his young son. The horrors and death that Mahindan had to live with in order to board the boat are shocking and graphically detailed but when he and his other refugee countrymen are received in Canada they are detained and chained, placed into a prison, where Mahindan is separated from his son. The story also follows the perspective and family lives of the adjudicator, Grace, a Japanese-Canadian who is responsible for deciding the fate of the refugees, as well as Priya, a young Tamil-Canadian student lawyer who has found herself defending the refugees. The novel encompasses all perspectives and opinions on immigrants and refugees making you empathize with every party and giving you an encompassing image of the stresses and issues surrounding the story and the real-life issue itself. Grace is an example of a stressed and broken system in which people with no experience or right to making such hefty decisions are making and breaking them. Fred, Grace’s boss, represents the narrow but well-meaning persona of a conservative politician.

I saved this book to read last out of the five Canada Reads 2018 shortlist candidates because it has the best reviews. I have to admit, the first 120 pages were a slog. I felt disconnected from the characters and the story and felt bogged down in politics and details. I was baffled as to why people were in love with this book. However, that quickly changed. After I passed the quarter mark of the book the stakes got higher and I was soon enraptured in an emotionally gripping story.  And that ending! I was not prepared for it. Looking back, however, I feel it was the best way to end the story as it leaves the reader with the decision based on their own views of Canada.

This book opened my eyes and will open many others who read it on what the real realities of refugees.  In today’s world, especially in a Trump era of fake news, it is imperative that stories like this exist. Even for a fiction, it may be the only voice that some refugees get that someone will listen to.

The real incident changed Canada, for better or for worse, depending on who you ask, making it harder for refugees to come to Canada. The situation is worse in America with Trump’s reign and in the UK with the major vote of Brexit being based on the false belief that immigrants are stealing jobs. I hope that Canada will always be a safe place for those seeking refuge. Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said it best, “Canada is not in the business of turning refugees away. If we err, let it be on the side of compassion.”

American War by Omar El Akkad

What would happen if America were to turn its most devastating policies and deadly weapons upon itself?

4/5 stars.
ebook, 320 pages.
Read from February 27, 2018 to March 6, 2018.

When I first started reading this novel, the fourth out of the five books for me off the Canada Reads 2018 shortlist, I let out a sigh of exasperation realizing it was yet another dystopian story which, is not generally my favourite genre. The reason being is that most of them are YA and have little literary quality. Granted, this is not true for all books in the genre, you just take a look at some of the stellar stories by Margaret Atwood.  This book while not quite what I would call Atwood quality is still one of the better adult dystopian stories I have read.

Set in the future, the world is in an environmental crisis in which many coastlines and cities have been swallowed up by the rising tides. America is under siege as it’s second civil war takes root. The South is unwilling to give up the fossil fuels that drive their economy and are tired of being pushed around and ignored by the Northern part of the country. The tension between the two sides erupts with violent consequences as this battle is one that will last a lifetime, especially for one family. Martina and Benjamin Chestnut and their three children Simon, Dana and Sarat live in Louisiana. The girls are fraternal twins but could not be more different. They are only six years old when the war begins. While not quite in the South, Martina decides to take her family to a refugee camp called Camp Patience after Benjamin dies and as bombs start to rain down near their home. It was a decision that she would come to regret. The refugee camp is no holiday and no place to raise children but they manage to get by for the next few years as a bloody battle rages on outside the camps barriers. The story follows Sarat, a feisty and brave young girl who ends up being influenced by the Rebels in the South and an influential man with certain resources and connections. Sarat begins learning skills to help her become a pawn in the game of war.

An unspeakable tragedy hits Camp Patience. The event is a turning point in which Sarat’s persona hardens as well as her need for revenge against the people who have done her and her family wrong. Sarat spends her whole life fighting and suffering. It is all she knows. How deep will one betrayal afflict her and how will her choices affect the future outcome of her family as well as the whole country?

When I first started reading this novel I was trying to pinpoint exactly what purpose Sarat’s story is serving. Is it that regardless of circumstances people are allowed to fight for their beliefs? Or is it about suffering or revenge? Then it hit me. Every single war strategy used in this book is one that America has used as tactics in war: drone strikes, refugee camps, terror cells, being provided with weapons by foreign governments, illegal detention facilities, torture etc. This book brings America’s wars home and shows the gritty and not-so-politically correct tactics that are sometimes employed during war times.  This book is meant to open your eyes to the realities of war and show that it is never as black and white as it seems, or how the media portrays it or how your liberal friend feels about it. War is suffering and nobody wins.

The ending of this tragedy only gets more tragic. I wished for nothing more than for Sarat to continue being the same person. But, well, I can’t stay more without spoiling it!  The author does an impeccable job of painting the pages in the blood of war and allowing the reader to feel apart of the plot as you follow the entire Chestnut family.

The emotional depth was a big win for me in this book but I also felt bogged down with a tangle of details, shifting perspectives and time changes. This clunky approach was a big let down as I felt like this story had the potential to be something extraordinary.  I still really enjoyed the unique story and the exceptional characters but the execution was missing that organizational spark.

The author’s career as a journalist sheds some light on how he can write about war so vividly.  He is an award-winning journalist who has travelled the globe and has covered some of the biggest news stories on wars in our recent history.

At this point, as I have now read four out of the five shortlisted 2018 Canada Reads novels and I would say that this novel best meets the criteria of ‘one book to open your eyes”. With jaw-dropping moments of emotion to shocking realities of violence that are taking place in our world right now, you come to see Sarat a real and flawed person. A person that makes terrifying decisions that, within the acts of war, are neither right nor wrong but rather her justification to end her own suffering.