Canada Reads 2015

 Canada-Reads-2015

While it took me longer than I would have liked I have finished reading the 5 finalists in this year’s Canada Reads competition. The theme for this year is books that break barriers and the declared winner was Ru by Kim Thuy, a selection I actually agree with. In regards to the debates, I am happy with how this one panned out. I’m glad that When Everything Feels Like The Movies made it to the final round, despite and because of its controversy.  You can watch all of the debates on CBC’s website. In terms of how much I enjoyed the books though, this is how I would rank them (links to my reviews included):

1) And The Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier – One of the most beautiful books I’ve read in years. It’s the remarkable story of a few elderly characters who choose to die in their own way. Through their journey the characters start to find, that even at their age, there is still always something to be learned.

2) Ru By Kim Thuy – Poetic and moving, this book depicts the harsh realities of a refugees/immigrants coming to Canada. The book broke barriers with its writing style and harsh truths.

3) When Everything Feels Like The Movies by Raziel Reid –  The most controversial book in this series. In terms of breaking barriers,  I felt that this book topped them all. The book contains graphic and violent homosexual content involving the bullying of a teen. The book is relevant as the story mirrors an actual even that took place in Canadian history.

4) Intolerable by Kamal Al-Solaylee – Another remarkable story of immigration and suffering. The writing style is what bumped this book down the list for me rather than the content. The sacrifices and guilt that the author has had to live with in terms of his choices for a better life are hard to imagine but make for an interesting read.

5) Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King – I wanted to rank this book higher but in terms of the other books in this series it just didn’t stack up as well. This book is a very important book for Canadians to read and King broke a lot of barriers with his brash honesty and style of writing.

Onward to 2016! I wonder what next years theme will be?

Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes by Kamal Al-Solaylee

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3/5 stars.
Paperback, 272 pages.
Read from April 04 to 08, 2015.

I’m so close to reading all the books in Canada-Reads 2015 now! One more to go. Intolerable is the only official memoir in this years collection and I don’t see how Intolerable could have been written any other way.  This book is about a family who is torn apart by history and guilt.

Kamal Al-Solayee, was born in Aden, Yemen in 1964. He was last of 11 eleven children in the arranged marriage of his parents. Despite what people believe of the Middle East now, it wasn’t always that way. Kamal’s father was a wealthy business man and his family enjoyed all the luxuries that came with it. From vacations, photos, clothes and restaurants Kamal’s family was well taken care of in the days of Aden. Kamal’s sisters enjoyed fashion and make-up as well as going to the beach in their bikinis, all activities that were completely normal for them to be partaking in at the time. This happy family life unfortunately did not last. When Yemen was decolonized, Kamal’s father lost everything. The family had to move away from Aden and live off the savings that Kamal’s father had accumulated in which they become middle class citizens.

During this time was when Kamal started to notice that was different in that he took more of an interest in what his sister’s were doing than the masculine activities his brothers took part in. He was always a self-proclaimed mama’s boy so he was able to get away with the behavior while he was still young. As time progressed Kamal began to figure out that he was gay while, unfortunately, his oldest brother started to adopt the strict Muslim ways that had started to spread through the Middle East. His brother began to put pressure on his sisters, who were successful career women, about their ‘demeaning’ dress and behavior and tried to get them to adopt Islamic ways. It wasn’t until the family moved to again to be with their father that things really changed. The country was changing drastically to adopting stricter Muslim laws. Slowing Kamal watched his mother and sister’s become oppressed and their spark fade. The quality of life in their homes also quickly deteriorated in the war-torn area that they were living in. As Kamal knew he was gay, he feared for his life as homosexuality is punishable by death. He knew he could no longer stay with his family so he made the heartbreaking decision to go to school in England.

From there, Kamal realized that he never wanted to return home. He then ended up in Canada and found his home in Toronto but the tension and guilt he felt over the crumbling conditions his family was living never stopped haunting him. He cannot explain to his family the new life that he is living. The wouldn’t understand his homosexuality or even his career choices.

The Middle East has a way of catching up with you no matter how far you run.”

This book shows the tragic reality of living in the Middle East and what it’s truly like for families that live there and for those who leave it. Kamal is what Canada is all about, as his friends often told him. Kamal came to Canada with nothing but guilt and a heritage he was hoping to leave behind him. While he found a home and success within Canada it wasn’t until he was able to confront his heritage and family that he was able to start feeling whole again. While he never fully reconciled with his family, he was at least able to come to an understanding. Kamal did what he had to do to save himself and live the life that he needed to pursue, but the guilt of leaving his family will likely never leave him.

A poignant read and a necessary one to grasp the real realities of the people living in the Middle East.

And The Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier

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4/5 stars.
ebook, 176 pages.
Read from March 21 to 23, 2015.

I’ve now read three out of the five books for Canada Reads 2015. While I couldn’t get all of the books read for the debates that happened this last week, I will finish all five! I will discuss the choice of the winner and my collective thoughts on all five books in a post once I’ve finished them all.

Now, this book, is astonishingly beautiful. Death and aging are aspects of life that no one ever likes to discuss, admit or confront. It’s one of the few things that we have no control over in our lives, but for Tom and Charlie, two older gentleman, they choose to live the rest of their lives on their own terms and make the conversation of death a welcome topic of conversation. Tom and Charlie live out in some remote woods with no connection to the modern world, with their only companions being that of their dogs and two pot growers. Tom enjoys his drink, most of the time a bit too much. but he is charming and loves to reminisce, whereas Charlie is more reserved and keeps to himself a bit more.  However, things are about to change for the two men.

A curious female photographer, looking for their very recently deceased friend, Ted, surprises the men with her ability to get to their remote homes without alarming their dogs. She has come to document and photograph the remaining individuals who lived through the great and devastating fires that spread through Northern Ontario at the beginning of the century, an event which Ted had lived through and was quite reclusive about. Rumors, stories and her own detective work had finally brought the photographer to the right place but just not in time. However, the brief hospitality that she received was enough for her to return as Tom and Charlie were intriguing on their own. What ends up making the photographer a consistent returning visitor is the appearance of Gertrude, who is one of the pot grower’s aunts. Gertrude has broken her out of a psychiatric ward where she had lived her whole life. Gertrude’s story is extremely tragic, but she finally has the opportunity to live her own life. The men don’t know what to do with a woman, especially one that knows nothing about living in the woods, but they know they can’t let her go back to where she came from so they happily accommodate her. For Charlie, the appearance of Gertrude will change him forever and give him a new life and new perspective on death.

While originally written in French, the beauty of this book is not lost in translation. It’s easy to relate to the characters, no matter what age you are and their story is a reminder to us that it’s never too late for a second chance at life. However, in terms of Canada Reads, it doesn’t quite fit the bill for the theme this year, which is breaking barriers. The choices that Tom and Charlie make, to meet death on their own terms, really shows more determination than anything else. I suppose they do break some barriers in that they are choosing to live such a remote lifestyle, but I don’t think it’s enough.  So while this book has been my favourite so far, I am not surprised that it didn’t win and was taken out of the debate early on.

If you’ve ever contemplated your own mortality or position in life, then I would highly recommend reading this refreshing book.