Sunday, 16 March 2014

Sunday March 16th, 2014 Canada's Battle of the Books

Every year, CBC radio hosts the annual battle of the books, “Canada Reads”. Since 2002, the merits of five Canadian novels are debated and defended by prominent Canadian celebrities as to why their selection should be deemed as the one book all of Canada should read. The program consists of five episodes where at the end of each, a panel of judges votes a book out until one is left.

Since its inauguration, titles such as In the Skin of a Lion, Rockbound, A Complicated Kindness, Lullabies for Little Criminals, and The Best Laid Plans have all won the top prize. As a result, more Canadians have become aware of these great titles and have subsequently sought them out. This year’s theme “a Novel to Change Our Nation” dealt with a variety of subjects, ranging from environmental preservation, gender and racial equality and immigration.

This year’s Canada Reads winner was Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda. Since its release the Orenda has captivated readers, even landing on the Globe and Mail’s bestseller list. Taking place in the 17th century in what would later become Canada, the narrative follows a young Iroquoian girl, a Huron warrior and a Jesuit priest and how their distinct paths cross with one another. The Orenda is a thrilling read, one that shows society in the 17th century between the First Nations and Europeans with a fresh perspective.

The runner ups included Margaret Atwood’s The Year of The Flood, the second entry in the MaddAddam dystopian trilogy, which follows the same events from Oryx and Crake but told from a different perspective.
Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan tells the story of two traveling black musicians in Europe trying to find success in the underground jazz scene while hiding from the impending Nazi regime. As one musician finds refuge from the horror, the Gestapo arrests his band mate. This is a story of friendship, anger, confusion and regret set against the haunting backdrop of WWII.    

Central to Rawi Hage’s Cockroach is the theme of immigration. The protagonist is an immigrant from the Middle East living in the slums of Montreal, whose only means to survive is by thieving. After unsuccessfully attempting suicide, he is sentenced to therapy, where the story begins to examine the narrator’s past as well as his future.

The last selection of this year’s Canada Reads competition is Annabel by Kathleen Winter. During the 1960’s in rural Labrador, people had never heard of the term “intersex”. After a young couple give birth to an intersex baby the father decides to raise the child as a boy while the mother nurtures the feminine side. Annabel is a fascinating novel that explores what it means to be a male or female in this particular time in history.

So do you think the Orenda truly has the power to influence change? Maybe another title will seem more fitting to you as the book Canada should read. Each novel will offer a unique experience, subjective to each reader.

Petar Vidjen

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