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Launchpad: SONGS FOR THE END OF THE WORLD, by Saleema Nawaz

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Last spring—as launches, festivals and other events were cancelled across the country—49th Shelf helped Canadian authors launch more than 50 new books with LAUNCHPAD. And now we're back this fall, but with a twist.

LAUNCHPAD 2.0 features new releases selected by great Canadian writers who've chosen books that absolutely deserve to find their way into the hands of readers.

Today we're launching the latest novel by Saleema Nawaz, championed by Jael Richardson, who writes, "I could not stop reading Songs for the End of the World. I felt a mixture of shock and delight as I read it because it captured the experience of a novel coronavirus pandemic so well. Even though Saleema started this book seven years ago, there were portions of the story that felt so true to now that I gasped out loud. And isn’t that the best kind of read—the kind that shocks you while also remaining familiar? I have had such a hard time reading books during quarantine, but this one brought me back to the beauty of the written word by reminding me of the unique perspective and the critical importance of stories and storytellers. This book simultaneously reminded me why I read AND why I write."


49thShelf: What particular something have you managed to achieve with this book that you’re especially proud of?
Saleema Nawaz: I've written what I consider to be a serious book, and one which is technically fairly complex in terms of characters and timelines, but which nevertheless is easy to follow and has a kind of forward propulsion. From what I've heard, it ends up being quite a quick read!

49thShelf: Tell us about your ideal reader, and where you imagine them reading your book.

Saleema Nawaz: With the current pandemic on, I imagine my ideal reader reading my book in the comfort of their own home, practicing rigorous social distancing appropriate to the level of community transmission. I'd be happy if the novel could keep them company.

49thShelf: What authors and works inspired you on your journey in creating this book?

Saleema Nawaz: A Visit From the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan was an early inspiration for this book. A Paradise Built in Hell, by Rebecca Solnit was also key in giving me some real-world examples of people coming together in the midst of disaster. I'm sure there are many more books I read over the long period of writing it that also had an impact on me, but at this point it's hard for me to parse them out.

49thShelf: What’s something you know now that you didn’t know when you set out to write your book?
Saleema Nawaz: How useful it might have been to keep all my notes for this project in a single place. I was working on this book for so long and in so many different contexts (while working full-time, during maternity leave, while working part-time at two different jobs, and finally just working on it and nothing else) that I ended up with notes strewn everywhere: across multiple files in several different software programs, in three or four different notebooks, in the unused pages of old agendas, and in one case, scrawled on the back of an envelope. I can only imagine how much time I may have lost retreading ground I'd already covered but had forgotten about on some random piece of paper somewhere.

I plan to give all future projects their own notebook. Here's hoping it sticks.

49thShelf: What do you wish all writers had?
Saleema Nawaz: Writing pals. Solidarity, encouragement, and commiseration are so important in this field. It can be so challenging to stay the course and nobody else will understand your agony over sentences and paragraphs quite the way your writer friends will.

49thShelf: What bookstore are you most excited to walk into and see your book displayed on the shelf?
Saleema Nawaz: I was over the moon and so incredibly moved when two of my favourite bookstores in the world—Librarie Drawn & Quarterly in Mile End and The Word Bookstore in the McGill Ghetto—put up window displays for the release of Songs for the End of the World. Then there is that different kind of excitement when you walk into a completely unfamiliar bookstore in another city, or say, an airport kiosk, and spot your book. But given the current COVID-19 pandemic, I don't foresee getting to experience that particular kind of thrill any time soon. 

49thShelf: Who are you most grateful to for support in bringing your book into the world?
Saleema Nawaz: My tireless editor, Anita Chong, McClelland & Stewart. She kept me on track managing all the different threads and characters and really helped to make it the best book it could be.



I have had such a hard time reading books during quarantine, but this one brought me back to the beauty of the written word by reminding me of the unique perspective and the critical importance of stories and storytellers. This book simultaneously reminded me why I read AND why I write.




Learn more about Songs for the End of the World:

How quickly he'd forgotten a fundamental truth: the closer you got to the heart of a calamity, the more resilience there was to be found.

This is the story of a handful of people who find themselves living through an unfolding catastrophe.

Elliot is a first-responder in New York, a man running from past failures and struggling to do the right thing. Emma is a pregnant singer preparing to headline a benefit concert for victims of the outbreak—all while questioning what kind of world her child is coming into. Owen is the author of a bestselling plague novel with eerie similarities to the real-life pandemic. As fact and fiction begin to blur, he must decide whether his lifelong instinct for self-preservation has been worth the cost.

As the novel moves back and forth in time, we discover these characters' ties to one another—and to those whose lives intersect with theirs—in an extraordinary web of connection and community that reveals none of us is ever truly alone. Linking them all is the mystery of the so-called ARAMIS Girl, a woman at the first infection site whose unknown identity and whereabouts cause a furor.

Written and revised between 2013 and 2019, and brilliantly told by an unforgettable chorus of voices, Saleema Nawaz's glittering novel is a moving and hopeful meditation on what we owe to ourselves and to each other. It reminds us that disaster can bring out the best in people—and that coming together may be what saves us in the end.

December 7, 2020

Books mentioned in this post


Songs for the End of the World

A Novel

by Saleema Nawaz
edition: Paperback
also available: Paperback
tagged: literary, dystopian, disaster

"In these dark days, Saleema Nawaz dares to write of hope. Songs for the End of the World is a loving, vivid, tenderly felt novel about men, women, and a possible apocalypse. I couldn't put it down." –Sean Michaels, author of Us Conductors and The Wagers
NATIONAL BESTSELLER. An immersive, deeply engaging, and hopeful novel about the power of huma …

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