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Powerful Stories That Matter

Stella's Carpet, a brand new novel from Lucy E.M. Black, is described by award-winning novelist Brad Smith as "a treat—a multi-national, multi-generational gem of a novel about family, loss and the ties that bind. Lucy Black writes with heart, verve . . . and oodles of talent.”

In addition to being a writer, Black is also a prolific reader, and we're pleased to feature her list of other powerful stories.

*****

The Good Son, by Carolyn Huizinga Mills

The Good Son, by Carolyn Huizinga Mills is an entirely believable suspense novel, with a twist. Zoe, the mid-thirties protagonist, was traumatized by the kidnapping and murder of her six year-old neighbour.  Zoe was herself a child at the time, and knows that she saw something significant. Yet the difference between what Zoe believes she saw, and what she actually saw becomes a defining feature of her life. In addition, the information Zoe shared with adults versus the information she deliberately withheld continues to haunt her, and has lingering consequences for her intimate relationships.  When the cold case is suddenly re-opened due to new information, the world that Zoe has constructed for herself begins to fall apart. Mills makes her readers face two very chilling questions: what would we do for the people we love; and what are the people we love really capable of? 

The narrative unfolds with back-and- forth flashbacks, all the while developing in-depth character studies for each of the main individuals. The stories children tell themselves, and the long-term effects of keeping horrible secrets, are two sidebars that Mills also integrates into this tension-filled tale. The writing is clear, breezy and polished, assuring the reader that they are in the hands of a master storyteller.   

*

The Sister’s Tale, by Beth Powning

Imagine being a happily married woman with a lovely home and family, when you are suddenly given the news that your beloved husband has died unexpectedly and has left no will. According to the laws of the time, you own nothing—not your home nor anything that you brought into the marriage. You do not even have legal rights pertaining to your children. Or imagine leaving England to come to Canada as a maid, where you find employment and save money to bring your younger sister out. Suddenly, your employers are killed in a tragic accident and you are left homeless with no means of support. 

In the New Brunswick of the late 1880s, both of these scenarios might very well be your fate, with the widow left to find her own means to earn a respectable income, and the maid sold off at a pauper auction to the lowest bidder. These two horrific scenarios play out in Powning’s novel about vulnerable women and the suffragette movement in the late nineteenth-century.   

A sub-plot involving a gruesome rape and murder underlies the narrative, heightening not only the tension but also reinforcing the precarious existence of some women during the period, whom circumstances had robbed of a male protector.

In part, Powning’s book is a detailed social history that documents the early suffragette movement in Canada, as well as the treatment of the poor and the disadvantaged. It is also a beautifully-written tale of courageous women who demonstrate agency as they fight to create their own lives in the midst of male-domination and patriarchy.      

*

The Forgotten Daughter, by Joanna Goodman

Joanna Goodman’s The Forgotten Daughter is a riveting and important Canadian novel that captures some of the upheaval associated with the Quebec separatist movement, 1970-1990. Woven into the historical record are the four fictional characters used by Goodman to bring these struggles to life, each of whom play an important role in the unfolding of events. The first of these is the fictional Leo Fortin, imprisoned for the kidnapping and murder of the real Quebec deputy premier, Pierre Laporte, as a bargaining tactic on the part of the FLQ (Front de Liberation du Quebec) that precipitated the October Crisis.

The interplay between the characters is engaging, credible, and moving, and provides a window on a complex series of historical events. Each of them has a mission of sorts, and seeks to find their own way through complicated and multi-layered issues. The turbulence of Quebec and Canadian political history during the period is well presented, as are issues of racism, discrimination, prejudice, mental illness, the effects of trauma, and the role of the Quebec Catholic Church in relation to government programming. Goodman infuses the narrative with passion and vitality, and readers unfamiliar with this period will find this an excellent primer.  

*

Peace By Chocolate, by Jon Tattrie

This amazing book begins with the history of chocolate (yum) and documents the Hadhad’s family’s journey from Syria to Canada, and their success here as chocolatiers. Jon Tattrie spent a great deal of time interviewing the family members and has presented a heart-wrenching, inspirational and moving narrative. The Hadads enjoyed their life in Damascus but as the political situation became unstable and both their livelihood and safety was compromised, they reluctantly fled their homeland. The challenges faced and the heartbreaks they encountered are, in some ways, indicative of the plight of so many refugees. This family’s resiliency and courage and determination allowed them to rebuild their lives.  An important read.  

 *

Speak Silence, by Kim Echlin

Speak Silence is a work of fiction that tells the true stories of the hundreds of women who were savagely treated during the Bosnian War of 1992-95. At the heart of the book is the criminal trial held in the International Court in The Hague in 2000. A group of women were persuaded to come forward and give evidence of the dehumanizing brutality they endured, including various forms of torture, enslavement and rape. The conclusion of this trial was the landmark international ruling recognizing rape as a crime against humanity when used as a weapon of war. 

The cast of characters who frame Echlin’s story have compelling, authentic voices. The love triangle she etches between Edina (the lawyer and survivor), Gota (the journalist) and Kosmos (the playwright) provide the necessary structural motif for Echlin to use in her narration. This is not an easy book to read—nor should it be.  Such abuses against women continue throughout the world and Echlin’s book is a call to action. She has done the research for us, and has given us access, as gently as possible, to horrific truths that provide a thought-provoking, disturbing and challenging read. The use of language is lovely, often poetic, and the pacing is gentle. The balance of these elements is essential, as the raw material itself is ruthless and cruel.     

*

Honorarium, by Nathaniel G. Moore

Honorarium is an impressive collection of essays and articles that demonstrate the author’s unique engagement with literature and life over a twenty-year span. As a novelist, poet, script writer, publicist and national contributor to newspapers and magazines, Moore has immersed himself in Canadian letters, giving him the opportunity to both work with and interview those involved in every aspect of the field. Based on these experiences, he makes no apologies for his critical perspective on writing and publishing in Canada. Moreover, although the collection is ostensibly focused on literary and cultural criticism, it is often satirical, and brims with the author’s special brand of sardonic humour. Moore’s subjects include the use of language, assumptions about the writing life, the toxic aspects of publishing as well as some deeply personal narratives and a touching tribute to a friend that I found very moving. As such, Honorarium is a book for those who wish to see Canadian writing and publishing in context, as a vital part of daily life.  It should be dipped into and savoured, a few pages at a time, as the author provokes the reader to reflect on their own estimations and experiences.   

*

Fuse, by Hollay Ghadery

This is a memoir about identity, not only as a biracial, bicultural individual but as a feminist caught between established family norms, cultural expectations and self-definition. It is a Bildungsroman of a young person flailing about in desperate rebellion as she engages in high-risk and self-destructive behaviours. The revelations are raw and deep as she shares her punishing history of mental illness, body image and addiction. 

But this not a depressing narrative. Instead, it is the celebration of a difficult journey and the partial victories that have been hard won. Infused with gentle moments of love and exquisite happiness, Ghadery’s portraits of her family, her partner, and her children are tender and passionate. In some respects, there is a duality to the stories—an undertone of steadfast love that somehow has allowed her to claw a way through her painful experiences. 

In one story, Ghadery rages against Wonder Woman and all of the negative stereotypes of feminine beauty idealized in such restrictive portrayals. And yet, after a struggle, she allows herself to go to the cinema with her five-year-old daughter, who is dressed in a “puffed sleeve pink taffeta dress,” and to enter into her daughter’s happiness, laughing and spinning with her. It is in the clarity of such scenes that we understand Ghadery’s real triumph, as she bends to the needs of those she loves in conscious acts denoting generosity and wisdom. This is a beautifully written book and a thought-provoking indictment of the stereotypes, racism and prejudice that confine. 

*

Indian Horse, by Richard Wagamese

This book has been out for years and I’m sorry that I didn’t read it sooner. Indian Horse is the story of an Ojibway boy who is placed in a residential school. While there, he discovers an innate talent for playing hockey which is nurtured and encouraged by a hockey-loving priest. The young boy, Saul, has such a passion for the game that it helps him to endure separation from his family, the denigration of his culture and the racism and cruelty to which he is daily exposed. While the descriptions at the residential school are horrific, Saul’s journey through hockey success is also problematic. He is sent to live with a family who embrace him while he begins a competitive hockey career. Although the family are truly supportive, Saul continues to battle racism, hate and torment from opposing teams and the press until he can endure it no longer. When Saul loses his love for hockey, he also loses himself for a time. Ultimately, he embarks on a journey of grieving and reconciliation.

This is a powerful story, and a shameful indictment of residential schools and predatory priests, but it is also a story of great courage and beauty. Saul’s Ojibway heritage, the true friendships he forms along his journey, and his strength and resiliency, are beacons of hope in the midst of immense suffering and pain.  

*

Our Darkest Night, by Jennifer Robson

Our Darkest Night is spellbinding. The novel starts in the Venice of 1942, after the Nazis have imposed the first in a series of racial laws. We are introduced to a young, Jewish woman, Antonina, and her father. He is a doctor forbidden to practice as a result of fascist and Nazi tyranny. Together, they secretly travel the neighbourhood, treating friends with their depleting supply of medicine. As rumours of Jewish transports begin to circulate, Antonina’s father makes arrangements to send his daughter to the country, protected by a man chosen to guard her. When Nicco arrives to ferry Antonina to safety, we gradually learn that he working with the resistance movement and had formerly been studying for the priesthood. This is a well-researched indictment of Mussolini’s regime and the horrors perpetrated by Nazi Germany. Jennifer Robson has brought to life an ugly period in history and through her pristine descriptions and vividly-drawn characters, she makes us feel the terror and love that is so much a part of this story. Spellbinding! 

*

Waiting for a Star to Fall, by Kerry Clare

This is a timely and relevant book.  For those of us who watched the public unfolding of a local politician’s life in a Me Too media storm, this book offers a fictional exploration into the personal life of a public figure and one of his girlfriends. Written with compassion and insight, Clare explores the complexities inherent in a relationship where an imbalance of power, age and intentionality play out. At once heartbreaking and engaging, the love story unspools in such a way that the reader is left with much to ponder. An excellent and thought-provoking read.

*

Recognition and Revelation, by Margaret Laurence

This is a wonderful collection of Laurence’s essays and nonfiction writing. Some of these will be quite familiar to those who love Canadian fiction and others will be new works that are moving, provocative and inspiring. Laurence’s passion for Canadian writing was well-known, for her political activism. These writings cover the full spectrum of Laurence’s interests and convictions and bring her voice back to us with startling clarity and a surprisingly contemporaneous message.   

*

Learn more about Stella's Carpet:

Exploring the intergenerational consequences of trauma, including those of a Holocaust survivor and a woman imprisoned during the Iranian Revolution, Stella's Carpet weaves together the overlapping lives of those stepping outside the shadows of their own harrowing histories to make conscious decisions about how they will choose to live while forging new understandings of family, forgiveness and reconciliation. As the story unfolds, readers are invited to ponder questions about how we can endure the unimaginable, how we can live with the secrets of the past, and at what price comes love. An artful and engaging story of struggle and survival, Stella's Carpet will resonate for those forced to find non-traditional ways to create community, and those willing to examine the threads that draw our tapestry together in this everchanging world.

October 28, 2021
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