Malarky by Anakana Schofield

Malarky (Biblioasis, 2012) deals with death and sex and most of all, with grief, and it’ll probably stand as my funniest book of the year. In the opening scene, the mentally disturbed protagonist (“Our Woman”) is confessing to the grief counselor that she’s plagued with thoughts about her recent widowhood. “Tell me about these thoughts,” asks the counselor, assuring her that it’s all been heard before. “Men,” she replies. “Naked men. At each other all the time, all day long.” “Well, now,” replies the counselor, falling silent.

Our Woman is a middle-aged farmer’s wife in Ireland, whose life becomes unglued when she discovers her much-loved son’s homosexuality, and then, her husband’s infidelity. Tea and housework routines make up the bulwark of her defense, but she then decides to “figure this muck out” by experiencing such things herself.

And so Our Woman sets off on a delirious, tragic journey of sexual exploration.  She begins with a one-time encounter with a “ginger haired male, humpy towards mid forty” who, during sex, says “you’re great, great, you’re a great girl the same affectionate way farmers talk to their cows—go on there and hup hup ya, hup there,” and then moves on to an affair with a security guard of Syrian origin. But when she loses her husband and then her son, Our Woman gets drunk on sorrow and guilt, and her grief, failing to find a logical escape,  develops its own erratic modes of reasoning.

Malarky’s narrator has such a convincing voice that this book seems more like an act of clairvoyance than the fruit of any known authorial procedure. Schofield gives us a front-row seat to a wife’s mind. (“I married a man and if you marry one, this is what you do. You organize the things that disturb him.”) Our Woman is brilliantly executed–her erratic actions are invested with a sincerity of purpose that calls foremost upon our compassion. And oh, the writing! Filled with energy and bite, the prose spurns any tendency to prettiness, and moves between extremes of pain and humor with astounding ease. (“It’s easy to forget widows. They illuminate themselves once a year around anniversaries of other people dying. Then people remember they are the remnants of the person who has gone.”)

Malarky isn’t an easy read–it’s divided into episodes that sometimes appear disjointed, it dodges and weaves and loops back in time, and shifts points of view rapidly. Schofield’s stylistic choices demand that the reader work hard at the text. But that’s no more than I was expecting. Like all great works, Malarky offers up to reader as much as they’re willing to put in.


A much-edited version of this review is forthcoming in Herizons magazine.

Recent reads and reviews

If we met during the Christmas holidays past, odds are I thrust a copy of Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon into your hands, and then held a cleaved sword over your head till you began to read. “But I don’t like fantasy,” some burbled. “You’ll read this,” I replied, “because it’s set in a fantasy Middle-East where the locals are the heroes rather than the villains, because the writing is kick-ass and because the world-building is delicious.  Because NPR called it The Lord of the Rings meets the Arab Spring. And because I’m interviewing Saladin Ahmed.”  That interview was published in the February issue of Bookslut; here’s an excerpt.

The novel features a fat old hero, and a warrior-priest swordsman who’s all of five feet tall… You subvert so many conventions about masculinity and heroism that dominate this genre. Did you have a particular agenda while planning the novel, or did it all flow organically from the plotting process?

I’m glad someone finally noticed that Raseed is short. That was very intentional, and few have remarked upon it! Yes, I had — that most dreaded of things! — an agenda: look at other (Other?) criteria for heroism and follow the sorts of heroes we don’t usually follow. But to me, that’s not mutually exclusive to flowing organically. A writer starts out writing with a set of suppositions and questions in her head — even if she is unaware of them. But as one writes, these, one hopes, shift and squirm a bit.


Writers don’t tell stories in a vacuum, however much we might wish to pretend otherwise. So what already-told stories are your stories re-inscribing, which ones are they countering? Since long before 9/11, US culture has been saturated with stories about Arabs and Muslims as villains, as fanatics, as worthless, as better dead than alive. So yes, I aim to tell different stories in my work, and Throne is a part of that effort, however cloaked in swash-and-buckle it may be. […] in general, Throne very consciously aims to re-center the traditional western fantasy map, and to interrogate attendant cultural assumptions in the process. But, again, via monsters and magic rather than polemic.

Read the interview here, buy the book here, and visit Ahmed’s website here.


I reviewed a couple of books for Herizons which I though I’d mention on the blog. Lilian Nattel’s Web of Angels is an unflinching yet compassionate exploration of Disassociative Identity Disorder (better known as multiple personality disorder).  Nattel never sensationalizes the condition, and the plot unwinds very delicately. The protagonist Sharon is a Toronto wife and mother who has successfully concealed her condition for decades, but when a young pregnant girl in the neighborhood commits suicide, she decides to take action, even at the cost of revealing her DID. “And it all seemed so ordinary except it wasn’t” observes a character, and this line serves as a fine precis of the novel.  Nattel demands that we re-evaluate our conception of normal–whether applied to ourselves, our near ones or our society–and the results are unsettling, to say the least.

(you) set me on fire by Mariko Tamaki nails the miserable angsty insecurity that most teens wear like a second skin. Allison Lee opts to attend St. Joseph’s College because no one from her high school will be there–she was picked on in school, had a messy love affair with a fellow student Anne, accidentally set herself on fire twice, and now bears burn scars running from her hairline to her shoulder; re-inventing herself in college is a seductive idea. But then she meets the beautiful, crazy Shar, and their relationship soon turns abusive. Allison’s voice is remarkably wise and funny and she has a finely-calibrated bullshit detector for society’s strictures, but she’s so spectacularly misguided in her relationship choices that you want to leap into this book howling “WTF are you doing!” There’s an enviable alignment of authenticity and skill in Tamaki’s new book; this is stuff of classics.


And now, for some exciting literary happenings, aka a nude author calendar. Twelve Canadian authors will display their beautiful…minds for a 2014 calendar, whose proceeds will go to PEN Canada (an organization that supports freedom of expression). The calendar is produced by Bare it for Books, and the line-up includes  Farzana Doctor, Miranda Hill, Terry Fallis,  and Yann Martel, who I hope will pose with a tiger covering his bits.

Up and Down by Terry Fallis

In his third novel, Terry Fallis sticks to the formula of his earlier work–likable young dude champions principled outsider in a setting infested with spin and #conservativerage. And what a formula it is! Fallis’s debut novel The Best-Laid Plans and the sequel The High Road were set against a backdrop of Canadian politics (see, spin and rage), and featured the endearingly clumsy Daniel Addison, who persuaded an old liberal feminist engineering professor Angus McLintock to enter politics. The books were funny and heartfelt, and The Best-Laid Plans won the 2008 Stephen Leacock Award for Humor and then won Canada Reads 2011. If you want an entertaining introduction to Canadian politics–look no further.

If in the first two novels, Daniel emerged from the lions’ den of Canadian politics with his morals unscathed, in Up and Down,  David battles the Goliath that is the Media Machine. David Stewart is the newest member of the Canadian office of a giant PR company that’s pitching NASA for the chance to renew (North American) public interest in the space program. (Canada is part of this endeavor because of Canadarm, the Canadian-invented robotic arm that does cool stuff in space).  Despite (or perhaps due to) his neophyte status, David’s idea wins the day. NASA opts to run a Citizen Astronaut lottery–a random draw that’d pick one Canadian and one American to visit the International Space Station. Any citizen over the age of eighteen can enter the contest.

Things go smoothly till the Canadian winner is chosen, and then it’s mayhem.  The computer-selected candidate–one L. Percival from Cigar Lake, B.C.–isn’t the telegenic interest-magnet the PR mavens envisioned. Will expediency triumph over justice? And what’s a young, well-intentioned, endearingly clumsy guy to do but resort to some gentle skulduggery of his own to save the day?

In Up and Down, Fallis explores homophobia,  ageism and the imperative for space exploration, and he also movingly describes the lingering death of a parent. Yet the overall impression of the book is one of enthusiastic good cheer, thanks to lightness of his touch and frequent infusions of slapstick humor.  Fallis writes with great gusto about Canada-U.S. relations (dodgy!), space exploration (thrilling!), and public relations (useful but often sucky).  (Fallis, a PR professional himself, is refreshingly down-to-earth about the realities of his career.) And he’s very good at giving his characters unique mannerisms and personalities without descending into caricature.

Stylistically speaking, I did find the book predictable–the humor occasioned by David’s clumsiness is very similar to that of the previous books. I also felt some of the descriptive writing seemed to be trying too hard. “He calmly replaced the phone in the cradle and held his hand there for just a second or two before leaping to his feet and pumping his fist so hard I feared he might dislocate his shoulder. Then he whooped a few times and did a brief but disturbing victory dance that a little bit bump and grind and far too much Curly from the three stooges. It was actually quite frightening but really didn’t matter.” There’s a lot in this vein, and it sometimes drags down the well-oiled plot.

But overall, Up and Down is a very warm-hearted, funny and likable book. I attended a reading by Fallis last month where he spoke about his passion for space exploration, and it’s fully reflected in his writing. He also mentioned several in-jokes about the names of Canada’s former Prime Ministers–all of which I missed.  In person, Fallis radiates goodwill and humor, and appeared genuinely happy to drive two hours through rush hour traffic to spend  time with his readers. Not all authors are like that.

(Terry Fallis photo credit: Jessica at Not My Typewriter)

In sum, this book is a comfort read, with good people winning in an idealized Canada. And as with his previous books, Fallis wears his liberal heart on his sleeve, bless him.  Sexism, ageism and homophobia all receive a well-deserved kick in their pants, and I was cheering along every page. If only L.Percival were descended from a passenger on the Komagata Maru… but hey, there’s always the next book. Battle on, Terry!

Book Launch: Sleeping Funny by Miranda Hill

I asked Random House for a review copy of Sleeping Funny for the most ignoble of reasons–I figured my neighborhood would appear in the book. Miranda Hill lives a few streets away from me. I once saw her at my local Shoppers Drug Mart.  If you live in the sort of city Hollywood would pick for the alien invasion, you’re probably inured to this particular thrill, but seeing as I don’t, I do request books based on the recognition factor. But when I began reading, I realized that I had it all wrong. Yes, my hood was indeed portrayed in sumptuous detail, in a most illuminating light, but reading this book for those reasons was like visiting the Taj Mahal because I was looking for some shade.

Sleeping Funny is a collection of nine stories, one of which won the Journey Prize (Canada’s top prize for short stories) last year. Hill essentially examines how people react when confronted with the unexpected, but the latter précis does little justice to the wondrous variety of events and characters in this book. A smug middle-class neighborhood of professional women is shaken when a beautiful, bohemian artist moves in.  A teen girl attends sex-ed class to find herself witnessing the conception scenes of all her classmates. A young widow plants a garden to deal with the death of her pilot husband in World War II. A woman maintains a hospital vigil for a man who jumped off a high-rise rooftop.

I was perhaps most struck by Hill’s generosity as a writer in giving the reader many points of entry for each story– through character, through humor, through story titles with multiple interpretations, and most importantly, through the truths lurking on each page.  A character recalls the first time her husband hit her. “I couldn’t even remember Cy’s fist on me. It was as if something had pushed its way out from the inside like a latent cancer. ‘This is how I look as a beaten woman,’ I said. I tried it on like a uniform, and felt it settle on me like something I was always meant to wear.” Hill writes with uncanny perceptiveness, and she knows just how to inject the telling detail that’ll infuse a scene with depth and texture.  Here’s a woman at neighbor’s house, serving plastic glasses of wine “as if they were her mother-in-law’s good crystal.”  A child is so neglected that “his nails developed a rim of grime until, despairing of ever being told to clean them, he did it himself.”

So there was no way I’d miss the official release of this book or the chance to meet the writer. The launch, on Monday night, was hosted in inimitable style by Kerry of Bryan Prince Books, a store whose virtues I have long lauded on this blog.  The room was packed, but my friend and I came early, and besides, we strategically deposited our  handbags onto the good seats. (Men, I guess, slough off their jackets?) Hill read excerpts from three stories, and answered questions from Jeanie Macfarlane on her choice of form and her genesis as a writer. And yes, about her (our?) neighborhood. She also kindly signed my book with a personal inscription. In green ink. Given this book, I expected nothing less.

And here are pictures from that night, courtesy writer Ania Szado (check out her work, do).

Miranda Hill

Miranda Hill interviewed by Jeanie Macfarlane

Tell it to the Trees by Anita Rau Badami

Tell it to the Trees begins with a richly suspenseful scene where thirteen-year-old Varsha Dharma discovers a frozen body outside her home in the town of Merrit’s Point, BC. Who is the dead woman? How did she arrive at her death? (And: what a solid opening hook.)

The Dharma family consists of the grandmother Akka, who came from India to Canada upon her marriage and the father Vikram, whose abuse drives his first wife to flee leaving behind their  young daughter Varsha. Vikram subsequently marries the docile Suman, and Varsha, who fears abandonment by this (new) mother as well, vows to keep the family together despite the fractures caused by the father’s violence.

Frustratingly, the impact of Badami’s valuable message about domestic abuse–the complicity of those who look away, the conspiracies of silence in abusive marriages and the resulting damage upon children, and violence in turn begetting violence—is diluted by her prose. One of the pleasures of reading an accomplished novel is the sense the author trusts us to meet her halfway, and compared to Badami’s prior work (three novels  including Tamarind Mem, which I liked very much, and The Hero’s Walk, which won the Regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize), this fourth novel often feels curiously heavy-handed and repetitive. For instance, Varsha remarks,  “Nothing makes him [her father] more heartbroken than to beat my naughtiness out of me…He is doing it for my own good, after all, he has no desire to see me turn into my mother.”  And a few pages later, “Poor Papa, it’s not his fault that he has to be hard with me sometimes. I know he’s worried I’ll turn out like my real mother.”

Furthermore, Tell it to the Trees breaks no new ground in analyzing the cultural scripts of South Asian immigrants, who often prioritize social status and family cohesion over personal happiness; instead, we are treated to elementary lessons on arranged marriages, dowry deaths and subjugated women, all in overwrought yet unsatisfying detail. Consider this paragraph where Suman describes her friend Lalli’s marriage.

“…Lalli was packed off with a dowry of five lakh rupees and two dozen gold bangles and a Godrej refrigerator and a motorbike for her husband, only to end up hanging from the rafters of her new home, the mehendi from her wedding still wet on her palms. Her in-laws wailed and beat their breasts and said that a mentally ill girl had been passed on to them without their knowledge, but the rumors that swept around the gullies were that her mother-in-law wanted more gold bangles and her father-in-law wanted an air conditioner and her new husband wanted a car instead of a scooter. When Lalli’s father refused to oblige, her in-laws strung her up like a criminal hung for murder. “

Upon reading this, I wrote “too easy” in the margin of my text.

Also contributing to my disenchantment was the dreaded explaining note (infesting so much immigrant writing) creeping in. “…to celebrate a  festival called Karva Chauth when prayers were sent up to the god Shiva…”  Surely we’ve passed the stage where readers must be told Karva Chauth is a festival? That Shiva is a god? (And doesn’t sending a prayer imply a god at the other end anyway?)

In all fairness, the scenes set in India (that so aggravated me ) comprise less than a fifth of the book, and Badami’s  descriptions are far more measured and sure-footed when the narrative takes place in Canada–she nails  the novel cruelty of a Canadian winter for the newly-arrived, for instance. And in the second half, when Badami stops educating the reader and gets on with storytelling, the book comes alive.  The characterization takes off,  the tension picks up, and the narrative acquires a satisfying momentum leading to a an emotionally charged, vibrant finish. When Varsha repudiates the impotency of childhood with a steely determination to prevail, it made me shiver.  Tell it to the Trees is  an adeptly plotted, beautifully structured work about an important issue, but in the final reckoning, I was unable to embrace it fully. Sigh.


Tell it to the Trees by Anita Rau Badami
Knopf Canada, 2011

A much shorter version of this review appears in Herizons magazine.

Giveaway: A ticket to hear Rohinton Mistry, Wayne Johnston, James Bartleman in Toronto

I am SO THRILLED to offer readers of this blog a chance to witness three literary superheroes in action. In association with World Literacy Canada, I’m giving one person a $60 ticket to see Rohinton Mistry, Wayne Johnston, and James Bartleman read at the Kama Benefit Reading Series.

World Literacy Canada is a Toronto-based NGO supporting women and children’s literacy through non-formal education programs in South Asia.  Their initiatives include adult literacy programs, community libraries, skills training (such as tailoring), and much more.  The Kama Reading Series is WLC’s flagship fundraising event. The first Kama reading featured writers such as Michael Ondaatje and Margaret Atwood; 2012 marks the twentieth anniversary of this  event. This giveaway is for the last event in the series, and will be held at 6:30 at the Park Hyatt Toronto on May 30.

(You may remember that I’d done a blog giveaway earlier this year for the January event. )


Please leave a comment letting me know you’d like to win a ticket, along with your email address.

This giveaway is about promoting WLC’s work, so we’ll all be very happy if you like WLC on Facebook ( ) and  follow them on Twitter (@worldlit). And if you’d share news about this event and giveaway on your blogs and on social media, well, more good karma will flow your way.

Earlier this year, WLC announced to widespread dismay that their CIDA funding had been cut. So, please do check out how you can help WLC continue their important work–you can donate, volunteer, or choose to help in some other way. (Contact them here.)

Small print:

1.  This giveaway closes on May 18, 2012.

2. One winner will be picked by random number generator. If you have left a comment but are not in the Toronto area, or do not wish to enter the draw for any other reason,  please mention this information in your comment.

3. World Literacy will mail the winner’s ticket to a Canadian mailing address, or will hand it over at the venue, depending on the winner’s preference.

4. I have no professional or personal involvement with World Literacy, and am running this giveaway in order to promote a cause I support.  For all legalese, please contact World Literacy Canada.

Here’s a  brief note about each of the featured authors

Rohinton Mistry: India-born, Canada-based Mistry is the author of Tales from Firozsha Baag (1987), Such a Long Journey (1991), A Fine Balance (1995), Family Matters (2002), and The Scream (2006). He’s received too many honors to note here.

Wayne Johnston is the author of eight celebrated novels. Johnston’s fiction deals primarily with the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, often in a historical setting. His breakthrough novel, 1998’s The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, was acclaimed for its historical portrayal of Newfoundland politician Joey Smallwood, and was chosen for the 2003 edition of CBC Radio’s Canada Reads competition.

James Bartleman is a Canadian diplomat and author who was Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario from 2002 to 2007. He initiated the Lieutenant-Governor’s Book Program in 2004, and has collected over 1.2 million books, donated from all corners of the province from both institutions and individuals, to stock school libraries in First Nations communities.

(All writer bios from Wikipedia.)

Thank you for reading, and thank you for helping.


Update: The winner is entrant #5, Mayank Bhatt, chosen by Congratulations, Mayank! And thanks to all those who entered!

Women of the Short Story Tour

I live at a tantalizingly inconvenient distance from Toronto. The accursed highway that links me to literary activity is a perpetual jam; what should be a 45-minute drive takes two hours most evenings.  So a 7:00 pm Toronto event  means I have to start getting ready at 4:30, which is why I’m mostly wearing sweats and listening to The Art of Noise as I teach my son to fold laundry when I could be in THE COMPANY OF GIANTS.

But occasionally, there’s an event right at my doorstep that blows me out of the water, thanks to my local bookstore which happens to be one of Canada’s best indies.  Tuesday saw the Women of the Short Story tour (from Biblioasis) stop at Bryan Prince Bookseller, where Rebecca Rosenblum, Cathy Stonehouse, and Laura Boudreau read from their story collections. I’d only read Rosenblum’s book prior to the event, but I’m remedying my omission as I write this post.

It was a wonderful evening. Each of the writers had different styles and different strengths–Boudreau almost gave a performance (I’m guessing she has a theatre minor, or at least some sort of stage experience), for she captured the cadences and attitude of her protagonist, a twelve-year-old girl who’s figured out a way to buy cigarettes without getting caught, with pleasing exactitude.  Stonehouse’s delivery was more deadpan–she’d sneak in these great lines and I’d pause, wondering if I’d heard right–and it was perfect for a piece about a woman who discovers she can speak to a dog.  In Rosenblum’s case, I was most invested in hearing how she read what she’d written–it was fascinating to note what she chose to emphasize and what she didn’t, and how my interpretation stacked up against the author’s original vision.

Oh, there was wine, and some very nice cheeses, which I might call artisan if I had any European genes.

And what’s a blog post about a reading without pictures? Courtesy the affable Ray Boudreau, we have photographs! And thanks to me, you have excerpts, all manually entered for this post.

Rebecca Rosenblum

“The evening was much the same as any. He showered and checked his email in his bathrobe (his brother updating his birding life list; lawyer-joke forward from former colleague; thanks from the young turks at the office for projections he’d sent). Then he watched The National while sitting on the foot of the bed, until there was a story about Kim Jong Il’s plutonium stores. Laurence shivered, and flipped off the set before the human-interest story about llamas, which weren’t human anyway, and slept quietly on his side of the bed. He dreamt of kimchi, a food he had never eaten but was surely vile.

But it was only the next morning that things really started to go to hell.

He did seven crossword clues waiting for toast before recalling that Syl kept the toaster was unplugged for fear of electrical fires. Straight from the fridge, the butter was hard and punctured the bread. He forgot to make the tea until he wanted to drink it, and then the first bag he found turned out to be utterly not Earl Grey but something gingery that promised, upon inspection of the packet, to ease gas pains with natural effectiveness. He didn’t know what that meant or what this product was doing in his home.” —The Big Dream.

Laura Boudreau

“You look beautiful, someone says to someone else. And it must be true because there can be no lies on a patio where people are whole-face laughing about a punch line that goes, But I thought you were writing a novel! I look around to make certain, and sure enough, we are beautiful. Even the man in the rumpled brown suit who is spilling his glass of wine is beautiful. He pinballs around the party, bumping into chairs and bouncing off elbows, veering towards a woman in a short skirt and particularly freckled legs. I am a poet, he tells her, emphasizing the “am”. Yes, I believe you, the woman says.  She says it with the sort of kindness that only comes from concerned strangers and friends who have seen you naked.” — Suitable Precautions

Cathy Stonehouse

“When she left the bank, her plan had been to open an attraction, lay it out along the front lawn. Derek had just been laid-off from his job as station-master, now that the company had introduced self-serve: sleek, digital ticket dispensers that required maintenance only once a week. People pay money to view attractions and she still had her pride, was determined to provide Derek and herself with a source of income, albeit one that did not necessitate her leaving the house.  Her original goal, she admits, was over-ambitious: a scale model of England circa 1972. Since Derek left, she has scaled back, is focusing instead on three dioramas, each entitled The England That Could Have Been. She still believes she can find a way to display them. One can go in the hall, one in the living room, the third in the kitchen, with perhaps a tea-shop situated out back.  Tourists often stop off for meals, en route to the Lake District, and she could put up a sign on the motorway: Cream Teas and Miniature Propaganda.” —Something About the Animal.

I relish discovering resonances between a writer’s work and my own experiences, both as a reader and in life, and I struck gold this time around.  Towards the end of the evening, I made the connection that Cathy Stonehouse co-edited a book about motherhood that was gifted to me shortly after the birth of my child, back when I was in a losing battle with the fanged beast produced by the marriage of social expectations of parenting with my own inadequacies as a mother.  (I still struggle, but the beast’s claws have indeed blunted with time). Double Lives is an anthology of courageous, sympathetic,  unsentimental pieces about being a mother, and I’ve gifted many copies of this wonderful book to mom-friends. If you are interested in this topic, do check out Double Lives: Writing and Motherhood.

No pictures of the wine and cheese, alas. But you can see how lovely the store is, and if you ever visit my city, I promise to take you there, and let you buy me a book.

On television, on books

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m a guest on Book’Em TV, a Canadian TV show about books and reading, and the episode where I feature was shot on Monday. It was a lot easier than I expected, but I suspect I giggled feebly on camera while drool slopped down my chin. Ah, well. The show, which debuts this September, features a host, a panel of three readers, and a different guest in each episode. In essence, the three panelists, who each picked a favorite book, had to entice viewers to vote for their novel as the show’s read of choice. Their chosen titles were The Alchemist, The Beach, and Northanger Abbey, and it was great fun watching the three fight it out. The show host, Dr. Mary Ashun, really held it all together with her enthusiasm and down-to-earth approach–she made it seem as though a bunch of nice, book-obsessed folks got together to talk about their favorite thing. But, like, on TV. This is all way more difficult to achieve than it sounds.

The guest for the first episode was Terry Fallis, whose debut novel The Best Laid Plans won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humor and also won Canada Reads 2011, which is a big big deal, sort of an Oprah Book Club but with a sedate, publicly funded Canadian flavor. His episode was shot the same day, so I squeezed hands with him and then procured his signature on my copy of TBLP.  I’ll do a full-length review of the book soon, but a quick heads-up if you haven’t read it yet–it’s a funny, mordant, but surprisingly tender story about an academic-turned-politician. Sometimes CanLit can seem deadly dull, all earnest angst and winter depression, but this novel makes its points through humor and satire, and it’s ultimately a shout-out to idealism. Huzzah! An intelligent feel-good novel! When was the last time…? I want to mention here that TBLP was repeatedly rejected by publishers, and that Fallis went the self-publishing route. Now he has a nice deal with McClelland, so a slush-pile rejectionista somewhere has probably changed jobs, and is now Rob Ford’s advisor. Fallis was really funny and smart, so I hope you catch him on the show. Meanwhile, stalk him on the internets here.

It was then my turn, and I talked about reviewing and blogging and proclaimed on television that I don’t own an e-reader because I like to smell books. And then it was over, and we all (minus Fallis) went out for pizza. And here is a picture; the long hair in the pink coral shirt on the extreme right is moi.

And a shout-out to all the lovely people on the show and behind the scenes, who were stratospherically NICE and very smart; someone set them to work on the debt ceiling already. And not to belabor the very obvious diversity thing, but holy crap, we participants came from four continents. Lots of different people all talking happily about books, followed by pizza. Do you have a better vision for Utopia?

My new publications, and other bookish news

It took over a year from query to publication, but my feature article on YA literature for girls is finally up at the Canadian feminist magazine Herizons. The piece, which examines the kind of messages conveyed by contemporary YA lit. for girls, includes a list of my recommendations of (mostly Canadian) YA novels of all kinds from historical to paranormal to issue-based works. I interviewed several people for this piece–Canadian YA authors Courtney Summers, Neesha Meminger and Y.S.Lee, teen and youth services librarian Kat Drennan-Scace, YA bloggers (including Audrey from holes In My brain), and publishing industry insiders including as Amy Black, Senior Editor at DoubleDay Canada,  amongst others, and they all had wise and interesting things to say about girls and reading. The article isn’t available online, but  I hope you’ll take a look at it if you find a copy of Herizons at your bookstore or library.

I also have a review of Farzana Doctor’s new novel Six Metres of Pavement  in the latest issue of This magazine. Farzana, who is also a psychotherapist and a queer activist, is a wonderful writer, and I URGE you to check out this novel. This piece isn’t available online either.

And I’m going to be talking bout books–on TV! (Many thanks to my fellow blogger Amy for making all this happen.) There’s a new show about books on Rogers Television called Book ’em TV, and I’m the featured guest for the second episode of the show. The guest for the first episode is, um, Terry Fallis. Who just won Canada Reads. And is awesome. No pressure, what? Please wish me luck (lots of it).

Finally: my feature profile of Mitali Perkins is up at Fusia, a new Asian-Canadian magazine. Fusia contributes to the charity Because I am a Girl, which empowers young girls all over the globe, and I’m very glad that Perkins, who writes books featuring strong MG and YA girls, is featured in this magazine. She’s in good company–the  women profiled in this issue include Lisa Ray (on the cover), Devyani Saltzman (whom you may know as as Deepa Mehta’s daughter, and the author of the memoir Shooting Water), and many other impressive women.  The feature may appear online after the issue hits the stores (on August 10th, I think), and I’ll link to it then.

Two Indo-Canadian Tales of Transformation

Song of India by Mariellen Ward: I’ll admit to a jaundiced-verging-on-chrome  eye when reading travelogues about India. In my experience, such books either romanticize the country–it’s all Rajasthani palaces and IT fortresses–or they  condescend, wherein the writer, on the strengths of a few Indian friends and few Kingfishers too many, decides to explain the country to us ignorant folk. Ward’s book however, steers well away from such cliches; hence this review.

Song of India (2011) is a (self-published) collection of travel articles that appeared in a number of venues, including the Toronto Star. Ward, who lives in Toronto when she’s not traveling, combines a journalist’s eye for detail with an unapologetic passion for India, and the result is a splendidly personal account of the country’s transformation of her philosophy of life (and death). Ward’s experiences center around Yoga and spirituality, but her uplifting, informative  tales will appeal to Indophiles of all stripes. If, at times, I was skeptical about the ease of her travels–all hardship is self-imposed, and the author has apparently escaped (how?) diarrhea/sexual harassment/taxi drivers demanding five hundred rupees to reach the idli-stall round the corner–Ward herself acknowledges the magical quality of her relationship with the country.

The pieces could perhaps have been thematically arranged for a more cohesive read (the collection occasionally feels a tad scattershot), but Ward’s tensile prose, free of any hint of self-aggrandization, goes a long way in helping the reader overlook such minor flaws. After reading Song of India, you can’t help being glad for Ward for finding herself a happy place; would that all of us could. Ward conducts tours of India as well; on the basis of this book, I’d say you couldn’t find a better guide.

You can read more India-centric writing by Ward at her website.


Maya Running by Anjali Banerjee:  It’s the 1970s, and as the only brown girl in her small Manitoba town, Maya faces incomprehension, scorn, and occasional racial slurs  for her Indian heritage. Then her cousin Pinky arrives from India, and suddenly, being Indian is cool, for Pinky is beautiful and accomplished, and unapologetic about her ethnicity. Maya is delighted–until Pinky catches the eye of the boy Maya likes.

Obviously, serious intervention is called for.  Maya prays to the (Hindu) God Ganesh to change things around, and Ganesh answers her prayers, but the beware-of-getting-what-you-ask-for clause kicks in. How Maya gets  things sorted provides the note of suspense to the story.

In the main, I was charmed by Maya Running.  The novel is sharply-written and deeply-felt, and while Banerjee doesn’t sugar-coat issues of racism, she doesn’t let it bog the plot down either. The magic realism (for want of a better term) was an unexpected and welcome touch–works like this are often predictable, conforming to the cultural-conflict-solving “issue” book mold, and I was very glad that Banerjee injected something new and fun into this genre. My only real issue was with the pacing of the story.  Ganesh’s machinations begin only midway through the novel, and then everything moves very fast; I felt Banerjee could have explored Maya’s altered reality in more detail, rather than hurtling towards the climax.  Having said that, I was impressed with this book overall.  Banerjee, who grew up in Manitoba and now lives in the USA (presumably in warmer climes), writes for adults as well, and I’ll be trying those books soon.

You can read more about Banerjee at her site. And here’s an interview with her on this month’s Bookslut.