Specially curated book clubs picks that are sure to spark a lively discussion!
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August into Winter by Guy Vanderhaege (Can)
The first novel in nearly a decade from the three-time Governor General’s Award‒winning author of The Last Crossing, August Into Winter is an epic story of crime and retribution, of war and its long shadow, and of the redemptive possibilities of love.
It is 1939, with the world on the brink of global war, when Constable Hotchkiss confronts the spoiled, narcissistic man-child Ernie Sickert about a rash of disturbing pranks in their small prairie town. Outraged and cornered, Ernie commits an act of unspeakable violence, setting in motion a course of events that will change forever the lives of all in his wake.
Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig (Austria)
The great Austrian writer Stefan Zweig was a master anatomist of the deceitful heart, and Beware of Pity, the only novel he published during his lifetime, uncovers the seed of selfishness within even the finest of feelings.
Hofmiller, an Austro-Hungarian cavalry officer stationed at the edge of the empire, is invited to a party at the home of a rich local landowner. The surroundings are glamorous, wine flows freely, and the exhilarated young Hofmiller asks his host’s lovely daughter for a dance, only to discover that sickness has left her painfully crippled. It is a minor blunder that will destroy his life, as pity and guilt gradually implicate him in a well-meaning but tragically wrongheaded plot to restore the unhappy invalid to health.
The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thorton Wilder (US)
“On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below.” This immortal sentence opens The Bridge of San Luis Rey, one of the towering achievements in American literature, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and a novel still read throughout the world.
Brother Juniper, a Franciscan monk, witnesses the tragic event. Deeply moved, he embarks on a quest to prove that it was divine intervention, not chance, that led to the deaths of the five people crossing the bridge that day. Ultimately, his search leads to a timeless investigation into the nature of fate and love, and the meaning of the human condition.
Em by Kim Thuy (Can)
Kim Thúy’s Em is a virtuosic novel of profound power and sensitivity, and an enduring affirmation of the greatest act of resistance: love.
In the midst of war, an ordinary miracle: an abandoned baby tenderly cared for by a young boy living on the streets of Saigon. The boy is Louis, the child of a long-gone American soldier. Louis calls the baby em Hồng, em meaning “little sister,” or “beloved.” Even though her cradle is nothing more than a cardboard box, em Hồng’s life holds every possibility.
Through the linked destinies of a family of characters, the novel takes its inspiration from historical events, from the rubber plantations of Indochina to the massacre at My Lai. Kim Thúy sifts through the layers of pain and trauma in stories we thought we knew, revealing transcendent moments of grace, and the invincibility of the human spirit.
The Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway (Can)
Kiss of the Fur Queen is a powerful and beautiful tale of siblings and tricksters, culture and trauma, and finding yourself in a world that tries to tell you who you are.
Born into a magical Cree world in snowy northern Manitoba, Champion and Ooneemeetoo Okimasis are all too soon torn from their family and thrust into the hostile world of a Catholic residential school. Their language is forbidden, their names are changed to Jeremiah and Gabriel, and both boys are abused by priests.
As young men, estranged from their own people and alienated from the culture imposed upon them, the Okimasis brothers fight to survive. But wherever they go, the Fur Queen—a wily, shape-shifting trickster—watches over them as they fulfill their destiny to become artists.
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (USA)
The bestselling author of A Gentleman in Moscow and Rules of Civility and master of absorbing, sophisticated fiction returns with a stylish and propulsive novel set in 1950s America
In June, 1954, eighteen-year-old Emmett Watson is driven home to Nebraska by the warden of the juvenile work farm where he has just served fifteen months for involuntary manslaughter. His mother long gone, his father recently deceased, and the family farm foreclosed upon by the bank, Emmett’s intention is to pick up his eight-year-old brother, Billy, and head to California where they can start their lives anew. But when the warden drives away, Emmett discovers that two friends from the work farm have hidden themselves in the trunk of the warden’s car. Together, they have hatched an altogether different plan for Emmett’s future.
Spanning just ten days and told from multiple points of view, Towles’ third novel will satisfy fans of his multi-layered literary styling while providing them an array of new and richly imagined settings, characters, and themes.
Matrix by Lauren Groff (USA)
One of our best American writers, Lauren Groff returns with her exhilarating first new novel since the groundbreaking Fates and Furies.
Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, deemed too coarse and rough-hewn for marriage or courtly life, seventeen-year-old Marie de France is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey, its nuns on the brink of starvation and beset by disease.
At first taken aback by the severity of her new life, Marie finds focus and love in collective life with her singular and mercurial sisters. Born the last in a long line of women warriors and crusaders, Marie is determined to chart a bold new course for the women she now leads and protects. But in a world that is shifting and corroding in frightening ways, will the sheer force of Marie’s vision be bulwark enough?
A defiant and timely exploration of the raw power of female creativity in a corrupted world.
The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa (Japan)
Finalist for the International Booker Prize and the National Book Award
A haunting Orwellian novel about the terrors of state surveillance, from the acclaimed author of The Housekeeper and the Professor.
On an unnamed island, objects are disappearing: first hats, then ribbons, birds, roses. . . . Most of the inhabitants are oblivious to these changes, while those few able to recall the lost objects live in fear of the draconian Memory Police, who are committed to ensuring that what has disappeared remains forgotten. When a young writer discovers that her editor is in danger, she concocts a plan to hide him beneath her f loorboards, and together they cling to her writing as the last way of preserving the past. Powerful and provocative, The Memory Police is a stunning novel about the trauma of loss.
Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (USA)
In this bravura follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize–and National Book Award–winning #1 New York Times bestseller The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow–era Florida.
Abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grand-mother, Elwood is a high school senior about to start classes at a local college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides “physical, intellectual, and moral training” so that the delinquent boys in its charge can become “honorable and honest men.”
In reality, the Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors. Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold on to Dr. King’s ringing assertion “Throw us in jail and we will still love you.” His friend Turner thinks that Elwood is worse than naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. The tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision with repercussions that will echo down the decades.
Based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for 111 years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative that showcases a great American novelist writing at the height of his powers.
Pied Piper by Nevil Shute (UK/Australia)
One of Nevil Shute’s most exciting novels, Pied Piper is the gripping story of one elderly man’s daring attempt to rescue a group of children during the Nazi invasion of France.
It is the spring of 1940 and John Sidney Howard wants nothing more than to enjoy his fishing holiday in southern France in peace and quiet. However, the Nazi conquest of the Low Countries puts an end to that, and he is asked by friends to take their two children back to England. Crossing France with his young charges seems simple enough at first—until the Germans invade, rendering them fugitives. As Howard struggles to sneak across France, he picks up several more helpless children of various nationalities. They walk for miles in an endless river of refugees, strafed by German planes and hiding in barns at night. By the time Howard and his flock of little ones reach the Channel, his plan of escaping on a fishing boat has become utterly impossible, and in their final confrontation with the invaders, all their lives are at stake.
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (Scotland)
A stunning debut novel by a masterful writer telling the heart wrenching story of a young boy and his alcoholic mother, whose love is only matched by her pride.
Shuggie Bain is the unforgettable story of young Hugh “Shuggie” Bain, a sweet and lonely boy who spends his 1980s childhood in run-down public housing in Glasgow, Scotland. Thatcher’s policies have put husbands and sons out of work, and the city’s notorious drugs epidemic is waiting in the wings.
Shuggie’s mother Agnes walks a wayward path: she is Shuggie’s guiding light but a burden for him and his siblings. She dreams of a house with its own front door while she flicks through the pages of the Freemans catalogue, ordering a little happiness on credit, anything to brighten up her grey life.
A heartbreaking story of addiction, sexuality, and love, Shuggie Bain is an epic portrayal of a working-class family that is rarely seen in fiction.
Still Life by Sarah Winman (UK)
Set between World War II and the 1980s, Still Life is a beautiful, big-hearted story of strangers brought together by love, war, art, flood, and the ghost of E. M. Forster, from the bestselling, prize-winning author of Tin Man and When God Was a Rabbit.
In the wine-cellar of a Tuscan villa, as the Allies advance and bombs fall around them, two people meet and share an extraordinary evening: Ulysses Temper is a young British soldier from London’s East End; Evelyn Skinner is a worldly older art historian and possible spy.
Evelyn’s talk of truth and beauty plants a seed in Ulysses’s mind that night, one that will shape the trajectory of his life–and the lives of those who love him–for the next four decades. Moving from war-ravaged Tuscany to the boozy confines of The Stoat and Parrot pub in London and the piazzas of post-war Florence, Still Life is both sweeping and intimate, mischievous and deeply felt. It is a novel about beauty, love and fate, about the things that make life worth living, and the things we’re prepared to die for.
We Should Not be Afraid of the Sky by Emma Hooper (Can)
An epic, boundary-pushing tale of five young women rebelling against an era that relies on their submission, from the acclaimed author of Etta and Otto and Russell and James.
During the golden age of the Roman Empire, five girls enjoy a modest childhood in their small Portuguese village. Though the girls are all raised by different families, there is one thing they know without a doubt: they are sisters.
What they don’t know is that their simple existence is about to be irrevocably changed. When soldiers abduct them from their village and bring them to the commander, the sisters are suddenly forced to confront long-buried secrets that reveal their lives to be anything but ordinary. They soon find themselves at the centre of a deadly standoff and must part ways to fight their own battles in order to survive.
We Should Not Be Afraid of the Sky is bursting at the seams with abstract miracles, devastating tenderness, hope, desire, and treachery—with life and death in all their glory.
We Want What We Want by Alix Ahlin (Can – short stories)
Thirteen glittering, surprising, and darkly funny stories of people testing the boundaries of their lives, from two-time Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist Alix Ohlin.
In the mordantly funny “Money, Geography, Youth,” Vanessa arrives home from a gap year volunteering in Ghana to find that her father is engaged to her childhood best friend. Unable to reconcile the girl she went to dances with in the eighth grade and the woman in her father’s bed, Vanessa turns to a different old friendship for her own, unique diversion. In the subversive “The Brooks Brothers Guru,” Amanda drives to upstate New York to rescue her gawky cousin from a cult, only to discover clean-cut, well-dressed men living in a beautiful home, discussing the classics and drinking cocktails, moving her to wonder what freedoms she might be willing to trade for a life of such elegant comfort. And in “The Universal Particular,” Tamar welcomes her husband’s young stepcousin into her home, only to find her cool suburban life knocked askew in ways she cannot quite understand.
Populated with imperfect families, burned potential, and inescapable old flames, the stories in We Want What We Want are, each one, diamond-sharp — sparkling with pain, humour, and beauty.
What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad (Can)
From the widely acclaimed author of American War: a new novel–beautifully written, unrelentingly dramatic, and profoundly moving–that brings the global refugee crisis down to the level of a child’s eyes.
More bodies have washed up on the shores of a small island. Another over-filled, ill-equipped, dilapidated ship has sunk under the weight of its too many passengers: Syrians, Ethiopians, Egyptians, Lebanese, Palestinians, all of them desperate to escape untenable lives in their homelands. And only one has made the passage: nine-year-old Amir, a Syrian boy who has the good fortune to fall into the hands not of the officials but of Vanna: a teenage girl, native to the island, who lives inside her own sense of homelessness in a place and among people she has come to disdain.
In alternating chapters, we learn the story of the boy’s life and how he came to be on the boat; and we follow the girl and boy as they make their way toward a vision of safety. But as the novel unfurls, we begin to understand that this is not merely the story of two children finding their way through a hostile world, it is the story of our collective moment in this time: of empathy and indifference, of hope and despair–and of the way each of those things can blind us to reality, or guide us to a better one.
When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labutut (Chile)
Shortlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize and the 2021 National Book Award for Translated Literature
A fictional examination of the lives of real-life scientists and thinkers whose discoveries resulted in moral consequences beyond their imagining.
When We Cease to Understand the World is a book about the complicated links between scientific and mathematical discovery, madness, and destruction.
Fritz Haber, Alexander Grothendieck, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger—these are some of luminaries into whose troubled lives Benjamín Labatut thrusts the reader, showing us how they grappled with the most profound questions of existence. They have strokes of unparalleled genius, alienate friends and lovers, descend into isolation and insanity. Some of their discoveries reshape human life for the better; others pave the way to chaos and unimaginable suffering. The lines are never clear.
At a breakneck pace and with a wealth of disturbing detail, Labatut uses the imaginative resources of fiction to tell the stories of the scientists and mathematicians who expanded our notions of the possible.