Get to know the Top 40: Journeys

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Just as travel can infuse excitement into one's regular life, stories about exploring far-off places are an important sub-genre on our Canada Reads: True Stories Top 40 list. 

Today we look at books that visit India (M. G. Vassanji's A Place Within and Merrily Weisbord's The Love Queen of Malabar), Burma (Karen Connelly's Burmese Lessons) and China (Judy Fong Bates's The Year of Finding Memory). There's also a journey back in time: Wayson Choy's exploration of the Chinatown of his childhood in Paper Shadows.






The Book: Burmese Lessons by Karen Connelly

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What's it about? Poet and journalist Karen Connelly first traveled to Burma in 1996 to research a series of articles about political prisoners. The country works its way indelibly into her heart, especially when she falls in love with a Burmese resistance leader.

Did the critics like it? Yes. Connelly was praised across the board for her bravery and candour.

What else do I need to know?The book was nominated for the Governor General's Literary Award for non-fiction in 2010. Connelly has also written two other highly acclaimed books, the novel The Lizard Cage and Touch the Dragon, an account of her travels in Thailand, which won the Governor General's Literary Award for non-fiction in 1993.



The Book: The Love Queen of Malabar by Merrily Weisbord

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What's it about? Kamala Das, who passed away in 2009, was regarded as one of India's most controversial and beloved literary figures. She was the first Indian woman to write openly about love and female desire in her autobiography, which was both admired and reviled, and her national nickname became "The Love Queen of Malabar." Inspired by her writing, author Merrily Weisbord traveled to South India to meet Das, sparking a 14-year friendship.

Did the critics like it? Yes. Weisbord beautifully portrays the friendship between the two women, and critics found Das to be a compelling figure who deserves more attention in North America.

What else do I need to know? This book was a finalist for both the Writers' Trust Prize for non-fiction and the Charles Taylor Prize for literary non-fiction in 2010.



The Book: Paper Shadows by Wayson Choy

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What's it about? While on tour to promote his first novel, The Jade Peony, Choy received a strange phone call in which he was told by the caller that she had just seen his mother on a streetcar. Choy was perplexed, his mother having died years before. But the voice insisted that his REAL mother was still alive, and Choy realized that he had been adopted. This book is a reminiscence of the Chinatown of Choy's youth, inspired by this realization, a journey he takes to discover the truth about his past.

Did the critics like it? Yes. Choy's second book was very well received, though several critics pointed out that it could really be considered a companion piece to The Jade Peony.

What else do I need to know? Paper Shadows was a national bestseller, shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award for non-fiction and was a 1999 Globe and Mail Notable Book of the Year.


The Book: A Place Within by M. G. Vassanji

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What's it about? M. G. Vassanji's first work of non-fiction is an intimate account of his first visit to his ancestral home of India in 1993, when religious riots were plaguing the country. Part travelogue, part history, A Place Within is a personal exploration of the author's roots.

Did the critics like it? Yes, the Globe and Mail named it a Best Book when it came out in 2009.

What else do I need to know? M. G. Vassanji has been nominated for and won multiple awards for his fiction, including the very first Scotiabank Giller Prize for The Book of Secrets in 2000. (He won a second Giller Prize for The In-Between World of Vikram Lall in 2003.) Born in Kenya, he has lived in Canada since 1978 and is a member of the Order of Canada.






The Book: The Year of Finding Memory by Judy Fong Bates

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What's it about? Judy Fong Bates grew up listening to her parents' stories about China from before they immigrated to Canada, but it wasn't until many years later that she satisfied her curiosity about her parents' past by going back to their Chinese ancestral home. Thirty-five years after her father hanged himself, Fong Bates goes on a search to discover the truth about her parents' past, culminating in a trip of her own to mainland China.

Did the critics like it? Yes. This book was heralded by all the major papers as beautiful and moving. Readers followed suit -- The Year of Finding Memory was a national bestseller and a Globe and Mail Best Book.

What else do I need to know? Fong Bates has written two other books: China Dog, a collection of short stories, and Midnight at the Dragon Café, a novel, which received wide acclaim and was selected as the "One Book" reading program for Toronto this year.




You can vote for these titles (or any of the other 35 books) in our Canada Reads: True Stories vote for the Top 10 contest! To cast your vote, head over to the poll. You can vote for up to five titles. Doing so will help these books move one step closer to being officially entered in this year's battle of the books.

 

The Canada Reads: True Stories Top 10 will be revealed on Tuesday, November 1, on Q and right here on CBC Books.

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