Great True Stories: Books in translation

UPDATE: This poll is now closed. Check out our other polls on our featured polls page!

There are a lot of great Canadian true stories out there. How is the regular reader going to sift through all of them? Recall the non-fiction classics? Unearth the much-loved but overlooked small press memoir? It's a difficult task. Which is why we aren't going to leave you to do it alone. We asked people from all across the publishing spectrum -- booksellers, bloggers, publishers and more -- to build their dream Canada Reads: True Stories list. We will roll these lists out through the Top 40 campaign. They can be a source of inspiration and a fantastic reading list, and they give these books an extra bump to make it to the next round in this year's debates. But you also get to have your say.

We turned to several people who are in the know when it comes to books in translation for their Canada Reads choices. See what they chose (and vote for your favourite) below the jump.

The poll will close on Sunday, October 16, at midnight ET. Each vote counts as one point. Books accumulate points based on polls and recommendations. The 40 books with the most support will be named the Canada Reads: True Stories Top 40.

Mark Abley is a Canadian poet, journalist, editor and author of The Prodigal Tongue: Dispatches from the Future of English and the children's book about words and their origins, Camp Fossil Eyes.


For his Canada Reads: True Stories pick, Mark chose Gabrielle Roy: A Life by Francois Ricard, translated by Patricia Claxton:

"This is a fair-minded, subtle and comprehensive account of the life of one of Canada's finest novelists, written with the explicit encouragement of Gabrielle Roy herself."

Patricia Smart is a distinguished research professor of French at Carleton University and the author of a number of books. Her feminist study of Quebec literature, Écrire dans la maison du Père, won the Governor General's Award for non-fiction in French and her translation of it, Writing in the Father's House: The Emergence of the Feminine in the Quebec Literary Tradition, was awarded the Gabrielle Roy Prize. 


For her Canada Reads: True Stories pick, Patricia chose Whore by Nelly Arcan:

"My suggestion would be the memoir or "autofiction" Putain, published in 2001 by the young writer Nelly Arcan, which was a bestseller both in Quebec and in France. (The English translation, by Bruce Benderson, is Whore.) In it Arcan (real name Isabelle Fortier) recounts her career as a high paid call girl while she was a student in philosophy at the Université du Québec à Montréal. It's a hard book to read, because of Arcan's anger at the men who pay her for sex and her exposure of their hypocrisy. But it's also a compelling read, made all the more so in the present day because Arcan committed suicide last year at the age of 34.

You may have read something about Arcan in recent weeks, because a book of her writings was published posthumously about three weeks ago, with the powerful title Burqa de chair (Burka of Flesh). It contains a clearly autobiographical short story inspired by her appearance on the talk show Tout le monde en parle a couple of years earlier, in which the show's hosts made fun of her Barbie doll appearance and the provocative things she'd said or written about sex. She was totally devastated by the experience. The Quebec media picked up on this story,  interviewed the show's host, etc. It was certainly the scandal of the week.

But Arcan was a very talented writer and her books (especially Putain) are taught and analysed in university courses. Her story is tragic, and her book would give rise to a lot of discussion. Some people might hate it, although I'm sure it wouldn't arouse as much antagonism as Hubert Aquin's Next Episode did a few years ago! Actually Arcan seems in many ways to me to be the female version of Aquin (whom I knew well and who also committed suicide). But her books are easier to understand."

Charles Foran is a Canadian novelist and non-fiction writer living in Peterborough, Ontario. His Mordecai: The Life & Times, won the 2011 Charles Taylor Prize for Nonfiction and is a finalist for the brand-new Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize.


For his Canada Reads: True Stories pick, Charles chose Enchantment and Sorrow: The Autobiography of Gabrielle Roy by Gabrielle Roy

"Roy's autobiography, published only after her death, is infused with the wisdom, sadness, pathos, and yearning of someone still seeking to understand the past while being more and more at peace with it. Very touching, candid portraits of her family, her childhood in Manitoba, and of her own strong, singular character."

Lazer Lederhendler is a literary translator and an academic based in Montreal. A four-time finalist for the Governor General's Award for translation from French to English, he won in 2008 for his translation of Nicholas Dickner's novel Nikolski.


For his Canada Reads: True Stories pick, Lazer chose The Canadian Fuhrer: The Life of Adrien Arcand by Jean-François Nadeau, translated by Robert Chodos

"The book sheds light on a huge skeleton lurking in the closet of Canadian history and these days it is important for such truths to be more widely know."

The Canada Reads: True Stories Top 40 will be announced on October 18! Stay tuned.

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