Esi Edugyan and Donovan Bailey talk Canada Reads

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Donovan Bailey is used to competition. And now the two-time Olympic champion is taking on a new challenge: Canada Reads. He's a panelist for the 2014 edition of CBC's battle of the books and he's defending Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan.

Bailey chose Half-Blood Blues for a variety of reasons: he's a jazz fan, he loved Edugyan's writing and he thinks that, despite being set in 1940s Paris and Berlin, it can speak to Canada as a country today. "The story itself is indicative of what Canada is," he said. "What [Esi Edugyan] is doing is bringing the world back to Canada and showing how we see ourselves. It's very global."

Edugyan agrees with Bailey's interpretation of her work. "A big part of this novel is it's an exploration of identity and belonging," she said."What does it mean to be from the place that you're from? Can you belong to more than one place? Does having an ambivalence to the place that you're supposedly from make you less from that place? Does it diminish things for you? These questions of identity and citizenship and belonging are very central to our national dialogue today."

Edugyan is confident Bailey will thrive during the competition in March. Bailey is too, but plans to lean heavily on Edguyan, who he says is his "coach" for what will be "the book Olympics."

"I will definitely be strategizing and seeing what it is I need to do to buck up and get ready to take on these people and let them all know that this is the best book and everyone in Canada should be reading it."

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