Ru by Kim Thuy has won Canada Reads: One Book To Break Barriers, which was as championed by TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey.
The novel, announced Thursday as the winner of CBC's annual battle of the books, traces a young woman's journey from to her home in Saigon during the Vietnam War, to a crowded Malaysian refugee camp and then to Quebec, where she struggles to fit in.
For Bailey, Toronto International Film Festival artistic director, the book triggered an emotional response which helped to fuel his impassioned debate.
"I came in with a lot of arguments that were very rational," he said. "[But] in the end, I had to try and pull from my own heart ... I connected with Ru on that level."
Bailey, whose family came to Canada from Barbados, also argued that the book's poetic style would be capable of opening the hearts of Canadians who may be suffering "compassion fatigue" when it comes to newcomers.
"There are incredibly dramatic stories sometimes that bring people into Canada," Bailey said. "Those should be respected and that should be made a part of the Canadian fabric."
Thursday's win also proved emotional for Thuy, who followed the broadcast announcing the winner all the way from China.
"It's incredible," she exclaimed, calling into the show.
"I don't know how I feel, I just feel so far from home. I just want to be home today," said the 46-year-old writer who immigrated to Montreal from Vietnam as a child.
Despite a well-spoken campaign by runnerup famed gossip blogger and broadcaster Elaine (Lainey) Lui, who was defending Raziel Reid's When Everything Feels like the Movies, the panel ultimately decided that Ru was the best story to challenge stereotypes and shift readers' perspectives.
The books voted off earlier this week, in order of elimination, were:
Day 1: Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes by Kamal Al-Solaylee, defended by Kristin Kreuk
- VIDEO | Canada Reads: Day 1 replay
Day 2: The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King, defended by Craig Kielburger
- VIDEO | Canada Reads: Day 2 replay
Day 3: And the Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier, translated by Rhonda Mullins, defended by Martha Wainwright
- VIDEO | Canada Reads: Day 3 replay
Day 4: When Everything Feels like the Movies by Raziel Reid, defended by Elaine (Lainey) Lui
- VIDEO | Canada Reads: The Finale
The 'Canada Reads effect'
This year, Canada Reads was hosted by last year's winning defender, Wab Kinew.
"This year’s debates were impassioned and hugely surprising. That's what makes Canada Reads great," said Kinew, who is a hip-hop artist, journalist and author.
"It brings so much energy and a breadth of experiences to Canadian literature."
Past Canada Reads winners have included: The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, February by Lisa Moore, Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill and The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis.
As the annual competition has grown in recognition over the years, a phenomenon known as "the Canada Reads effect" has emerged where the five competitors gain popularity with both a jump in sales and recognition for the winner.
Tune in to CBC Radio 1's Q on Friday when guest host Jelena Adzic will interview Bailey and Thuy.
Listen to the show at 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. (10:30 NT). The full interview will also be posted on CBCBooks.ca.