CBC’s Canada-wide book debate Canada Reads begins Monday with novels from five regions of Canada vying for the hearts and minds of readers.

For 2013, Canada Reads returns to fiction, after dabbling with non-fiction last year. The debate began months ago, as readers in five different regions of the country put forward their favourite novels set in their own province.


Jian Ghomeshi hosts Canada Reads. (CBC)

The result is a list of five books that feature scenes from a residential school in Northern Ontario, a small town in Manitoba, an oil rig off the coast of Newfoundland and 1940s Montreal.

By Thursday, a group of five panellists will have chosen a single book as three million listeners or web viewers follow the debate.

The books and their authors:

  • Representing B.C. and the Yukon, Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese: An alcoholic Ojibway man looks back on his life from his time in residential school to the brief salvation he finds playing hockey.
  • Representing Prairies & the North, The Age of Hope by David Bergen: The novel follows the life of Hope Koop, a woman born in a small Manitoba town, who leads a safe,  predictable life as a wife and mother, all the while pondering the meaning and importance of her quiet existence.
  • Representing Ontario, Away by Jane Urquhart:  Esther O'Malley Robertson relates the 140-year history that brought her family from the inhospitable shores of Ireland during the potato famine to the challenging realities of the Canadian Shield.
  • Representing Quebec, Two Solitudes by Hugh MacLennan: Published in 1945, Two Solitudes tells the story of the Tallard family —  Athanase Tallard is an aristocratic French-Canadian and his beautiful wife Kathleen is of Irish heritage, while their son Paul is torn between French and English cultures.
  • Representing Atlantic Canada, February by Lisa Moore: A Newfoundland woman’s life is shattered by the sinking of the Ocean Ranger and the death of her husband, Cal. In the years afterward, she struggles to raise her children and move on.

Charlotte Gray is defending Away by Jane Urquhart. (CBC)

CBC has lined up passionate advocates for each book, including Hockey Night in Canada’s Ron Maclean, actor Jay Baruchel, and Olympic wrestler Carol Huynh.

Baruchel, who hails from Montreal, is defending the Canadian classic Two Solitudes. 

'Epic poem of Montreal'

"There is no book, from my heart, as important to the cultural analysis of Quebec as this one  It's been a part of my life since I was a teenager and its title has become the go-to to describe any issue that’s franco-anglo," he said in November when the books were unveiled.

"It's phenomenal, the epic poem of what it is to be in Montreal."

Maclean said he loved the wordplay and "artistic writing" of Bergen's The Age of Hope, but ultimately the book resonated because of its universal message of how we cope with life. "What makes it literature is the wisdom of how do we deal with the trauma of growing old. This is the voice of a woman, but it could be me," he said.

Gray has chosen to defend Away, Urquhart’s pioneer tale.

Great Canadian narrative

"It’s the great Canadian narrative of immigrants coming here, leaving part of themselves behind, but rediscovering themselves in the new land," Gray said.


Trent McClellan is defending February by Lisa Moore. (CBC)

"But what happens is, Jane takes the skin off the immigrant experience and shows underneath it the myth, the folklore, the fears, the dreams and takes you into a magical landscape."

Comedian Trent McLellan is defending Lisa Moore’s February, which he praised for tactfully capturing the impact of grief in the life of a woman left a widow after the Ocean Ranger’s sinking.  

B.C.-based Huyhn said that, as an athlete, she found Wagamese's description of the joy of playing hockey in Indian Horse to be very true to life, but the sense of cultural dislocation involved in the experience of racism toward native people was even more moving.

"As a child of refugees — I really connect with the experience of loss and new beginnings," she said.

Indian Horse is published by D&M Publishers, the Vancouver-based publisher that went into bankruptcy protection last year and recently announced buyers for both its Greystone and D&M divisions.  D&M also published last year's Canada Reads winner, Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre. 

Jian Ghomeshi hosts the Canada Reads debate, which begins Monday on CBC Radio One at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m., with live stream and chat online at CBC Books.