10 Canadian memoirs to check out this summer
Here are 10 personal stories — true tales of setbacks, adversity, perseverance and triumph — from Canadian writers.
David Chariandy won the 2017 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize for Brother, a remarkable novel about the sons of poor Trinidadian immigrants and the prejudice they encounter as visible minorities in the country they call home. Chariandy returns to themes of race and belonging in his memoir I've Been Meaning to Tell You, a letter to his 13-year-old daughter, recounting his own story as the child of Black and South Asian migrants in Canada. In deceptively simple prose, Chariandy deftly navigates sensitive and complex issues, acknowledging a painful past while also describing a hopeful future.
Just Let Me Look At You by Bill Gaston
Just Let Me Look At You is about the difficult relationship between a father and his son. Bill Gaston's father was a heavy drinker with a dark side and a man Gaston frequently rebelled against as a teenager. One thing that bound them was a love and reverence for salmon fishing on Canada's west coast. After his father's death, Gaston finds himself reflecting on the long, contented silences shared with his father on the water. Gaston is also a renown short story writer whose most recent collection is A Mariner's Guide To Self Sabotage.
At the Strangers' Gate by Adam Gopnik
At the Strangers' Gate is a tale of Adam Gopnik's two great loves: his wife Martha and New York City. In 1980, Gopnik and Martha boarded a bus from Montreal to New York to pursue their artistic ambitions. This memoir chronicles their first decade in the city, as Gopnik works to establish himself as a writer. Gopnik is now a contributor to The New Yorker and his previous memoir, Paris to the Moon, was a bestseller.
Lands of Lost Borders by Kate Harris
Lands of Lost Borders is Kate Harris's travelogue and memoir about her 10,000 km cycling trip along the ancient Silk Road. As a kid in small town Ontario, Harris was fascinated by the stories of ancient explorers like Marco Polo and dreamed of following in their footsteps. Later in life, Harris ends up on a 10-month trip with her friend Mel Yule, following the Silk Road through 10 nations. As she cycles into countries like Turkey, Kyrgyzstan and Tibet, Harris examines the history, politics and natural wonders of each place and recounts some of the struggles and triumphs of their citizens.
The Measure of My Powers by Jackie Kai Ellis
Jackie Kai Ellis was a designer in Vancouver when she decided to close her firm and go to Paris to study pastry making. Upon her return, she opened Beaucoup Bakery. That's the story those around her knew, but few were aware of her struggles with depression, an eating disorder and within her marriage. In her memoir, Ellis writes candidly about her journey to self-acceptance and documents her travels through France, Italy and Congo, while also weaving in recipes that represent important moments in her life.
Dear Current Occupant by Chelene Knight
Through a series of letters, Chelene Knight recalls growing up as the only mixed East Indian/Black child in her family during the 1980s and 1990s in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Her family lived in 20 different residences and Knight revisits each one, trying to deconstruct and understand her past.
The Unceasing Storm by Katherine Luo
The Unceasing Storm is a collection of essays by Katherine Luo and recounts the writer's life in China during the Cultural Revolution. Luo moved from Hong Kong to mainland China in 1955 to study drama and later became a performer for the Red Opera Troupe. She was filled with hopes for China, but was forever changed by the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations and massacre. Luo worked on translating the book into English with her stepdaughter Madeleine Thien, a Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning novelist.
No One Tells You This by Glynnis MacNicol
Glynnis MacNicol is a business owner, writer, New Yorker (by way of Toronto), daughter, sister and friend. But when she turned 40, it seemed that the two roles MacNicol didn't fill — wife and mother — were what people cared most about. No One Tells You This is the story of the year she turned 40, a period she spends rewriting what it means to be a single woman, while also coping with the decline of her mother's health. MacNicol has contributed to publications like Elle.com, the New York Times and the Guardian.
Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot
Terese Marie Mailhot traces her life story from a dysfunctional upbringing on Seabird Island reserve in B.C., with an activist mother and abusive father, to an acceptance into the Masters of Fine Art program at the Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico. This slim poetic volume packs a powerful punch in just 140 pages.
Dumb by Georgia Webber
Dumb by Toronto artist Georgia Webber recounts the months she spent in silence after suffering a throat injury. Not being able to speak forces Webber out of her customer service job and into unemployment. Struggling to communicate with friends and unable to sing, Webber looks to comics as a way to express herself, ultimately coming to a realization that her voice and identity are entwined.