11 Canadian books to read for Remembrance Day

On Nov. 11, 2019, Canadians will mark Remembrance Day.

On Nov. 11, 2019, Canadians will mark Remembrance Day. Here are 11 Canadian books that describe the experience of war, its impact on human life and its long legacy.

Waiting for the Rain by Lamees Al Ethari

Waiting for the Rain is a memoir by Lamees Al Ethari. (Mawenzi House)

Lamees Al Ethari is a lecturer at the University of Waterloo, where she teaches literature, academic writing and creative writing. She immigrated from Iraq to Canada in 2008. Her memoir, Waiting for the Rain, collects memories, poetry, diary entries and art, describing her family's life in both idyllic and troubled times, including the American invasion of Iraq.

 Al Ethari is also the author of the poetry collection From the Wounded Banks of the Tigris.

Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto

Mark Sakamoto is a Canada Reads winner and the author of Forgiveness. (Peter Power/CBC, Harper Perennial)

Mark Sakamoto's memoir Forgiveness tells the story of how his grandparents survived two very different experiences of the war. His paternal grandmother was one of many Japanese Canadians forced into internment cams during the Second World War, while his maternal grandfather was a prisoner of war in Japan. These stories of survival and reconciliation shaped him as a Canadian, a man and a father. 

Forgiveness won Canada Reads 2018, when it was defended by Jeanne Beker.

Rush to Danger by Ted Barris

Rush to Danger is a nonfiction book by Ted Barris. (Submitted by Ted Barris, HarperCollins Canada)

Ted Barris's latest book, Rush to Danger, shows the efforts of medical personnel on the bloody battlefields of Europe. The book was inspired by the experience of his father, Alex Barris, as a medic in the Second World War. 

Barris, a military historian, has written 20 books, including the bestsellers Juno and Dam Bustersand half of them have focused on Canadian men and women in wartime.

Redpatch by Raes Calvert & Sean Harris Oliver

Redpatch is a play by Raes Calvert & Sean Harris Oliver. (, Talonbooks)

Raes Calvert and Sean Harris Oliver's play Redpatch tells the story of Private Jonathan Woodrow, an Indigenous soldier serving on the front lines for Canada during the First World War. Woodrow is a respected and feared soldier with elite hunting and wilderness survival skills. But as the war drags on, Woodrow begins to wonder if he will ever see his home again.

The play was a finalist for the Playwright Guild of Canada's 2017 Carol Bolt Award.

By Chance Alone by Max Eisen

By Chance Alone is a Holocaust memoir written by survivor Max Eisen. (Julie Eisen, HarperCollins)

When Max Eisen was 15 years old, he and his family were taken from their home to Auschwitz, where Eisen worked as a slave labourer. He survived the Holocaust and emigrated to Canada in 1949. Eisen has toured the world, educating people about the horrors he survived during the Second World War. He has recorded his memories in the memoir By Chance Alone.

By Chance Alone won Canada Reads 2019, when it was defended by journalist Ziya Tong.

Grass by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim, translated by Janet Hong

Keum Suk Gendry-Kim is a graphic novelist from South Korea. (Drawn & Quarterly)

Grass is a comic that tells the true story of Okseon Lee, a young Korean girl who was forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second World War. Using illustrations and her interviews with Lee, Gendry-Kim explores how one person experienced the Japanese occupation and the widespread suffering it entailed for ordinary Korean people.

Grass was translated by Janet Hong, who lives in Vancouver.

Tiny Lights for Travellers by Naomi K. Lewis

Tiny Lights for Travellers is a memoir by Naomi K. Lewis. (University of Alberta Press, @naomiklewisauthor/Facebook)

Facing the dissolution of her marriage, Naomi Lewis uncovered a family treasure: her grandfather's diary, which details his escape from Nazi-occupied Netherlands in 1942. Lewis travels to Amsterdam on a solo trip to retrace his steps, discovering family secrets and pondering the impact of the Holocaust on present and future generations. She chronicles this journey in Tiny Lights for Travellers.

Tiny Lights for Travellers was a finalist for the 2019 Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction.

Lewis is also the author of the novel Cricket in a Fist and the short story collection I Know You Remind Me Of. She lives in Calgary.

Seven Days in Hell by David O'Keefe

Seven Days in Hell is a nonfiction book by David O'Keefe. (Northernsky Entertainment, HarperCollins)

David O'Keefe's book draws from recently declassified documents and interviews with Second World War veterans of the regiment called the Black Watch, which was comprised of over 300 soldiers from Canada, the U.S., Great Britain and other Allied countries. Weeks after a major Canadian victory, the Black Watch fought for Verrières Ridge in a nightmarish battle against elite Waffen-SS units and veterans. The event is now known for the strategic mistakes that led to the death of hundreds of Allied men.

O'Keefe is an historian and documentarian who served with The Black Watch of Canada in Montreal. He lives in Rigaud, Que.

Girls Need Not Apply by Kelly S. Thompson

Girls Need Not Apply is a memoir by Kelly S. Thompson. (Dorian Wilding, McClelland & Stewart)

Kelly S. Thompson is from a military family and didn't think twice about becoming the fourth generation to enlist in the Canadian Armed Forces. But actually being a solider didn't match the image Thompson had in her mind ⁠— and being a woman made everything that much worse. Girls Need Not Apply tells Thompson's story, highlighting the misogyny and sexism she experienced in uniform and sharing her own reckoning about who she wants to be.

The River Battles by Mark Zuehlke

The River Battles is a nonfiction book by Mark Zuehlke. (Douglas & McIntyre,

Canadian soldiers referred to the Emilia-Romagna plain as the Promised Land during the Second World War. Military strategists believed if it could be taken, the Germans would be run out of Italy. But when Allied soldiers advanced they discovered that the plain was not a wide open space they could just ram their tanks through, rather it was a messy grid of canals, rivers and drainage ditches. Over five months of bloody battle followed. Military historian captures this story in The River Battles.

Zuehlke is also the author of the Elias McCann mystery series. He lives in Victoria.

The Water Beetles by Michael Kaan

The Water Beetles is Michael Kaan's first book. (Leif Norman, Goose Lane Editions)

In The Water Beetles, the lives of the wealthy Leung family are catastrophically altered by the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong in December 1941. The youngest boy, Chung-Man, leaves home with some of his siblings, seeking refuge in the countryside, only to be captured and tortured by Japanese soldiers. Chung-Man survives this torment, but lives the rest of his life with deep scars.

The book won the 2018 First Novel Award and was a finalist for the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction.


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