Books·3 to Read

3 books to read if you loved The Blind Assassin

Want to satisfy your craving for family drama? Here are three Canadian books to read once you've finished Margaret Atwood's 10th novel.
Margaret Atwood won the Booker prize in 2000 for The Blind Assassin. (Jean Malek/McClelland & Stewart)

Did you enjoy The Blind Assassin — Margaret Atwood's epic tale of family intrigue, secrets and memories that span the 20th century? Check out these three debut novels by Canadian authors.

Let Us Be True by Erna Buffie

Erna Buffie is the author of Let Us Be True. (CBC/Merit Motion Pictures/Coteau Books)

What it's about: Elderly and dying of cancer, Pearl Calder has seen her relationships with her family — in the past and the present — torn apart by the secrets she's kept from them over the decades, and the secrets they have kept from her. The story switches back and forth in time and perspective as, faced with her own mortality, Pearl comes to realize just how damaging those secrets can be.

When you're in the mood for: Simple but deliciously vivid prose. Richly developed relationships. Suppressed emotions. Bad choices.

If your favourite thing about The Blind Assassin was: Complex family relationships — especially sister relationships — marred by decades of simmering resentment and secrets.

Strange but true: Most of Erna Buffie's experience is in documentary films, as both a writer and a director. In 2013, she won the Canadian Screen Award for Best Direction in a Documentary for her film Smarty Plants (CBC's The Nature of Things).

From the book: "She laid them out on the bed. Laid them out like two dead bodies. One was fuchsia, the other the most nauseating shade of turquoise she'd ever seen. She couldn't wait to sell the damn things. Then she'd call up those two ungrateful daughters of hers and tell them what she'd done."

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

Emma Hooper is the author of Etta and Otto and Russell and James. (Martin Tompkins/Simon & Schuster)

What it's about: Having never seen the ocean, 82-year-old Etta decides to walk 3,232 kilometres to Halifax from her farm in Saskatchewan with little more than a rusty rifle and a talking coyote named James for company. Her early life with her husband Otto and their friend Russell are revealed in flashbacks to the Great Depression and World War II.

When you're in the mood for: Dreamy, whimsical writing. Quirky humour. Suspension of disbelief. Ambiguous endings.

If your favourite thing about The Blind Assassin was: The long-term impacts of formative life experiences during wartime.

Strange but true: Emma Hooper was raised in Alberta, but she now lives in Bath, England, where she lectures at Bath Spa University.

From the book: "Otto, The letter began, in blue ink, I've gone. I've never seen the water, so I've gone there. Don't worry, I've left you the truck. I can walk. I will try to remember to come back. Yours (always), Etta."

The Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake

Lynne Kutsukake is the author of The Translation of Love. (Edmond Lee/Vintage Canada)

What it's about: Against the backdrop of post-war Tokyo, a newly repatriated Japanese-Canadian girl named Aya must help a classmate find her missing sister. Still grieving after her mother's death, Aya's future in Japan, a country devastated by defeat, is uncertain.

When you're in the mood for: National identity politics. Post-war settings. Platonic love.

If your favourite thing about The Blind Assassin was: Historical fiction and interwoven storylines with parallel structures.

Strange but true: Lynne Kutsukake spent many years as a librarian at the University of Toronto, where she specialised in Japanese materials.  

From the book: "Anything could be endured, she had discovered, if she could only package the time into discrete little packets. She imagined taking the minutes, each one like a pellet, and wrapping them up - one minute, five minutes, fifteen, thirty. Once she had managed to survive a full hour, she could put the packets of time into a box, tie it with string, and push it down a conveyor belt. Just one"


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