Books

5 Canadian books make shortlist for $100K Scotiabank Giller Prize

The prize is the biggest in Canadian literature. The winner will be announced on Nov. 8, 2021.

The prize is the biggest in Canadian literature

Five Canadian writers are vying for the $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize. (Submitted by the Scotiabank Giller Prize)

Books by Miriam Toews, Omar El Akkad, Angélique Lalonde, Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia and Jordan Tannahill have been shortlisted for the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

The $100,000 prize is the biggest in Canadian literature.

Toews, a writer from Winnipeg who now lives in Toronto, is a finalist for her latest novel, Fight NightFight Night is also a finalist for the 2021 Atwood Gibson Writers' Trust Fiction Prize.

Toews has been nominated for the Giller Prize twice before: in 2004, she was a finalist for A Complicated Kindness and in 2014, she was shortlisted for All My Puny Sorrows.

The other finalists are making their first appearance on the Giller Prize shortlist.

Tannahill, a U.K.-based Canadian playwright who has won the Governor General's Literary Award for drama twice, is nominated for his second novel, The Listeners

Two first-time authors have made the shortlist: B.C.-based writer Lalonde for her debut short story collection Glorious Frazzled Beings and Onyemelukwe-Onuobia, who divides her time between Halifax and Lagos, is nominated for her debut novel The Son of the House.

Rounding out the crop of five finalists is Portland-based Canadian journalist Omar El Akkad, who is nominated for his second novel, What Strange Paradise. He is also the author of the novel American War, which was defended on Canada Reads 2018 by actor Tahmoh Penikett.

The winner will be announced on Nov. 8, 2021.

The ceremony will be hosted by poet Rupi Kaur and actor Paul Sun-Hyung Lee.

Rupi Kaur (left) and Paul Sun-Hyung Lee will co-host the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize. (Amrita Singh, CBC)

Kaur is a bestselling poet from Brampton, Ont. She currently has more than 4 million Instagram followers.

Her poetry collections are milk and honeythe sun and her flowers and home bodyall of which have made the New York Times bestseller list and have sold more than eight million copies worldwide.

Sun-Hyung Lee is an actor and comedian best known for his roles on CBC's Kim Convenience and Disney's The Mandalorian. He recently championed the novel Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots on Canada Reads 2021.

The ceremony will be broadcast on CBC TV, CBC Gem, CBC Listen and CBC Radio at 9 p.m. local time (11:30 AT/12 midnight NT) and will be streamed online at CBC BooksYouTube and Facebook at 9 p.m. ET.

Canadian writer Zalika Reid-Benta is chairing the five-person jury this year. Joining her are Canadian writers Megan Gail Coles and Joshua Whitehead, Malaysian writer Tash Aw and American writer Joshua Ferris.

Between the Pages, an event celebrating the 2021 finalists, will take place on Nov. 4 at Koerner Hall in Toronto. It will be hosted by q books columnist Jael Richardson and will also be livestreamed online for a virtual audience.

Last year's winner was Toronto writer Souvankham Thammavongsa. She won for her short story collection How to Pronounce Knife.

Other past Giller Prize winners include Ian Williams for ReproductionEsi Edugyan for Washington Black and Half-Blood BluesMichael Redhill for Bellevue SquareMargaret Atwood for Alias GraceMordecai Richler for Barney's VersionAlice Munro for RunawayAndré Alexis for Fifteen Dogs and Madeleine Thien for Do Not Say We Have Nothing.

Jack Rabinovitch founded the prize in honour of his late wife Doris Giller in 1994. Rabinovitch died in 2017 at the age of 87.

You can learn more about the five shortlisted books and authors below.

What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad

What Strange Paradise is a novel by Omar El Akkad. (Kateshia Pendergrass, McClelland & Stewart)

What Strange Paradise is a novel that tells the story of a global refugee crisis through the eyes of a child. Nine-year-old Amir is the only survivor from a ship full of refugees coming to a small island nation. He ends up with a teenage girl named Vanna, who lives on the island. Even though they don't share a common language or culture, Vanna becomes determined to keep Amir safe. What Strange Paradise tells both their stories and how they each reached this moment, while asking the questions, "How did we get here?" and "What are we going to do about it?"

"Amid all the anger and confusion surrounding the global refugee crisis, Omar El Akkad's What Strange Paradise paints a portrait of displacement and belonging that is at once unflinching and tender. In examining the confluence of war, migration and a sense of settlement, it raises questions of indifference and powerlessness and, ultimately, offers clues as to how we might reach out empathetically in a divided world," the jury said in a statement.

Omar El Akkad is a Canadian journalist and author who currently lives in Portland. He is also the author of the novel American War, which was defended on Canada Reads 2018 by actor Tahmoh Penikett.

80 million people were displaced worldwide by mid-2020 — and as novelist Omar El Akkad sees it, that number will grow as climate change worsens. He joins Piya Chattopadhyay to discuss his latest novel What Strange Paradise. 22:32

Glorious Frazzled Beings by Angélique Lalonde

Angélique Lalonde is the author of the story collection Glorious Frazzled Beings. (House of Anansi Press)

In the short story collection Glorious Frazzled Beings, human and more-than-human worlds come together in places we call home. Among other tales, a ghost tends to the family garden, a shape-shifting mother deals with the complexities of love when one son is born with beautiful fox ears and another is not and a daughter tries to make sense of her dating profile after her mom dies. 

"Menopausal gods, procreating droids and boys born as foxes are only a modest few of the glorious frazzled beings that populate Angelique Lalonde's astonishing story collection. Many of the ever-present concerns of the contemporary world — ecology, capital, conservation, gender fluidity, addiction, inequality, indigenous displacement, and the eternal limits of human perspective — find in Lalonde a beguiling literary voice equal to the age, pushing not only at the boundaries of literature but at those of articulation and being. Lalonde gravitates here to the fable and the fairy tale, familiar and estranging in equal measure, to claw at the divide between our world and others — the animal, the alien — while inevitably falling back on, and forgiving, the ever-flawed human being," the jury said in a statement.

Angélique Lalonde is a B.C. writer whose work has been featured in PRISM International, the Journey Prize Anthology, Room and the Malahat Review, among other publications. She received the 2019 Writers' Trust Journey Prize and was nominated for a National Magazine Award. She was awarded an Emerging Writer's residency at the Banff Centre. She lives in Northern B.C. and holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Victoria.

The Son of the House by Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia

The Son of the House is a novel by Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia. (Dundurn Press)

The Son of the House is the story of two Nigerian women, the housemaid Nwabulu and the wealthy Julie. The two live very different lives, but when both are kidnapped and forced to spend days together in a dark, tiny room, they keep hope alive by sharing the stories of their lives and finding common ground.

"It is a delightful gift to find a book you feel fortunate to have read, akin to discovering a treasure. That is the case with The Son of the House. The novel explores issues of patriarchy and classism, themes of friendship and loss through the lenses of two very different yet unexpectedly connected women in Nigeria. Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia writes a modern novel with fairytale elements and prose that punches you in the gut, leaving you wonderfully stunned by the time the book is finished," the jury said in a statement.

Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia is a lawyer, academic and writer who divides her time between Lagos and Halifax. The Son of the House is her first novel.

The Listeners by Jordan Tannahill

The Listeners is a novel by Jordan Tannahill. (Yuula Bernivolski, HarperCollins Canada)

In the novel The Listeners, Claire Devon is one of a disparate group of people who can hear a low hum. No one in her house can hear it, and this sound has no obvious source or medical cause, but it starts upsetting the balance of Claire's life. She strikes up a friendship with one of her students who can also hear the hum. Feeling more and more isolated from their families and colleagues, they join a neighbourhood self-help group of people who can also hear the hum, which gradually transforms into something much more extreme, with far-reaching and devastating consequences. 

"The Listeners is at once a revery for the sublime, for the innocuous tapestry of sounds that make up the rhythms of our lives — and the pollution of sounds that can tear and devour. It is at once a masterful interrogation of the body, as well as the desperate violence that undergirds our lives in the era of social media, conspiracies, isolation, and environmental degradation. Tannahill writes as both poet and playwright, millennial and philosopher, as one who trains his reader to attune to the frequency of 'the Hum' to experience a rich hinterland beyond our embodied senses, beyond our perceptions of grace or faith. I leave listening, even to the silences, which are always screaming, and posit myself in my cochlea, forever now a conch, flaring and reeling, primordially," the jury said in a statement.

Jordan Tannahill is a playwright, filmmaker, author and theatre director. He has twice won the Governor General's Literary Award for drama: in 2014 for Age of Minority and in 2018 for Botticelli in the Fire & Sunday in Sodom. He is also the author of the novel Liminal.

Jordan Tannahill was an acclaimed playwright — but not a dancer. Then he met Christopher House

2 years ago
3:45
"He is at once my best friend, my brother, my queer father, my mentor, and my collaborator." Tannahill and House dance together on In the Making — stream the full episode now on CBC Gem. 3:45

Fight Night by Miriam Toews

Miriam Toews is the author of Fight Night. (Knopf Canada)

In Fight Night, nine-year-old Swiv lives in Toronto with her pregnant mother and elderly grandmother. When Swiv is expelled from school, Grandma gives Swiv the task of writing to her absent father about what life is like in the house during her mother's final trimester. In turn, Swiv tells Grandma, who knows what it costs to survive the world, to write a letter to her unborn grandchild. 

"Miriam Toews' compellingly crafted Fight Night is a testament to her astounding grasp of narrative voice. The emotional range exemplified on every page solidifies Toews as one of our most endearing, compassionate and prolific storytellers. Her young protagonist, nine year old Swiv, is expertly rendered with exacting grit and enviable humour. To read this examination of girlhood, family and mental wellness, is to become wholly enamoured with a cast of characters consistently demonstrating the power of exuberance and resiliency of love," the jury said in a statement.

Miriam Toews is the author of seven novels, including Women TalkingAll My Puny SorrowsA Complicated Kindness and The Flying Troutmans. She has won the Governor General's Award for Fiction, the Libris Award for Fiction Book of the Year, the Atwood Gibson Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and the Writers' Trust Engel Findley Award. A Complicated Kindness won Canada Reads in 2006. Toews lives in Toronto.

Miriam Toews talks to Shelagh Rogers about her latest novel, Fight Night. 16:26

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