10 books to read if you loved Canada Reads finalist Washington Black
Mark Tewksbury championed Esi Edugyan's novel on Canada Reads 2022
The great Canadian book debate has come to an end for another year. What should you read next? CBC Books has some ideas for you.
Mark Tewksbury championed Washington Black by Esi Edugyan on Canada Reads 2022.
Washington Black tells the story of an 11-year-old boy named Wash, who was born into slavery on a Barbados sugar plantation. His master is Christopher Wilde, an English inventor obsessed with developing a machine that can fly. The two develop a bond, but when a man is killed, Wilde must choose between his family and saving Washington's life — and the choice results in an unforgettable adventure around the world.
If you have finished Washington Black and are looking for a new read, check out these Canadian books that explore similar themes — from historical oppression, racism, identity and the meaning of freedom.
The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill
The Book of Negroes is a portrayal of the brutal realities of the slave trade told through one woman's life. Aminata Diallo is kidnapped from her village in Niger and brought to South Carolina to work as a slave when she is 11 years old. After eventually winning her freedom, Diallo goes on to face decades of struggle and adversity, but later becomes a driving force in the abolitionist movement in Britain.
The Book of Negroes won Canada Reads 2009 and was adapted into a six-part TV series for CBC. It also won the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and the 2008 Commonwealth Writers' Prize.
Lawrence Hill is the author of several books, including The Illegal, Black Berry, Sweet Juice and Blood. The Illegal won Canada Reads 2016, when it was defended by Olympian Clara Hughes. Hill published his first book for children, a middle grade novel called Beatrice and Croc Harry, in 2022. He lives in Hamilton, Ont.
Up from Freedom by Wayne Grady
Wayne Grady was 47 when he discovered that his father was Black. He had been passing as white since before Grady was born. In his novel, Up From Freedom, Grady delves deeply into his family's roots through fiction — exploring slavery in America in the mid-19th century. At the heart of the story is Virgil Moody, who travels from Texas to Indiana in search of the boy he considers his son. Through it all, we see the daily lives of Black and white characters entwined and ensnared by slavery.
Wayne Grady is a Canadian writer of nonfiction and fiction based in Kingston, Ont. His books include The Quiet Limit of the World, Bringing Back the Dodo and the international bestseller Tree: A Life Story, co-written with David Suzuki. Grady won the 1989 Governor General's Literary Award for French to English translation for On the Eighth Day by Antonine Maillet. His first novel Emancipation Day was published in 2013 and received the Amazon.ca First Novel Award. Grady's most recent book is the novel The Good Father.
Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
Hiero is a talented young Black German jazz musician who disappears during the Second World War. Half-Blood Blues, which won the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2011 and was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize that same year, explores race, history, love, loss, music and the sacrifices we make to pursue our passion.
Half-Blood Blues was championed on Canada Reads in 2014.
Esi Edugyan has won the Scotiabank Giller Prize for two books — Half-Blood Blues in 2011 and Washington Black in 2018. Her other books include the novel The Second Life of Samuel Tyne and the essay collection Out of the Sun: On Race and Storytelling, which she adapted from her CBC Massey Lecture series. Raised in Calgary, Edugyan now lives in Victoria.
Songs for the Cold of Heart by Eric Dupont, translated by Peter McCambridge
Songs for the Cold of Heart is the fourth novel by Montreal author Eric Dupont. The novel was on the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist and was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for translation. Titled La fiancée américaine in its original French, the epic tale plays on the themes of the Italian opera, Tosca — a story of love, passion and betrayal, spanning time and space.
La Fiancée américaine won the Prix des libraires du Québec and the Prix littéraire des collégiens.
Eric Dupont has written five books, including Life in the Court of Matane and Rosa's Very Own Personal Revolution, both translated into English by Peter McCambridge. His novel, La logeuse, won Radio-Canada's Combat des livres in 2008.
McCambridge is an Irish Canadian literary translator. He also works as a fiction editor at QC Fiction and lives in Quebec City.
Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
Michael Ondaatje's Warlight is the lushly told story of a young man trying to understand his strange childhood. In the days following the Second World War, Nathaniel and his sister are abandoned by their parents in their London home and left in the care of two devoted men. It's a story that traces the journey of a son attempting to understand war and his family's involvement in it.
Warlight was named one of President Barack Obama's favourite books of 2018. It was shortlisted for the 2019 Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction.
Ondaatje is the author of six novels, a memoir and several works of poetry. He has won the Governor General's Literary Award five times — for the verse novel The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, poetry collection There's a Trick with a Knife I'm Learning to Do and the novels The English Patient, Anil's Ghost and Divisadero. He's also won the Booker Prize, the Golden Booker Prize and the Scotiabank Giller Prize. His novel In the Skin of a Lion won the inaugural Canada Reads.
Zong! by M. NourbeSe Philip
M. NourbeSe Philip, poet and former lawyer, draws from historical legal documents for this book-length poem that mourns, chants and curses. In November of 1781, the captain of the slave ship Zong ordered the drowning of 150 Africans. The ship's owner later attempted to collect insurance money. Philip writes a lyric remembrance of the Africans who were killed and examines the British legal system in her book.
M. NourbeSe Philip is a Canadian poet, novelist, essayist and short story writer who was born in Tobago. She is the author of numerous books, including the poetry collections Thorns, Salmon Courage and She Tries Her Tongue; Her Silence Softly Breaks, the novel Harriet's Daughter and essay collection Blank. In honour of her body of work, Philip received the PEN/Nabokov Award for International Literature in 2020 and the Arts Molson Prize in 2021.
The Hanging of Angelique by Afua Cooper
Afua Cooper, a professor of sociology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, writes a biography of Marie-Joseph Angélique, a Black woman who was enslaved in Quebec in the 1700s. Angélique was convicted of setting a fire on April 10, 1734, which destroyed a large part of Montreal. She maintained her innocence throughout the two-month trial, but was sentenced to death. Cooper exposes Canada's own 200-year history of slavery in this book, and shares the historical evidence she's gathered to tell the story of Angélique — a figure of rebellion and resistance.
The Hanging of Angelique was a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction in 2006.
Cooper is a scholar of African Canadian studies, with a focus on enslavement and emancipation in 18th and 19th century Canada. She founded the Black Canadian Studies Association and previously served as Halifax's poet laureate. Some of her books include Black Matters, a poetry collection with photographs by Wilfried Raussert, Copper Woman: And Other Poems, and the children's book My Name is Phillis Wheatley.
Us Conductors by Sean Michaels
Us Conductors is inspired by the life of Lev Sergeyevich Termen, the Russian inventor of the theremin, taking him from the rambunctious New York clubs of the 1930s to the bleak gulags of the Soviet Union. The novel is written as a letter from Termen to his great love Clara, and explores the beauty of science, art and invention.
Us Conductors won the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2014. It's Sean Michaels's debut novel.
Michaels was born in Scotland, raised in Ottawa and now lives in Montreal. He founded the music blog Said the Gramophone, written for the Guardian and McSweeney's and received two National Magazine Awards. His second book was a novel called The Wagers.
Ossuaries by Dionne Brand
Ossuaries is a long poem that tells the story of Yasmine, a woman living underground and always moving from place to place. Yasmine spends life alone, clandestinely crossing borders to escape from the past. She reflects deeply, with a cynical eye, on the issues of the contemporary world.
Ossuaries won the 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize.
Dionne Brand is an award-winning poet and novelist. She won the Governor General's Literary Award for poetry and the Trillium Book Award for her 1997 collection Land to Light On. Her collection thirsty won the 2003 Pat Lowther Award. In 2009, she served as the poet laureate of Toronto. Her novel What We All Long For won the City of Toronto Book Award in 2006. In 2017, she was named to the Order of Canada. Her latest books include the novel Theory, winner of the 2019 OCM BOCAS Prize for Caribbean Literature, and the poetry collection The Blue Clerk, winner of the Trillium Book Prize.
The Finder by Will Ferguson
The Finder is an adventure novel about finding things that are lost in the world. The story takes readers to Japan, Australia and New Zealand as Interpol agent Gaddy Rhodes, photographer Tamsin Greene and travel writer Thomas Rafferty unexpectedly cross paths as they track "The Finder" — a mysterious figure who believes they can find history's lost objects, such as the missing Romanov Fabergé eggs and Muhammad Ali's Olympic gold medal.
Will Ferguson has written humour, travel books and fiction. He won the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his thriller 419. He has won the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour three times: for his novel Generica (now titled Happiness), his Canadian travel book Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw and his travel memoir Beyond Belfast. He currently lives in Calgary.
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