Canada Reads

5 books to read if you loved Canada Reads 2020 winner We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib

Finished reading the memoir We Have Always Been Here and looking for your next book? Here are five Canadian options.
Samra Habib is the author of We Have Always Been Here. (CBC)

Samra Habib's memoir We Have Always Been Here is a story about the winding path to self-love, forgiveness and acceptance.

It begins with Habib's childhood as an Ahmadi Muslim in Pakistan, where she faced regular threats from Islamic extremists who believed the small sect to be blasphemous. Eventually, her family decided to resettle in Canada, making Habib a refugee at age 10. 

Amanda Brugel won Canada Reads 2020 defending We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib

Canada Reads 2020 took place July 20-23.

The memoir traces her coming of age in a foreign land through to adulthood. Intertwined is the artist's journey, where Habib comes to find power in her queer sexuality and living as one's truest self.

Finished reading We Have Always Been Here and looking for your next book? Here are five Canadian options to check out.

Intolerable by Kamal Al-Solaylee

Kamal Al-Solaylee is the author of Intolerable. (Gary Gould, HarperCollins)

Author and journalist Kamal Al-Solaylee's memoir documents his painful family history and what it was like growing up in the Middle East during political and religious turmoil. Intolerable follows his escape to England and then Canada, in pursuit of education and the desire to build a life for himself as a gay man.

Like Habib, Al-Solaylee was forced to leave his home due to persecution. Both memoirs explore what it means to feel like an outsider in your own community and how deep divides shape family bonds. 

Intolerable was on Canada Reads 2015, when it was defended by actor Kristin Kreuk.

Téa Mutonji talks to Shelagh Rogers about her Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize nominated novel, Shut Up You're Pretty.

This Woman's Work by Julie Delporte

This Woman's Work is a comic by Julie Delporte. (Julie Delporte, Drawn & Quarterly)

In her illustrated memoir, Julie Delporte reflects on her life's memories through the lens of the woman she is today — a feminist who understands how rape culture and sexual abuse is tied to womanhood. Delporte's drawings depict the struggle to reconcile one's feminist beliefs with the desire to be loved. This Woman's Work reflects on the ways in which women come to understand their identity in the wake of gender inequality and sexual violence.

Both Habib and Delporte discuss their experiences with sexual violence and how it has shaped the women they've become. Their perspectives offer a complex and nuanced exploration of womanhood and femininity. 

Shut Up You're Pretty by Téa Mutonji

Shut Up You're Pretty is a book by Téa Mutonji. (Arsenal Pulp Press, Sandro Pehar)

In her debut short story collection, Téa Mutonji uses sharp prose and imagery to follow the lives of young women coming of age in the 21st century. Mutonji, who was born in Congo and grew up in the Galloway neighbourhood of Scarborough, Ont. — where the book is set — weaves together stories of loss, longing and what it means to be a woman.

If you're looking to read fiction, Shut Up You're Pretty explores themes similar to Habib's memoir like race, identity, sexuality and femininity. 

Ahmad Danny Ramadan on his novel "The Clothesline Swing," about an elderly gay Syrian refugee trying to keep his partner alive by telling him stories.

The Clothesline Swing by Ahmad Danny Ramadan 

Ahmad Danny Ramadan is the author of the novel The Clothesline Swing. (, Nightwood Editions)

The Clothesline Swing is a novel about two lovers: one is a Hakawati — a storyteller — and the other is his dying partner. Each night, the storyteller keeps his partner alive by conjuring up beautiful and painful memories of his childhood in Damascus and the cruelty he endured for his sexuality. However Death shares the house with the two men, listening to their stories, while waiting for the right moment to strike. 

Like Habib, Ahmad Danny Ramadan was a refugee who came to Canada and has become well-known for his activism on behalf of LGBTQ refugees. His novel deals with sexuality and religion.

Helen Knott on In My Own Moccasins: A Memoir of Resilience, which she calls "a book of healing."

In My Own Moccasins by Helen Knott

In My Own Moccasins is a memoir by Helen Knott. (Tenille K. Campbell/, University of Regina Press)

Helen Knott is a poet and writer of Dane Zaa, Nehiyaw and European descent. Her memoir, In My Own Moccasins, is a story of addiction, sexual violence and intergenerational trauma. It explores how colonization has impacted her family over generations. But it is also a story of hope and redemption, celebrating the resilience and history of her family.

In My Own Moccasins, like Habib's memoir, explores how generational trauma and violence can shape one's identity, while not defining it. Both memoirs shine a light on the power of sisterhood, family and self-love. 

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