Canada Reads·My Life in Books

7 books that Canada Reads panellist Tareq Hadhad loved reading

The entrepreneur and former Syrian refugee is championing What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad on Canada Reads.

The entrepreneur and former Syrian refugee is championing What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad

Tareq Hadhad is championing What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad. (CBC)

Tareq Hadhad is a former Syrian refugee who now lives with his entrepreneurial family in Nova Scotia. He is the founder and CEO of Peace by Chocolate. Passionate about peace and entrepreneurship, his family relaunched their business in Canada to recreate the chocolates they exported across the Middle East.

Hadhad is also a keynote speaker who talks about his family's story, the positive impact of Syrian newcomers and the spirit of entrepreneurship.

He is championing What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad on Canada Reads 2022.

Canada Reads will take place March 28-31. The debates will be hosted by Ali Hassan and will be broadcast on CBC Radio One, CBC TV, CBC Gem and on CBC Books

Hadhad is an avid reader and a self-proclaimed "book nerd." Here are the books that he has enjoyed reading over the years.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake is a novel by Margaret Atwood. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press, Vintage Canada)

"I will start with Margaret Atwood. She had a great impact on my life since I came to Canada. I started reading her and the first book I read was Oryx and Crake.

"I liked the utopian and adventure romance part of it. I also liked that it was not pure science fiction. It focuses on the lone character Snowman and the structure of the book was very similar to that of The Handmaid's Tale. The book left me with questions: Will humanity survive? Will the Crakers overtake? 

I liked the utopian and adventure romance part of it.

"It left me wondering — how can someone make up such an incredible and terrifying story? She had absolutely incredible ability, and she used a lot of amazing writing techniques in this book. So it really changed a lot for me. After that, I was officially a big fan of Margaret Atwood."

Infinite Country by Patricia Engel

Infinite Country is a book by Patricia Engel. (Elliot & Erick Jimenez, Avid Reader Press)

"This book totally blew my mind. I remember being consumed by it. The story of Talia — the youngest daughter in a family pulled apart by distance and immigration. She has just escaped a school run by nuns in her native Colombia. She was hoping to make the journey back to her father, who was being deported from America at that time, leaving behind his wife and other children.

"The narrative of the book runs between the current and the past, and it is just full of lovely imagery. I love the aspect of love in the book. I have never seen it really portrayed in such a way. It was a reminder that love is a very strong glue for us as humans and hope can be the magnet, if believed in by all parties. What added some flavour to it is there is a sprinkling of some Spanish phrases throughout the novel, which I really enjoyed."

This book totally blew my mind. I remember being consumed by it.

"So after reading this book, I just realized that there is such a mix of many tragedies in the U.S., from school shootings to racial unrest and many other tragedies every single day. And you know, this book just leaves the reader to wonder and imagine." 

Where We Come From by Oscar Casares

Where We Come From is a book by Oscar Casares. (Vintage, Joel Salcido)

"Oscar Casares did an amazing job in this book. I remember my friend giving me this novel and when I finished it, I was like, 'Wow!'

"This book from what I remember — I read it a long time ago — tells an amazing story of the towns along the U.S.-Mexican border that have really dangerous smuggling and trafficking. It also talks about violent human traffickers and their fight with authorities in that region.

"The book also explores, through an intimate lens, the ways that family and our connections with family shape us. The way we are, the way we interact with the world and how secrets can burden us. 

What I learned the most from it is how compassion and finding understanding for others can ultimately set us free.

"I've found many values in the book, but what I learned the most from it is how compassion and finding understanding for others can ultimately set us free. On the technical side of this book, I really enjoyed and adored the writing style." 

You Were There Before My Eyes by Maria Riva

You Were There Before My Eyes is a book by Maria Riva (Pegasus Books, AFP/AFP via Getty Images)

"The book tells the story of a young woman, who, when the opportunity presents itself to immigrate to America from a small village in Italy, her hunger to escape compels her to leave everything behind. I remember there was a huge aspect of determination in this book. The hero of the book has a huge determination to survive. It inspired me to navigate a new language and country as a newcomer because I arrived here as a refugee, but I didn't know a lot about the culture.

"Although I spoke a few English words, I was still uncomfortable in conversations while people were talking about everything and I did not understand them. It took me a while to get myself out of that discomfort, so I truly associated myself with this book. But also the book tells the story of a world that is poised with massive economic and social revolution, and full of conflict. The book addresses the idea of conflict in such an amazing way.

I remember there was a huge aspect of determination in this book.

"If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be 'impressive.' I was truly impressed by the author's ability to portray the details so the readers can live in the novel and see themselves in it. I have never seen anything like it from all the books that I have read. That's why I am mentioning this book — it really changed my life and the way I even see other books. So this book really helped me to build that criteria to judge other books on."

The Spoon Stealer by Lesley Crewe

The Spoon Stealer is a novel by Lesley Crewe. (Nimbus Publishing/Vagrant Press, Nicola Davison)

"This book is amazing on many levels. I adored it for many reasons, and it is among the very recent books that I've read. Lesley is an author that I think is one of a kind. She is residing in Cape Breton, which is really heaven on Earth. Cape Breton is near my hometown, Antigonish, in Nova Scotia. So I connected a lot to the author before I even read the book. 

"I found this book to be a very heartwarming read. The main character in the book is called Emmeline and I connected to her on many levels. She lived from the 1890s to the 1960s, and she was brought up on a farm in rural Nova Scotia as the only girl with four brothers. She went to England on her own as a 20-year-old to find her favourite brother who had been injured in the war at that time, and her brother unfortunately died before she arrived there. So I think this book has taught me how to experience pain, but also taught me that we need to learn how to experience love. 

"I was truly inspired by the main character Emmeline, who throughout the whole book and all the adversity and despair, she remained so kind. And I found this book was truly full of humour. It was full of wisdom and at the same time, it was full of family dynamics. I think imagination is the biggest power that every human being has. So this book certainly also had an imagination part associated with it."

Daniel Paul: Mi'kmaw Elder by Jon Tattrie

Mi'kmaw Elder is a book by Jon Tattrie (Nimbus, Giselle Melanson)

"For me, as a newcomer, a refugee to Canada in 2015, I think I had the responsibility to learn and understand the meaning of Canada. What does all Canada mean versus current Canada — and everything in between? I knew that Canada was not born overnight. It happened over the years.

"I realized that I had to learn history as an immigrant. I had the responsibility to learn history because history needs to help us to have a brighter future. I was given this book by the author, Jon Tattrie. He almost whispered in my soul at that time that this book is going to be my eyeopener on topics affecting Indigenous people in Canada. Paul gives a voice to his people by revealing a path that the standard histories have chosen to ignore. 

For me, as a newcomer, a refugee to Canada in 2015, I think I had the responsibility to learn and understand the meaning of Canada.

"I found myself blown away by this book. The hard realities for me as a newcomer to Canada of things that were not taught in schools overseas. No one taught us about Indigenous culture before coming to Canada, so it was my own responsibility to learn. "

Cockroach by Rawi Hage 

Montreal writer Rawi Hage is a Canada Reads 2014 contender for his acclaimed novel Cockroach. (CBC)

"The story that Hage wanted to tell is of really significant importance and it draws the reader in very quickly. Hage writes in very short but also in very declarative sentences. It's kind of a dark comedy by a Lebanese Canadian author. The book also centres on an unnamed narrator who moves to the slums of Montreal from the Middle East and then finds himself mired in poverty and so on. He tries to end his own life, only to be rescued by a stranger against his will. That narrator is then obliged to attend therapy with a very well-intentioned, but very naive therapist. And during these therapy sessions, we learn about his incredible memories, tumultuous childhood memories, and his belief that he is a cockroach. 

The story that Hage wanted to tell is of really significant importance and it draws the reader in very quickly.

"But at the same time, the author takes us to another level when he starts falling in love with a woman. The author has done a really great job in this novel. What was impressive was how effortlessly he moved from west to east, where most of these events of the book happen."

Rawi Hage on why writers should feel free to tackle issues like death and morality in fiction

3 years ago
Duration 3:13
In the latest episode of the CBC Books' video series Why I Write, the award-winning author talks about his writing process and how to write fiction based on themes like death and morality.

Tareq Hadhad's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

The Canada Reads 2022 contenders

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