Canada Reads

Bhangra dancer Gurdeep Pandher wants to bring his message of joy and positivity to Canada Reads

The viral video star is championing the novel Hotline by Dimitri Nasrallah on Canada Reads from March 27-30.

The viral video star is championing the novel Hotline by Dimitri Nasrallah on Canada Reads from March 27-30

A book cover featuring the word HOTLINE repeated in orange, red, yellow and green type and a photo of a Sikh man in a turban sitting in the woods in the snow smiling happily.
Bhangra dancer Gurdeep Pandher is championing the novel Hotline by Dimitri Nasrallah. (CBC)
In this introduction to the novel Hotline by Dimitri Nasrallah, discover what the book is about and why bhangra dancer Gurdeep Pandher chose it for Canada Reads 2023.

Bhangra dancer, teacher and viral video star Gurdeep Pandher is championing the novel Hotline by Dimitri Nasrallah on Canada Reads 2023!

The great Canadian book debate will take place on March 27-30. This year, we are looking for one book to shift your perspective. 

The debates will be hosted by Ali Hassan and will be broadcast on CBC Radio OneCBC TVCBC GemCBC Listen and on CBC Books

The debates will take place live at 10:05 a.m. ET (that's an hour earlier than recent years). You can tune in live or catch a replay on the platform of your choice. You can see all the broadcast details here.

A novel inspired by the author's mother

A book cover featuring the word HOTLINE in orange, red, yellow and green repeated in an overlay pattern over and over.

The novel Hotline is about Muna Heddad, a widow and mother who has left behind a civil war in Lebanon and is living in Montreal in the 1980s. The only work she can find is as a hotline operator at a weight-loss centre where she fields calls from people responding to ads in magazines or on TV. These strangers have so much to say about their challenges, from marriages gone bad to personal inadequacies. Although her life in Canada is filled with invisible barriers, Muna is privy to her clients' deepest secrets.

Hotline was longlisted for the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize and was named one of the best works of Canadian fiction in 2022 by CBC Books.

Dimitri Nasrallah is a writer from Lebanon. He is the author of novels The BleedsNiko and BlackbodyingNasrallah lives in Montreal and is the fiction editor at Véhicule Press. He came to Canada with his mother and it was his mother's story that inspired Hotline.

"Hotline is loosely inspired by my mother's own story. My parents applied for immigration to Canada. One of the things that ended up moving them further up the list was my parents' French skills, specifically my mother being a French teacher by profession," Nasrallah told CBC Radio's Let's Go.

But now I see just how profoundly complicated it is for someone who just arrived in Canada — and in Quebec specifically — to navigate their way through this society in the first year or two.- Dimitri Nasrallah

"I'm in my mid-40s now, and I find myself in roughly the same space that she was in when she first arrived here. Obviously, I have a much bigger head start because of how long I've lived here, but I understand better now what she had to go through. At the time, I don't think I saw that as clearly. I saw it more from the perspective of this child who was maybe being ignored, who was left to the side. But now I see just how profoundly complicated it is for someone who just arrived in Canada — and in Quebec specifically — to navigate their way through this society in the first year or two."

LISTEN | Dimitri Nasrallah reacts to being on the Canada Reads longlist:

Daybreak host Sean Henry speaks with Dimitri Nasrallah, who has made it on Canada Reads' longlist with his book 'Hotline'.

Spreading joy through dance, now through books

Pandher is a bhangra dancer, artist and educator who currently lives in an off-grid cabin in Yukon. He is known for creating joyful videos of him dancing in unusual locations, such as in nature and in the winter cold and on the CN Tower.

He also uses dance to bring people together and spread the message of joy, positivity and hope. 

"It is the traditional folk dance of Punjab, performed after harvesting the wheat crop in April," he told CBC Arts in 2022. "In Canada, I think we harvest the wheat crop in fall, but over there we harvest the wheat crop in April. So people started dancing bhangra to express their joy and also to express their gratitude to the land for providing the bumper crop."

WATCH | Gurdeep Pandher and Dimitri Nasrallah in conversation: 

Pandher decided to lean into his message of joy after experiencing loneliness, racism and discrimination during his early years in Canada.

"I had some experiences when I was judged based on my look, based on where I come from. But then I decided to go with hope, joy and positivity. Although those moments were also great in my learning — when I think about racism, when I think about the barriers, when I think about different other things which you described in your book, I know that if those experiences did not occur to me, I probably wouldn't be able to relate," Pander said in a conversation with Nasrallah.

It's a strategy that has paid off. His videos have been seen by millions of people around the world and he has toured Canada, dancing bhangra with minor hockey teams, performing to traditional Indigenous drumming, creating bhangra-Celtic dance fusion and teaching the dance to members of the Canadian Forces.

WATCH | Gurdeep Pandher dances on a frozen lake:

Gurdeep Pandher is showing us it's never too cold for Bhangra dancing on a frozen lake

2 years ago
Duration 1:08
In -25 degree Yukon weather, he's giving us all some spirit to help us through winter's final stretch

A book for all of Canada to read

Pandher told CBC's Radio Active that he chose to champion Hotline because the novel is "an honest portrayal of the innermost struggles of an immigrant family."

He saw his own experience immigrating to Canada reflected in the story of Muna and her son, and their struggle with loneliness and finding community in the first years in Canada.

"When I was a newcomer to Canada, suddenly I had some new challenges, including loneliness. When I was reading Hotline, I found those connections and parallels. I went through these things and more people need to learn about it because learning creates understanding," Pandher said.

"Sometimes there's a gap in understanding the life of newcomers and people who are settled. The challenges can be different, the barriers can be different. Access to very basic things such as food, education, medicine. These can be different. I remember my experience when I was new to Canada, my English was sort of broken. I had a hard time making people understand me and understanding others. Sometimes expressions were different.Those early years, they can be unique in that they can test someone's ability to adapt; they test your strength," Pander said in a conversation with Nasrallah.

LISTEN | Gurdeep Pandher talks Canada Reads with Elamin Abdelmahmoud:
With two weeks to go until Canada Reads, champion and Bhangra dancer Gurdeep Pandher joins host Elamin Abdelmahmoud to share why Hotline by Dimitri Nasrallah is his pick for the great Canadian book debate.

An even though Hotline is set in the 1980s, Pandher sees parallels to immigrating to Canada today. 

"She faces barriers in providing basic necessities such as food, money and shelter while working as a hotline operator. Through her voice, she brings hope to the people of Quebec and Canada. The book explores racism, belonging, loneliness and single parenting, but there's also hope. The story is set in the 1980s — but is as true today as it was then."

The book explores racism, belonging, loneliness and single parenting, but there's also hope.- Gurdeep Pandher on choosing Hotline for Canada Reads 

In the lead-up to Canada Reads 2023, Nasrallah told CBC's Here and Now that "it's been really interesting to speak to Gurdeep and hear his story."

"Our stories, even though they are separated by a few decades, have a fair bit in common. If anything, this showcases that the challenges of immigration in this country are still universally felt and still have some underlying principles that have not changed in the last few decades." 

LISTEN | The Canada Reads 2023 contenders speak with CBC Radio's Q: 
Canada Reads is back for another round! Join us as this year's line-up of all-star books are revealed alongside their all-star champions.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now