By Chance Alone by Max Eisen, defended by Ziya Tong, wins Canada Reads 2019
The votes are in: Ziya Tong is the winner of Canada Reads 2019. In a tense finale, the book she defended, Holocaust memoir By Chance Alone by Max Eisen, survived the final elimination vote on March 28, 2019.
The science journalist and author successfully presented her case about why 2016 memoir By Chance Alone — in which Holocaust survivor Eisen relives his traumatic memories of when he and his family were deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Second World War — is the one book that will move all Canadians.
Bakr al Rabeeah with Winnie Yeung's powerful memoir of how a young teen emerged from a Middle East war zone and found safety in Canada. Homes was defended by Simple Plan drummer Chuck Comeau.
Tong won in a 3-2 vote on the final day.
"I think [By Chance Alone] just cracks open your skull with the basic realities of human dignity. And how similar we all are, but how suddenly we can be so incredibly divided," Tong said during the four-day event.
Tong was steadfast in her passionate defense of the book during Canada Reads 2019. She noted how, while all five of the contending books dealt with weighty issues, she felt By Chance Alone is the most powerful in that it outlines why society can never forget the past to ensure history doesn't repeat itself.
"[By Chance Alone] simply differs in scale from any of the losses that we're talking about in all the books on the table because here we're talking about, not only the loss of his hair, the loss of his clothes, the loss of his name to an identity that became A9892, the loss of all of his worldly belongings except for a pair of shoes, the loss of his home that was given away to his neighbours, the loss of his entire family — his mother, his father, his aunt, his uncles, his sisters, his brothers — up to 300 members of his own family. He lost all sense of normalcy. And, fundamentally, he lost his human rights," said Tong on Day Three of the debates.
The theme for Canada Reads 2019 debates was One Book to Move You. As Tong said during the event, the memoir is a powerful reminder of what happens when society sees and experiences signs of hate, but chooses to look away.
"To fight the disease, you must be exposed to the disease. When you get a vaccine it hurts. When you read this book it hurts a bit," Tong said on Day Two of the debates.
The other three books were eliminated earlier in the week. The darkly comedic memoir The Woo-Woo by Vancouver author Lindsay Wong and defended by Joe Zee was eliminated on Day One, followed by Montreal author Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette and translator Rhonda Mullins's novel Suzanne defended by Yanic Truesdale on Day Two, and Toronto-born author David Chariandy's novel Brother defended by Lisa Ray on Day Three.
This year's show was hosted by Ali Hassan.
The Canada Reads 2019 panellists are:
- Chuck Comeau defending Homes by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah with Winnie Yeung
- Lisa Ray defending Brother by David Chariandy
- Ziya Tong defending By Chance Alone by Max Eisen
- Yanic Truesdale defending Suzanne by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, translated by Rhonda Mullins
- Joe Zee defending The Woo-Woo by Lindsay Wong