In 1940, as the shadow of war lengthens over Europe, three mysterious travelers enter a village in Spain. They have the appearance of Parisian intellectuals, but the trio of two men and a woman are starving and exhausted from crossing illegally through the Pyrenees. Their story, told over a period of 48 tense hours, is narrated by one of the men, a writer who slowly accepts his unthinkable fate. In a voice despairing and elegant, he calmly considers what he should do, and weighs what any one life means. As he does so, his attention is caught by a five-year-old named Pia who wanders near his cafe table. To Pia he begins to address all that he thinks and feels in his final hours — envisioning a rich future life for her that both reflects and contrasts with his own.
Meanwhile, in the 1980s, a woman named Pia seeks solitude on a remote island in the Atlantic, where she works at an inn and reflects on her chaotic childhood in Spain. As Pia's story begins, a raging storm engulfs the island and a boat full of migrants flounders offshore. Pia and her fellow islanders rush to help — and past and present calamities collide.
By turns elegiac and heart-pounding, a love letter in the guise of a song of despair, The Certainties is about survival in the face of fascism, forced migration, and the cost of war. It is also a moving and transformative blend of historical and speculative fiction, a novel that shows us what it means to bear witness, and the price and power of paying attention to those who seek refuge. (From Knopf Canada)
The Certainities is available in May 2020.
Aislinn Hunter is a Vancouver-based writer and academic. Her 2002 novel Stay was adapted for film by Wiebke Von Carolsfeld in 2013. The World Before Us, set in a British museum, was awarded the 2015 Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize.