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)
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.