The Student is a portrait of a life in two snapshots.
It's 1957 and Miriam Moscowitz is starting her final year of university with unwavering ambition. She is a serious and passionate student of literature who studies hard, dates a young Jewish man with a good job, and is the apple of her father's eye and the worry of her mother's. But then, in a single moment, her dreams crumble around her. Unsure of how to break a path for herself, she begins a reckless affair with an American student obsessed with the civil rights clashes in the south. When the young man abandons her to join the movement back home, Miriam gets on a bus to follow him, no longer sure of anything in her life.
Forty-eight years later, Miriam is the about to witness her son's wedding (a newly legal, same-sex marriage). She climbs the stairs to her study to look at a book she had carried with her on a bus to Detroit. She reads the marginalia written in her young, minuscule handwriting. It is familiar and strange, embarrassing and exhilarating, and she wonders what the young person who had written all these words almost half a century ago had to do with the old woman who read them now. (From Freehand Books)
The Student is shortlisted for the City of Toronto Book Award. The winner will be announced on Oct. 2, 2019.
The Student is a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction. The winners will be announced on Oct. 29, 2019.
- See all the finalists for the 2019 Governor General's Literary Awards
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- Cary Fagan's The Student was inspired by the opportunities his mother never had
Cary Fagan is the author of six novels, three short story collections and several children's books. He lives in Toronto.
From the book
She walked dreamily along the curve of Queen's Park, the afternoon air heavy (not "brooding," she thought) and took notice of the broad leaves overhead, chestnut cases rattling. She pressed her books to her sweater, and stopped to look at the pigeon standing on the head of the of the equestrian statue, whose rider's name she could never remember. But surely it was a literally hollow symbol of adventurism, colonialism, the glory of war and all the rest. Every year before the start of school some fraternity boys would set up a ladder in the dead of night and paint the horse's sex parts. Red this year. The paint would remain until the janitors came with their buckets and long-handled brushes. It was a shame they didn't have some political motivation, rather than acting like adolescents. Funny that she'd found it shocking the first year — blue was the colour then. And here she was about to start her final year, already nostalgic. How little she had known of anything back then!
From The Student by Cary Fagan ©2019. Published by Freehand Books.
"In a funny way, it came from thinking about my mother. I haven't even told my mother this. She's 93. My mother didn't get to go to university. Her parents were Jewish immigrants, who came in the 1920s. My mother was born into a house on Nassau Street in Kensington Market in Toronto and grew up downtown. Her dad was a fur cutter on Spadina Avenue. He died suddenly when she was in high school. My mother had to quit school and go to work, so she couldn't finish high school and didn't get to go to university. I was thinking about what might have happened if my mother had other opportunities.
was thinking about what might have happened if my mother had other opportunities.- Cary Fagan
"I had this idea of Miriam as this ambitious, intellectual young woman who has hopes to go on to graduate school. I didn't know how many obstacles there would be for a woman in the 1950s wanting a higher education, especially in a fairly conservative institution like the University of Toronto. I read and talked to people and discovered that women were discouraged in a very heavy-handed way, from trying to go to graduate school and take up positions that would be 'better' occupied by a man. I didn't know that was going to be part of the story when I started.
"I spoke to Michele Landsberg, the writer. She went to University of Toronto, a few years after my character Miriam did. Michele was interested in going into graduate school and was told the same thing that Miriam gets told. I borrowed a little bit from Michele. She was told that no one would ever hire her to teach, that she'd probably just drop out eventually to get married and have babies and she was going to fill a space that she didn't deserve. That struck me and I knew that Miriam would have to encounter the same problems."