6 page-turners to kick off 2019
CBC Homerun book columnist Richard King's picks for January include 2018 literary prize winners
The new year is starting the way the old one ended — with great books!
The Dawn Watch
The Dawn Watch by Maya Jasonoff won the Cundill History Prize in 2018. The book is a biography of Joseph Conrad and is a perfect combination of history, biography and literary criticism.
The author traces Conrad's life from his birth in Poland to a noble family to his self-invention as a writer. In her excellently written book, Jasonoff deals with the fact that Conrad held prejudices common to his era but he also dealt with timeless moral issues in novels such as The Secret Agent.
Lisa Brennan-Jobs, the eldest child of Steve Jobs wrote the story of growing up with her largely absent — both emotionally and physically — father and her artist mother in Small Fry.
Steve Jobs fought the notion that Lisa was his daughter for years and she writes about her difficulties in establishing a relationship with him. She provides a clear picture of her famous father and hippie mother and what it was like to grow up in fin-de-siècle California.
Brennan-Jobs tells her story in clear, engrossing prose and never resorts to gossip.
In Praise of Blood
In Praise of Blood by Judi Rever won the 2018 QWF Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-Fiction. Rever has a journalist's eye for an important story and how to tell it.
She chronicles the Rwandan genocide that occurred in the 1990s that brought politician Paul Kagame. She probes more deeply into events than most journalists and writes about the Tutsi slaughter of Hutus that was not well-reported in the West.
Like all good reporting, the book is not without controversy but it must be read in order to have any understanding of events in Rwanda.
The Red Word
The winner of the 2018 Governor General's award for Fiction is The Red Word by Sarah Henstra. The novel opens with a literary homage to The Iliad as it sets about to tell the story of women attending an American university and how they confront the rape culture of the institution.
Karen, a survivor of a rape at a frat party, and her friends plan revenge that does not go as anticipated.
The author's first novel takes an original approach in the way she handles her subject. Readers of The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer will love this novel.
Kate Atkinson has a unique way of constructing a story. Her approach to fiction in unfailingly original and she does not disappoint in her new novel, Transcription.
The story seems simple enough at the beginning: Juliet Armstrong, a producer at the BBC, sees a former colleague on the street in London. The reader is then taken back to Juliet's induction into MI5 and her work for the spy agency.
The engrossing novel is delightfully complex and holds the reader's interest throughout. In some ways it echoes the issues raised by Joseph Conrad in The Secret Agent.
The novel White Out by Martine Delvaux is a translation of Blanc dehors which was shortlisted for the Governor General's award for Fiction in 2016. The novel is beautifully translated by Katia Grubisic.
White Out tells the story of an orphaned woman who grew up in Québec in the 1960s, a time of fundamental change in the province. The unnamed narrator tells her story with great power and passion.