Cities of Refuge
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Cities of Refuge

3.16 of 5 stars 3.16  ·  rating details  ·  74 ratings  ·  18 reviews
In Cities of Refuge, Michael Helm’s keenly anticipated new novel, a single act of violence resonates through several lives, connecting closeby fears to distant political terrors. At the story’s centre is the complex, intensely charged relationship between a 28-year-old woman and the father who abandoned her when she was young.

One summer night on a side street in downtown T...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published April 5th 2011 by Emblem Editions (first published April 20th 2010)
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Genni Gunn
This is a wonderful, complex book that explores the types of refuges we seek, be they cultural, personal, or emotional. A young woman is attacked in the first chapter of the book, and this attack becomes the pebble thrown in the lake, causing ever-widening circles of response. An interesting mind is at work here, exploring fear, and most of all for me, the ambiguities within which we all manage to live. The language is lovely, thoughtful. Highly recommended.
Picked this up at the library, never had heard of author. Young woman in Toronto, volunteering to work with illegal immigrants, is attacked at night. Manages to fight off attacker but is injured during the attack. The book is an account of her recovery, her relationship with her parents and theirs with her (and each other.) Took some effort to get into the book, some of it (the father's rage/deep suspicion of the immigrants - who are seen as victims by his daughter) didn't seem at all logical or...more
This is a "got to work at it book". The narrative is relatively straightforward and I won't bother to explain the premise of the book, you can read a synopsis in other reviews and on the book page on Goodreads! The prose though is rich and complex and the ideas that are explored are interesting and thought provoking. Overall, I liked but didn't love
Carrie Marcotte
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Shonna Froebel
This novel is set in Toronto, and the title alludes to the various cities that exist for different people. Kim is a woman in her late twenties who has rejected the life of academic historian her father planned for her. She works a night security shift at the ROM and volunteers at GROUND, an organization that assists refugees. One night on her way to work, Kim is attacked and the attacker isn't identified or caught. She deals with this trauma by gradually venturing out into the night again, by wr...more
Miz Moffatt
Cities of Refuge opens with a single act of violence that casts a dark net around the lives of the Lystrander family and their closest companions. One summer night on a familiar route to work, Kim is attacked by a stranger. She survives, but she suffers for months from the physical pain of recovery, and from the psychological damage etched forcibly into her. Her estranged father, Harold, unravels in the aftermath, and leads an investigation against Kim's assailant that is wrought with his own de...more
Helm's novel begins with a powerful and wrenching scene of violence that catches the reader by surprise as much as it does the victim, a young woman named Kim Lystrander. Kim's assault on a dark Toronto side street has repurcussions far beyond her own trauma and pulls her deep into a world of ghosts: people living in the country illegally, her dying mother, and her wayward, guilt-stricken father Harold, a historian of Latin America whose hazy past becomes for Kim an obsession. Helm's prose is la...more
Yes, actually a favorite among some wonderful books that I've read in the past year or so. I just loved reading a story set in Toronto, one of the most international cities in the world, with protagonists including refugees & asylum seekers & those who work with them. And the long aftermath of mysterious violence suffered by a female character. And many questions of ethics, memory, empathy. And one character's well-shrouded past in Santiago de Chile on that country's 9/11 (Sept. 11, 1973...more
The book is beautiful, disturbing, ambiguous, and true. Once I got into the book and its tormented characters I really could not put it down. Helm is both poetic and philosophical. The city of Toronto (much changed from my growing up times there in the '60's) is the perfect "city of refuge" as it has given asylum to those who speak more than 200 languages. The characters are believable, and their struggles are those of "everyman." I think that this book will become a classic for the times in whi...more
2.5 The book has potential, but the style is slow and takes a bit to get into. While I appreciated the setting of Toronto and other places like Niagara Falls that were geographically familiar along with references to CBC and IDEAS,it took me a long time to finish the book. It deals with some deep issues and coming to terms with family and pain and secrets and I'm not sure I like the ending.

definitely not an easily engaging book for everyone.
Stephanie Lindsay Hagen
Michael Helm's "Cities Of Refuge", is not a book I couldn't put down. Why? It made me feel uneducated. Why? Because I didn't get it. Although Mr. Helm's writing is beautiful and complex and he really delves into the lives of his characters, the story just didn't come together for me. A lot of issues were dealt with: violence/trauma/healing, secrets, unresolved guilt, immigration, extended disfunctional families, etc... I felt there was too much going on, too many issues. The end of the story fel...more
Desmond Beddoe
The premise is interesting however the writing, though eloquent, does not fully convince me. The internalized dialogue lacks drama and the protagonists are never fully real to me. There are too many points of view - which reflect to a degree the complexity of cities, used here as metaphors - that the reader has to suspend fully empathizing with most, if not all of them. There are some good insights into the lasting impact of trauma on one's psychological makeup and the daughter Kim's road throug...more
This book has lots of awkward language and is extremely slow to find its rhythm.I forced myself through the first 200 pages or so, at which point it picked up quite a bit with some incredible insights into its previously pretty unlikeable characters. But by the end, the thrill was once again gone. The story gives some interesting insights into the sadness and violence of modern urban life, and it has some great elements, but if I were its editor, I would ask for some major revisions.
Michael Helm creates beautiful prose and explores an intriguing concept in this novel about safety, refugees, memory, writing and family. The characters are all seeking redemption throughout the novel. I wasn't convinced that redemption was achieved at the end, although maybe Helm didn't want that ending. Worth reading for the beauty of the language and the rich characterizations.
By the end, I was annoyed. If you have only this book, read it, as the writer uses language well. Plot? Pacing? Character development? I don't want to know any of these characters and would flee from the dinner with them I use as a test (would you want to have a meal with anyone in the book?). I want my hours and hours back.
A great story with intriguing characters and significant, fascinating themes, all of which were buried under excessive verbiage and philosophizing.
The first part was OK but I had to force myself to finish it. I just couldn't connect.
I put myself out of my misery at page 141. Life is too short to read such a boring book!
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