The easiest way to sum up Julie Booker’s debut collection of short stories lies not in the book itself, but in her bio: “SheFrom The Walrus May 2011:
The easiest way to sum up Julie Booker’s debut collection of short stories lies not in the book itself, but in her bio: “She sees the world in pithy arcs, nicely contained.” Up Up Up is bursting with such arcs; tiny, beautifully constructed narratives that contain unselfconscious multitudes. The stories are diverse, original, and novel, presented to the reader in simple language that contradicts the gravity of the subject matter.
The first words of “Speculators” are powerful in their scarcity: “That summer we learn about rape. A Girl Guide from our unit goes into the valley one late afternoon and comes out different.” The theme of girlhood cruelty is also referenced in “Levitate,” a story that is a mere two pages long yet stands as one of the strongest in the collection. Booker shows us the first understandings of trust by artfully contrasting a children’s sleepover game with the sudden, monumental betrayal of a prank, laying bare our earliest inclinations to manipulate and hurt as a means of feeling whole.
Booker continues this inventiveness in “Texas,” capturing the loneliness and invisibility of an aging single woman via her parents’ one-bedroom trailer, a jigsaw puzzle, and the absurdity of an aquafit class. “Sacrifice” flourishes via foreign and familiar objects, while the title story explores the heady contradictions and hungers that lie between sexuality and motherhood. The collection’s twenty pieces overflow with all of life’s most vital themes, as Booker effortlessly documents seemingly inconsequential moments in ways that relay their most important lessons.
In the end, these stories are most concerned with the small conversations and moments that shift everything, that alter our perspective on the world and our feelings about ourselves and others. Up Up Up is a stunning, fresh debut collection from an author who is worth watching....more
Alison Pick brings her award-winning poetic sensibilities to a difficult historical subject in Far to Go. A complex story of a family’s struggle set aAlison Pick brings her award-winning poetic sensibilities to a difficult historical subject in Far to Go. A complex story of a family’s struggle set against the backdrop of the Nazi takeover of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland, the novel focuses on the Bauer family, secular Jews caught in the rise of anti-Semitism. Patriarch Pavel Bauer is a respected, rich business owner who, with his wife, Annaliese, refused to face the reality of occupation and can no longer obtain the necessary permission to cross the border. They attempt to find safety for their six-year-old son, Pepik, via the Kindertransport, a passage for children from Nazi-occupied countries to be rescued by families in Britain. Also central to the storytelling is Marta, the housekeeper, a young woman deeply involved in the family, and the primary force behind the book’s emotional resonance.
There are lines here perfect in their despair and desolation. The hopelessness and fear is conveyed in typical Pick style — with both a light hand and a punch to the gut. Pick successfully hinges together the complex narrative twists with historical records, letters, and fragments of history. Passages about Pepik, a child fleeing persecution, losing a family, and eventually starting a new life, are heart rending. There are times, however, when the narrative loses its charge — slowed down by lengthy, unnecessary description, and leaning on a particular brand of formulaic drama. Pick’s beautiful language, however, is strong enough to support these weaker points.
Pick artfully reveals the Bauer family’s fate, and traces the ties that bind (and confine) their complex dynamic. Beyond the simple explanations of xenophobia and hatred, the novel reveals the realities of betrayal, secrecy, resentment, and bitterness in its perpetually broader historical tragedy....more
It’s a shame that so few books explore Canadian urban themes (especially those unique to Quebec) as well as Black Alley does. This long-anticipated trIt’s a shame that so few books explore Canadian urban themes (especially those unique to Quebec) as well as Black Alley does. This long-anticipated translation of Mauricio Segura’s acclaimed and controversial 1998 novel, Côte-des-Nègres, is a unique window into the immigrant experience, city life, and gang violence. ... As the novel progresses we become deeply invested in the poignant confrontation between childhood friends who have become divided by race and gang allegiances. ... What results is a crystal clear and unadorned look at the many intersections of class, race, gender, and generational divide in modern urban Quebec. Black Alley is a distinctly refreshing reading experience.
-published in the June issue of Quill and Quire...more
In 2002, The Globe and Mail asked columnist Sheema Khan to share her personal insights on Islam and MusFrom the January 2010 issue of Quill and Quire:
In 2002, The Globe and Mail asked columnist Sheema Khan to share her personal insights on Islam and Muslim life in the wake of 9/11. Of Hockey and Hijab, a compilation of these essays, is provocative, intelligent, and – given the thorny nature of the issues explored – surprisingly accessible. Each concise piece looks at a political, religious, or social issue, and succeeds in bringing both wisdom and humour to subjects the average newspaper reader might shy away from.
The collection covers a wide variety of topics, ranging from the Maher Arar affair to a woman’s right to wear a hijab while playing soccer. Khan fearlessly confronts Islamophobia head on, advising readers not to make damaging generalizations while expressing her disdain for the rise of terror and fanaticism. The final section of the book, “The Rights of Women,” dissects some of the more controversial and misunderstood issues around religious patriarchy and sexism.
Khan has a knack for exposing the hypocrisy of public perception and media interpretation. In “What Close-minded Liberals Can Learn from a Rape Victim,” she calls out liberals and progressives who fail to see that their so-called “open-mindedness” is actually limited to those who share similar world-views. She eviscerates the popular belief that devout Muslim women are “poor ill-informed souls” who have no ability to think for themselves. For many, she argues, a secular outlook can be dissatisfying, and she points out that denying someone’s choice to seek out spiritual fulfillment is the furthest thing from progressive.
There are readers who might find Kahn a bundle of contradictions: a modern liberal scholar, a hockey and soccer mom, and a practising Muslim. For that very reason, hers is a voice rarely heard in mainstream media, and her contribution to our ongoing cultural conversation is a valuable one. As Khan herself puts it, without taking the time to recognize the multifaceted nature of the issues at hand, we are in danger of becoming “casual observers who assume so much and know so little.”
Reviewed by Stacey May Fowles (from the January 2010 issue)...more