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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

2016 Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction Finalists

The finalists for the 2016 Governor General’s Literary Awards were announced today.  The shortlist for the fiction category includes the following:

Yiddish for Pirates by Gary Barwin
Set in the years around 1492, Yiddish for Pirates recounts the compelling story of Moishe, a Bar Mitzvah boy who leaves home to join a ship's crew, where he meets Aaron, the polyglot parrot who becomes his near-constant companion.  From a present-day Florida nursing home, this wisecracking yet poetic bird guides us through a world of pirate ships, Yiddish jokes and treasure maps.  But Inquisition Spain is a dangerous time to be Jewish and Moishe joins a band of hidden Jews trying to preserve some forbidden books.  He falls in love with a young woman, Sarah; though they are separated by circumstance, Moishe's wanderings are motivated as much by their connection as by his quest for loot and freedom. When all Jews are expelled from Spain, Moishe travels to the Caribbean with the ambitious Christopher Columbus, a self-made man who loves his creator.  Moishe eventually becomes a pirate and seeks revenge on the Spanish while seeking the ultimate booty: the Fountain of Youth.
(This book also appears on the Giller Prize shortlist.)

The Parcel by Anosh Irani
The novel’s narrator is Madhu--born a boy, but a eunuch by choice--who has spent most of her life in a close-knit clan of transgender sex workers in Kamathipura, the notorious red-light district of Bombay.  Madhu identifies herself as a "hijra"--a person belonging to the third sex, neither here nor there, man nor woman.  Now, at 40, she has moved away from prostitution, her trade since her teens, and is forced to beg to support the charismatic head of the hijra clan, Gurumai.  One day Madhu receives a call from Padma Madam, the most feared brothel owner in the district: a "parcel" has arrived--a young girl from the provinces, betrayed and trafficked by her aunt--and Madhu must prepare it for its fate.  Despite Madhu's reluctance, she is forced to take the job by Gurumai.  As Madhu's emotions spiral out of control, her past comes back to haunt her, threatening to unravel a lifetime's work and identity.
(This title is also a Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize nominee.  See my review at http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2016/09/review-of-parcel-by-anosh-irani.html.)

Willem de Kooning’s Paintbrush by Kerry Lee Powell
These stories range from an island holiday gone wrong to a dive bar on the upswing to a yuppie mother in a pricey subdivision seeing her worst fears come true and are populated by barkeeps, good men down on their luck, rebellious teens, lonely immigrants, dreamers and realists, fools and quiet heroes.  Powell explores themes of belonging, the simmering potential for violence and the meaning of art no matter where it is found.
(This book also made the longlist of the Giller Prize and the shortlist of the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.)

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
Thien takes us inside an extended family in China, showing us the lives of two successive generations--those who lived through Mao's Cultural Revolution in the mid-twentieth century; and the children of the survivors, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square in 1989.  At the centre of this epic tale, as capacious and mysterious as life itself, are enigmatic Sparrow, a genius composer who wishes desperately to create music yet can find truth only in silence; his mother and aunt, Big Mother Knife and Swirl, survivors with captivating singing voices and an unbreakable bond; Sparrow's ethereal cousin Zhuli, daughter of Swirl and storyteller Wen the Dreamer, who as a child witnesses the denunciation of her parents and as a young woman becomes the target of denunciations herself; and headstrong, talented Kai, best friend of Sparrow and Zhuli, and a determinedly successful musician who is a virtuoso at masking his true self until the day he can hide no longer.  Here, too, is Kai's daughter, the ever-questioning mathematician Marie, who pieces together the tale of her fractured family in present-day Vancouver, seeking a fragile meaning in the layers of their collective story.
(This book appears on the Man Booker Prize shortlist and the Giller Prize shortlist and has also been nominated for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.  I just finished this book and will be posting my review tomorrow.)

The Break by Katherena Vermette
When Stella, a young Métis mother, looks out her window one evening and spots someone in trouble on the Break ― a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house ― she calls the police to alert them to a possible crime.  In a series of shifting narratives, people who are connected, both directly and indirectly, with the victim ― police, family, and friends ― tell their personal stories leading up to that fateful night.  Lou, a social worker, grapples with the departure of her live-in boyfriend.  Cheryl, an artist, mourns the premature death of her sister Rain.  Paulina, a single mother, struggles to trust her new partner.  Phoenix, a homeless teenager, is released from a youth detention centre.  Officer Scott, a Métis policeman, feels caught between two worlds as he patrols the city. Through their various perspectives a larger, more comprehensive story about lives of the residents in Winnipeg’s North End is exposed.
(This book is also a Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize nominee.)

For information about all the finalists in all the categories, go to http://ggbooks.ca/books/.

The winner will be announced on October 25.