nayomi-munaweer_1368278394NAUOMI MUNAWEERA

When a dark cloud of racism descends on a country you know only pain suffering will follow. Island tells the story of the civil war in Sri Lanka, the majority Buddhists against the minority Hindus Tamils. “They are taking our land. They are taking our jobs. They are darker than us. They should go back where they came from.” Similar words to other racists situations. Yasodhara Rajasinghe; her sister, Lanka; and their best friend, Shiva, grow up in the same house in Colombo — the Sinhala (Buddhist) girls downstairs and the Tamil boy upstairs, in a partition that matches their island’s. When the Tamil family first occupy the top floor their is much strife but as time passes the families grow to love each other. Of course the children see no difference between the two households. When the violence that has stayed latent finally explodes, the residents of the house are thrown to the wind, navigating difficult, self-consciously new lives in the United States.  But the reader is taken back to Sri Lanka where Saraswathi, a Tamil teenager is brutally attacked by Sinhala soldiers. Damaged goods, no man would marry her, she would only bring shame to her family. Her parents take her to become a soldier of the Tamil Tigers. The two stories are brought together in an explosive ending.

I enjoyed learning about the civil war in Sri Lanka. Well written, Island is a good read.





Sorrows is both terribly despairing yet at times humourous. Toews’ theme is how suicide affects a family. Quite timely as the Supreme Court of Canada is hearing a case on assisted suicide as I write this post. Newspapers print photos of elders picketing with signs reading “right to die”, and “death with dignity.” Sorrows is the story about two sisters: Yolandi, a moderately successful author of young adult novels and Elfrieda, a world-class concert pianist. Despite her success in all areas of her life Elf is so depressed she wants to die, so much so she slit her wrists and drank bleach. Yoli desperately wants her sister to live; she makes the mental hospital promise that they will not let Elf out with out contacting her first. But at the same time she considers taking her to Switzerland or Mexico so she could help Elf kill herself. In Switzerland assisted suicide is legal; in Mexico the meds are readily available. “Did Elf have a terminal illness?,” Yolandi wonders. “Was she cursed genetically from day one to want to die? Was every seemingly happy moment from her past, every smile, every song, every heartfelt hug and laugh and exuberant fist-pump and triumph, just a temporary detour from her innate longing for release and oblivion?”

When asked what was hot about playing the piano, Elf explained to Yoli how she structured he concerts: “She told me that the most important thing was to establish the tenderness right off the bat, or at least close to the top of the piece, just a hint of it, a whisper, but a deep whisper because the tension will mount, the excitement and drama will build – I was writing it down as fast as I could – and when the action rises the audience might remember the earlier moment of tenderness, and remembering will make them long to return to infancy, to safety, to pure love, then you might move away from that, put the violence and agony of life into every note, building, building still, until there is an important decision to make: return to tenderness, even briefly, glancingly, or continue on with the truth, the violence, the pain, the tragedy, to the very end.”

All of this mirror Toews own life. Her father and her sister committed suicide. How can we catch people before their depression ends in death?




Short stories don’t appeal to me but when Margaret Atwood published a book of “Tales” I knew I would give it a go and I wasn’t disappointed. The first stories a tell about a group of artists and how their lives entwine. The erudite author had nothing but distain for his girlfriend’s fantasy stories even though those stories were paying the rent. Years later a student came to interview him but it turned out it wasn’t for his writing but it was for his former girlfriend’s writing whose books had spent a lot of time on the best seller lists. When he realized what was happening he was so angry his wife had to tell him “you can’t talk to women like that any more!”  In the title story Verna, a woman who has killed several husbands, while on a cruise, meets a man from her past who has hurt and humiliated her and plans her revenge with a stone mattress. A scientist lecturing the cruise passengers  explains, “the word comes from the Greek stroma, a mattress, coupled with the root word for stone. Stone mattress: a fossilized cushion, formed by layer upon layer of blue-green algae building up into a mound or dome. It was this very same blue-green algae that created the oxygen they are now breathing. Isn’t that astonishing?”

While not all excellent, the Tales in Stone Mattress are well worth the time.


feb13-Must-Reads-01ANDREW KAUFMAN

Weird is about the redemptive power of family. At the moment of their births the Weird children were given a blessing, a special power by their grandmother. As time passed the blessings seemed more of a cures than a blessing. The children call it a “blursing.”  Lucy never gets lost, Abba never loses hope, Richard is programmed to keep himself safe from harm, Kent is able to defend himself from all threats, and Angie always forgives. On her death bed the grandmother, who the children nicknamed, The Shark, predicated the exact time of her death and stated that if all the children were present that the curses would be lifted. What follows is a madcap race to gather all the sibling and convince them to come for the good of all. The children have been on their own since their father died in a car crash, the body was never found, and the mother slipped into a kind of madness at the loss of her husband.

“It became clear to her that the only thing powerful enough to transform people into brothers and sisters and and mothers and fathers, is the ability to forgive each other. That what really gets handed down from generation to generation isn’t blood or history but the will to forgive.”