THE PARCEL

ANOSH IRANI

“I am reviled and revered, deemed to have been blessed, and cursed, with sacred powers.” Madhu is a eunuch, a hijra, a third sex living in a community of hijras. Once she was the crown jewel of the brothel.  Her “arsehole,” she recalls, “was a cash crop.” Now at 40 she begs on the street. 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 Nepal, betrayed and trafficked by her aunt -“And the truth was a ten year old girl had been sold into slavery.” And Madhu must prepare her for her future of prostitution. Madhu took pride of opening the parcel gently much differently than the pimps would do, though the parcel was still kept in a cage.

“Born and bred to mortify,” Madhu is a breathtaking figure, admirable despite that fact that the “very things that made one human – love, hope, health – had been ripped from her calmly and precisely, the way a syringe extracted blood.”  The Parcel is not an easy read but it does grip you by the heart and squeeze.

 

THE BREAK

KATHERINE VERMETTE

The Break is a haunting book full of both love and hate. On a cold winter night, two girls are violently assaulted in an empty lot. One was raped with a beer bottle. The Break shows how the violence affects the families and community, a large rock thrown into a body of water. The raped victim’s aunt saw the assault from her house and called the cops but being night did not comprehend what was really happening. Could she have done more? The girl who was the ringleader of the assault reminds me of Serena Nicotine a troubled sociopath I taught in grade two, who when a teen drowned a little girl, then later when in a halfway house stabbed the attendant to death.

Unfortunately, The Break was the first book voted off the Canada Reads program on CBC. I would have enjoyed hearing the discussion of this great book.

THE ILLEGAL

arts_books1-1-72464fd7f6b3c94d                                                                                                         LAWRENCE HILL

THE ILLEGAL seems even more timely today, with the election of Trump and his executive order to start construction of the wall on the border of Mexico, than when it was first published. Illegal follows the story of Keita Ali and his family in the fictional country of Zantoroland. It’s populated by people whose ancestors, a century and a half ago, were the slaves whose labour built the third wealthiest economy on the planet, the nearby fictional country of Freedom State.  Keita Ali is running a marathon in Freedom State against a vicious opponent who is tormenting him with racial slurs. “Go Home N—–.” Keita is not just running a race, he’s on the run from the authorities who want to deport him. With his tormentor at his heels, the unflappable hero calmly ticks his pace up a notch and begins to sing as he surges up the hill: “Want to shatter your opponent’s confidence? Just when he starts to hurt, you sing.” Keita’s sister is captured by the Zantoroland’s military government and held for ransom so Keita must run and win every race so he can buy her freedom. Hill creates a trove of fascinating characters: a violent sports agent, a woman who runs a brothel and AfricTown (the black shantytown), a prime minister who is evil incarnate, and a schoolboy who films everything by hiding in various closets.

Hill is an excellent writer. The Illegal is not to be missed.

 

 

 

THE STRANGER

DAVID BERGEN28448542-_uy400_ss400_-1

Íso works in a fertility clinic near her hometown in the highlands of Guatemala with a handsome American doctor named Eric Mann. The inevitable happens and they fall in love. When Dr Mann’s estranged wife comes to Guatemala to attend the clinic as a patient, Íso is assigned to look after her. Just as a relatively straightforward end to Íso and Dr Mann’s relationship seems inevitable, Íso becomes pregnant.Eric’s motorcycle accident causes a brain injury and he returned to his wife in the states. Following the birth of the child in the clinic, the child is taken from Iso and sent to her father. With few resources, Iso sets out on  to cross two dangerous and heavily guarded borders
to reclaim her daughter.

 

 

THE DESERTER’S TALE: The Story of an Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away from the War in Iraq

JOSHUA KEY as told to LAWRENCE HILLdeserter's

Key thought joining the U.S. military was a way to escape the poverty of his youth and get a decent-paying, secure job, perhaps even an education, to support his growing family. In many ways, Key was an ideal recruit: he had a childhood fascination with guns, he was a bit of a fighter but still followed orders, and he was good with his hands. He even enjoyed boot camp where they were taught all Iraqis were terrorist, even the babies. In Iraq, Key took part in acts of cruel and vindictive violence. His squad’s nightly tasks become a routine of violence and the abuse of power: raiding civilian homes, brutalizing the inhabitants, destroying the contents, stealing the valuables and taking the men and boy five feet tall away, never to be seen again. Key does not know where these men, who were not arrested for any crime, were sent: perhaps to Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay. joshua keyThey never found any terrorists, caches of weapons or weapons of mass destruction. Yet they were ordered to do the same thing night after night. At first there was no resistance. Then gradually resistance began to build. Key commented that if a foreign power landed in the US and terrorized the citizens the same way there would be hell to pay.

“We claimed to be bringing democracy and good order to the people of Iraq, but all we brought were hate and destruction. The only thing gave to the people of Iraq was a reason to despise us–for generations to come.”

When home for a two week break Key realized he could not return. He was already suffering from PTSD. Eventually, he made it to Canada where he applied for asylum.

“I will never apologize for deserting the American army. I deserted an injustice and leaving was the only right thing to do. I owe one apology and one apology only and that is to the people of Iraq.”

lawrence-hill_584During the 60’s and 70’s Canada’s door were open to anti-war protestors. I hope that will happen again with our recent change of government. Canada benefited from the creative and entrepreneurial spirit those immigrants brought. One name that comes to mind is the Canadian author Robert Munsch.

ALLIGATOR CANDY: A Memoir

DAVID KUSHNER720x405-kushner

Candy  is an intense, dark memoir. In October 1973, Jon, the author’s 11-year-old brother, rode his bike into the woods near his house in Tampa, Fla., and never returned. David, the author was 4. What happens to the family is truly the stuff of nightmares. This memoir is a loving and agonized examination of what Jonathan’s kidnapping and murder did to the family and what it and what subsequent child murders did to society. The family was shocked into silence. No one knew what to say or what to do. This was before there was counseling for children. David felt unable to ask questions. He felt over whelming grief, ” If only I ….”  It is silence that does the most damage, and in the weeks after his brother’s body was found and the two killers apprehended, the thing Kushner recalls most vividly is the closed doors in the house. “We were cast out of orbit, each of us drifting into our own time and space, occasionally feeling the gravity of one another’s pull.”

Disturbing but powerful, this is a must read.

Photo of Jon and little brother David.

Link to excerpt in Rolling Stone.

1035x1028-Alligator-Candy-Back-Jacket-Photo

CLEARING THE PLAINS:

JAMES DASCHUK

“Those Reserve Indians are in a deplorable state of destitution, they receive from the Indian Department just enough food to keep soul and body together, they are all but naked, many of them barefooted,” Lawrence Clarke wrote in 1880 of near-starvation Cree around Fort Carlton. “Should sickness break out among them in their present weakly state,” the long-time Hudson’s Bay Company employee concluded, “the fatality would be dreadful” (Daschuk, 114).

Sickness did break out, with tuberculosis and other infectious diseases decimating a reserve population made vulnerable to disease by years of famine and inadequate government rations. The loss of life was immense, James Daschuk recounts in Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Lifeand amounted to a “state-sponsored attack on indigenous communities” whose effects “haunt us as a nation still” (186).

ClearingthePlains

University of Regina Press, 318 pages
Casebound with dust jacket, $39.95.

Daschuk’s examination of the ecological, economic, and political factors shaping the history of the Canadian plains—and its Aboriginal inhabitants—from the early 1700s to the eve of the twentieth century is divided into two sections. The first, covering up to Canada’s acquisition ofRupert’s Land in 1870, outlines how the spread of smallpox and other diseases through fur trade networks was devastating for some but presented economic and territorial opportunities for others. The Anishinabe expanded their fur trade participation onto the plains, Daschuk illustrates, when the once-dominant Assiniboine were decimated by disease.

The lethality of infectious outbreaks for individual Aboriginal communities was shaped by the type and degree of its contact with traders and missionaries, its population density, and mobility among others. The spread of disease was largely an organic process, rather than the result of the willful malevolence of human actors.

In the book’s second half, Daschuk explores the Canadian state’s growing presence on the plains. First Nations leaders were willing to formalize their relationship to the crown through treaty, which they envisioned as a bridge to a bison-less future that required a difficult transition to farming. The Dominion, however, seemed only open to negotiations when settler development was imminent.

Widespread famine struck the plains with the disappearance of bison caused in part by the herds’ susceptibility to new pathogens—like bovine tuberculosis—carried by the domesticated cattle settlers introduced to the region. Although Cree leaders had succeeded in convincing the crown’s representative to include clauses covering medical aid and famine relief in Treaty 6, when they sought assistance the Dominion, with little infrastructure in the west initially, was ill-equipped to fulfill its treaty obligations.

At the depth of the famine, emaciated First Nations arrived at forts and settlements begging for food. Frequently, the official response was not to provide emergency food, but to construct stockades around ration houses. There were, however, relatively few incidents of law-breaking or poaching of cattle in response to the crisis. Many of those seeking relief were willing to work for rations, but the Department of Indian Affairs (DIA) didn’t have enough work to go around.

Daschuk points to the election of the Conservatives in the fall of 1878 as a turning point when the “[m]anagement of the famine took on a more sinister character” (184). An ever-tightening budget at the DIA meant staff cuts, including medical staff who’d proven effective in vaccinating against smallpox, and orders that the file be managed “as economically as possible” (122). When the Opposition still complained about the budget, Macdonald promised that emergency rations would be refused “until the Indians were on the verge of starvation, to reduce the expense” (134). Available food rotted in government storehouses as malnutrition, sickness, and death ravaged the reserve population.

With the government also neglecting the agricultural assistance promised by treaty, there was no alternative source of food on reserves. Furthermore, even if reserve residents managed to achieve a measure of success in farming, government regulations limited their ability to sell their crops or produce beyond the reserve—systematically marginalizing indigenous peoples from the West’s emerging economy. Adding insult to injury, many low-level, but powerful DIA officials and farm instructors abused their positions, exchanging food for sex, or colluding with government contractors for personal gain.

Prolonged malnutrition, the desperate scavenging of tuberculosis-infected animals, and the consumption of subpar or even tainted government rations, eventually made First Nations on reserves vulnerable to emerging epidemics. Staggering rates of tuberculosis mortality—rising from 40 deaths per 1,000 in 1881 to 127 per 1,000 in 1886—were significantly higher than in nearby settler communities. Misreading the evidence and denying a link with malnourishment, medical researchers confidently declared that Aboriginal peoples were simply more susceptible to disease.

This convenient narrative—soon accepted as orthodox in the medical and political establishment—made the incredible loss of life on the plains a question of biological predisposition rather than one of state policy. It’s proven to be a remarkably resilient idea, too, and one which lies at the root of our casual acceptance of deplorable health outcomes—higher rates of diabetes, AIDS, and suicide—among the reserve population today.

Perhaps the most damning evidence Daschuk presents are the few exceptions to this cycle of famine and disease. The Dakota who depended less upon the bison and had transitioned to farming at an earlier stage, and northern Cree communities in Saskatchewan who were able to maintain their traditional economies outside the harsh constraints of the reserve system did not suffer the same rates of tuberculosis seen on reserves. The determining factor in these divergent health outcomes, Daschuk argues, was the degree of Aboriginal peoples’ reliance on government assistance. He concludes that “those with the least contact with the Indian department were the healthiest” (166).

Clearing the Plains is heavy, sobering reading, laced with chilling snapshots of desperation, callousness, and catastrophe. In support of his provocative argument—that the Canadian government stage-managed famine in order to coerce and control the Aboriginal population—Daschuk’s tone is remarkably restrained, never veering into the polemical. He lets his evidence speak for itself, zooming out from explorations of single cultural communities or single infectious outbreaks in the existing historical literature to identify broader patterns. Into his synthesis, he patiently weaves in accounts from diaries, letters, and the records of the HBC and DIA.

As Daschuk moves epidemiological and environmental forces to the forefront—and detailed discussion of key events into the background—of his prairies history, some advance knowledge of the history of the fur trade and the numbered treaties is beneficial to the reader. Swiftly shifting the discussion between locales and First Nations affected—given the expanse of time and territory the book spans—can also be disorienting for the reader at times. But, Clearing The Plains rewards careful reading.

This is a book all Canadians should read.

I borrowed this review from ActiveHistory.ca

WE ARE ALL MADE OF MOLECULES

moleculesSUSAN NIELSEN

Molecules is a light, young adult book that is laugh aloud funny yet still able to deal with some challenging issues. The story is told from two points of view: Ashley and Stewart. Stewart is a genius, gifted academically but stunted and awkward socially. Ashley is the complete opposite: she is the queen bee of her grade, doling out social blessings on those she deems acceptable. But her grades are all D’s and C’s. Their families meld because Steward’s Mom died a year earlier and Ashley’s Dad moved into the garage because he’s gay. Ashley is horrified of the thought that people at school might find out her dad is gay. In many ways the story is unrealistic but it is still fun. So when you are in the mood for something light….

12 ROSE STREET: A Joanne Kilbourn Mystery

GAIL BOWENGail_Bowen_12_Rose_Street

Joanne’s paraplegic husband, Zach, is running for mayor of Regina. Joanna is running his campaign. She has been involved in politics her entire life, trying to make the world a better place. The current mayor  who is backed by shady, wealthy developers, seems to be a the city favorite. Joanne stumbles when faced with blackmail about the betrayal of a trusted friend.  Zack hoped to expose some of the corrupt dealings on the civic scene. Before he knows it, however, the race is marred by threats, violence, attack ads, and of course murder. Then there is this mysterious property in North Central, 12 Rose Street.

This is Bowen’s 15th novel in the series and likely her best.

CBC interview with Bowen.  I had the pleasure of hearing Gail do a reading and talk about her work. She is a wonderful speaker. Go see her if you get a chance.

THE UNQUIET DEAD

unquietAUSMA ZEHANAT KHAN

An unusual death.   A man fell off a cliff. But was it an accident, a suicide, or a murder. Who was Christopher Drayton? A wealthy patron of the arts, supporting the new museum of Andalucia, the Spanish state with most Moorish influence. But could he be Drazen Krstic, the driving force behind theSrebrenica massacre of 1995, in the genocidal war that followed the break up of Yugoslavia. Esa Khattak, head of Toronto’s Community Policing Section, and Rachel Getty, his sergeant, handle minority sensitive cases, are tasked to find a solution to this case.

This a great mystery. Don’t miss it. I want to read more of her books. Her next is the Language of Secrets.

This is a LINK to a Bosnian woman’s victim’s statement to a UN’s inquest. Khan had an extensive author’s note at the end of the novel.

SWEETLAND

sweetMICHAEL CRUMMEY

Sweetland is an ode to the dying Newfoundland way of small town or harbour life and the intrepid souls who lived there. In 2012, the government has offered the citizen of Sweetland $1oo,ooo each to resettle else where. The condition is all must comply. Moses Sweetland, is one of two holdouts refusing to take up the government’s seemingly generous offer. He is determined to stay, no matter the cost. His obstinacy prevents his friends and neighbours from collecting the government’s money, tearing apart the tight-knit community as a result. Sweetland is an old curmudgeon. The book’s cast of characters is delightful. The challenges to survival on the sea and on the coast are chilling.

“They never lost their way or seemed even momentarily uncertain of their location. They traveled narrow paths cut through tuckamore and bog or took shortcuts along the shoreline, chancing the unpredictable sea ice. Every hill and pond and stand of trees, every meadow and droke for miles was named and catalogued in their heads. At night they navigated by the moon and stars or by counting outcrops and valleys or by the smell of spruce and salt water and wood smoke. It seemed to Newman they had an additional sense lost to modern men for lack of use.”

ORDINARY GRACE

WILLIAM KENT KRUEGER

grace“The dead are never far from us. They’re in our hearts and on our minds and in the end all that separates us from them is a single breath, one final puff of air.”

I don”t cry while reading but Grace brought tears to my eyes. This beautifully written novel harkens backs to simpler times but the relationships in the book are anything but simple. The time is1961; the story is told by Frank Drum, minister’s son. “It was a summer in which death, in visitation, assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder.” Frank and his family are ravaged by the devastating events of the summer. His father being the town pastor is kept informed of developments by the police. Frank and his younger brother find a way to listen to these private conversations and hear more than they should.

The characters come alive in Krueger’s warm writing. It is a novel you don’t want to end.

“When my mother finally sang it was not just a hymn she offered, it was consummate comfort. She sang slowly and richly and delivered the heart of that great spiritual [‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’] as if she was delivering heaven itself and her face was beautiful and full of peace. I shut my eyes and her voice reached out to wipe away my tears and enfold my heart . . . And when she finished the sound of the breeze through the doorway was like the sigh of angels well pleased.”

“To this day there are pieces I cannot hear without imagining my sister’s fingers shaping the music every bit as magnificently as God shaped the wings of butterflies.”

A PLEASURE AND A CALLING

pleasurePHILL HOGAN

Pleasure opens with one of the funniest first chapters ever written. Mr. Heming, a small town real-estate salesman, considers himself to be the town’s protector. When he reminds a dog walker to pick up the dog’s leavings and is told to piss off, he gleefully scoops up the poop, goes home to retrieve the walkers house key and leaves the shit in the middle of the man’s white carpet. He has keys for all the homes his company has ever sold.

But he is not a peeping Tom. He immerses himself in others’ lives.  “I don’t peep through windows. … I am not a stalker, or a voyeur. I am simply sharing an experience, a life as it happens.” “Among strangers’ belongings is where I am most at home…I know where they keep their private things, how they arrange their lives. I follow their plans and make mine around them.” 

“… a god at play.”

I loved how it starts off hilarious then gradually becomes creepier and creepier.

Anyone who reads this thriller will want to change their locks anytime they buy a new house.

SHAKESPEARE SAVED MY LIFE: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard

LAURA BATESshakespearesavedmylife Bates taught Shakespeare to prisoners in the SHU (solitary confinement) as part of her career in the English department at the University of Illinois. At the beginning she would sit in the hallway and her students would peak and speak through the holes in their doors that their food trays were passed through. The students were eager; this was the only stimulation and social interaction they were allowed when in the SHU. Shakespeare’s plays are full of conflict, prisons, murder and suicide, things that the prisoners had dealt with in their own lives.King Richard the Second, Act 5:5 “I have been studying how I may compare/This prison where I live unto the world . . .”, Macbeth Act 2:1 “Is this a dagger I see before me,/The handle toward my hand?” and Hamlet, Act 2:2 in Hamlet’s interchange with Guildenstern when Hamlet states “Denmark’s a prison . . . in which there are many confines, wards and dungeons. Denmark being one o’ the worst.” They showed amazing insights. “. . . I had never heard such an enthusiastic Shakespearean discussion in any college course I’d taken or taught.”  Especially a young man who had been sentenced to life with no chance of parole, when he was a teenager, Larry Newton, a multi-murderer. Eventually Newton created workbook study guides for all of Shakespeare’s plays. Bates used some of these guides with her regular university classes. Part of the book is Newton’s essay on how to treat prisoners. Some people believe if you educate prisoners all you get is smarter criminals and that part of the punishment is that prison life should be hard and uncomfortable. Newton’s point was that most of the criminals will at some point be released and will become your neighbours. He asks who do you want for a neighbour, someone who is educated and has been treated well the past several years? Or someone who is released from prison who is angry and frustrated and has a bone to pick with society for the way he has been treated the past years in prison? An exceptional read.

US CONDUCTORS

us conSEAN MICHAELS

Us Conductors , is a fictionalized account of the mid-section of Termen’s life. Dubbed the “Russian Edison” for his brilliant, wide-ranging innovations with electricity, Léon Termen née Lev Sergeyvich (1896-1993) invented the electronic instrument known as the theremin by chance while working on an early motion sensor prototype. Beginning and ending in the Soviet Union, the novel’s prime focus is the decade Termen spent enjoying the fruits of capitalism in Depression-era New York, where his invention made him, for a time, the toast of the town. Termen lived at the Plaza Hotel, hobnobbed with Einstein and Glen Miller, and — in Michaels’ telling at least — danced and drank till dawn at the speakeasies that flourished during Prohibition. That Michaels has Termen narrate much of the novel from the hold of a Russia-bound cargo ship on which he’s held captive on the eve of the Second World War offers a nudge that the good times didn’t last.

The cornerstone of Michaels’ story is Termen’s unreciprocated love for fellow Russian émigré Clara Rockmore, the theremin’s beautiful foremost virtuoso. (All that’s really known of their relationship is that Termen proposed to her, and was turned down.) Michaels sometimes overplays the geek card here: “It was you I felt in my electromagnetic field,” he moons.

There’s no mistaking the pride in Michaels’ Author’s Note declaration that Us Conductors is “full of distortions, elisions, omissions, and lies.” Most readers, however, won’t know where the truth ends and the lies and omissions begin.

Termen’s biography abounds with enough improbable elements that it hardly requires fictional enhancements. In 1938, he was reportedly abducted from his New York studio by Soviet agents and sent — unbeknownst to his friends and wife, the African-American dancer Lavinia Williams — to perform hard labour in a Siberian gulag as an enemy of the state (which he wasn’t). Later, he was moved to a science prison, where he helped develop espionage technology, including the bugging device known as “The Thing”: a wooden replica of the Great Seal of the United States that hung conveniently inside the American Embassy after it was presented to the ambassador by Russian schoolchildren.

Us conductors won the Giller Prize. It is a must read.

I borrowed much of this review from the Toronto Star.

NORTH OF NORMAL: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Counterculture Family, and How I Survived Both

Cea Sunrise Person northofnormal

Cea’s grandparents, Papa Dick and Grandma Jeanne moved the whole family, including Cea’s young single mother Michelle, pregnant at 15, from California to northern Alberta. The grandparents could no longer put up with corporate America. The family lived in a teepee, grew pot and lived off the grid in relative isolation, except for the endless parade of hangers-on, and drifters that complicated the family drama and provided sexual partners for all and sundry. When the police would find their pot plants then it was time to move deeper into the wilderness usually on the edge of a first nations community. Beyond living on the land and surviving on nothing the family was dealing with depression, poverty, sex, drugs and kids rife with physical, social and mental problems. One  son is almost never out of a mental institution; he is never visited by family. The beginning is a relatively happy period of the book, as nature has a way of buffering the family chaos. Cea comments on another child who’s mother is alway taciturn and never affectionate whereas her mother always has open arms and cuddles for her. When Michelle leaves her family and the wilderness for a series of badness men the book takes on a new level of sadness. Cea has to endure the plain old stupidity and bad choices of her elders, who are either too doped-up, too confused, too self-centred or too single-minded to know better.

Cea is a good writer. North is worth reading.

 

THE BOSNIAN LIST

KENAN TREBINCEVIC and Susan Shapiro

The Bosnia List is one of the best memoirs I have read. It describes the events leading to his Muslim family’s flight from Brcko, Bosnia, Kenan was a boy, 11, living in the city of Brcko when the Balkan war started in the former Yugoslavia. The Serbians, Orthodox Christian led by the convicted war criminal Milosevic wanted a larger county of citizen purely of their kind. So they attacked the roman Catholic Croatians and Muslim Bosnians. Bosnia was 45% Muslim, 32% Serbian and 17% Croatian. The war turned into a genocide with concentration camps, torture, mass killings and rape as a form of warfare. In Bosnia it was neighbour against neighbour, friend against friend. Kenan had to do the shopping and chores because if his dad or older brother were seen out side they could be shot or take to a concentration camp. “Although I was only 11,” he writes, “letting my family down made me feel like a failure.”bosnia  “The first sacrifice of war was her flowers,” he writes of his mother. “We kept our shades closed to avoid being sprayed with bullets. Without sunlight, her cactus and hibiscus withered.”  Kenan’s teacher caught him outside, put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger but luckily the mechanism jammed. His beloved karate coach Pero, who he loved and respected, threatened to kill him. “Everything he’d ever taught me about brotherhood and unity was a lie.”

Trebincevic returns to Bosnia armed with a list — the people he wants to confront because of their betrayals, and the places he needs to visit because of their childhood significance. First on the list is his need to accost Petra, a former neighbour across in their apartment building, who stole from Trebincevic’s now-deceased mother. “You won’t be needing that soon,” she would say as she took the mother’s possessions. They were scared of her because Petra could turn them into the military. They see that they are doing much better that the people left behind in Bosnia and that is a type of revenge in itself.

Although the descriptions of his family’s experiences during the war are gripping, the power of the book comes from the change in Trebincevic’s thinking and emotions as he moves through his anger and revenge fantasies. Trebincevic gradually remembers the help his family received. For every neighbour or friend who betrayed them because they were Muslim, another Serb neighbour or friend reached past religion and ethnicity to help — often at great personal risk. Ranko who was a torturer, rapist and mass murderer for some reason spared this family. Zorica and Milos, the neighbours who bring them food, propane and money.  This is definitely a must read.

CATARACT CITY

cityCRAIG DAVIDSON

AKA: The Rough Side of Life

And very rough it is.Dead end lives. Cataract follows the lives and relationships of two boys/men Duncan and Owen. The novel opens with Duncan being released from prison for some unspecified crime. The first person he calls is his old friend Owen, now a police officer who was instrumental in jailing Duncan. When they were around 10-year-olds they were taken — essentially kidnapped  — by their wrestling hero, Bruiser Mahoney while their fathers got in a fight with some local bullies. Their hero gets them lost in the bogs and forest around Niagara and dies — leaving them to find their way home, dodging pedophiles and overcoming hunger.   The ending eerily echoes the beginning episode. Their nemesis is a most repugnant man Drinkwater who adds to the hell of their lives.  “He was a scientist, you could say, and his field of study was suffering.” Yet they keep returning to him for various reasons. Duncan is able to create and maintain a relationship with a woman but of course she is unwilling to wait the years he is in jail.

Cataract City is a nickname for  Niagara Falls.  — It’s based on the Latin word for waterfall. Cataract is well written, frequently a page turner but not for every one.

KOLIA

kolia

PERRINE LEBLANC

Kolia was born in one of the infamous Soviet labour camps in Siberia when Stalin was dictator. He “had the remarkable good fortune of remaining with his mother until she disappeared, which might explain how he learned to express himself with something other than primal noises and to piss standing up like the men who lived around him.”  After the disappearance of his mother, Kolia meets Josef, a fellow gulag resident, who teaches him to read and write in Russian and French, rudimentary calculus and “how to survive in the shithouses of the U.S.S.R.” Eventually Josef  disappears, too, and Kolia,  a teenager, is alone. “He still didn’t look quite like a man. In fact, it was difficult to determine Kolia’s age. He knew absolutely nothing about society and its conventions.” After the death of Stalin Kolia and others are released from prison to integrate into society. He ends up in Moscow and becomes a successful circus clown.

The rise and fall of the USSR is an interesting back story for Kolia. It is a good read.

 

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK: My Year in a Woman’s Prison

orangePIPER KERMAN

Five years after having carried a bag of money across international borders for her drug dealing girl friend Kerman was charged with money laundering. Kerman was just out of college when she met “what seemed like an incredibly sophisticated older woman. And what I learned, rather quickly, was that she was involved in drug trafficking, and rather than that scaring me off, that was, you know, sort of scary but also intriguing to me.” Together they lived a jet setting life of first class travel and the best hotels. “I ended up following that woman around the globe, and at her request, I did carry a bag of drug money from Chicago to Brussels.” Soon after she ended the relationship and returned to the States to start her life over. Her arrest came out of the blue.  “The police let me know that I had been indicted in federal court in Chicago, and I had better show up for my arraignment or I’d be taken into custody. That began my journey through the American criminal justice system.”

“One of the indelible things that I came away with from my experience in prison was a much more profound understanding of inequality in American society, and how that plays out in our courts of law. Some Americans are policed in a certain way, other Americans are policed in a different way, prosecuted in a different way, and sentenced and punished in different ways. And that is often due to race, class, access to counsel, you know, really, really important issues of inequality that play out in a place where we really expect everyone to be treated equally, which is the courtroom.”

Orange is well worth the read even if you have seen the TV show on Netflix.