Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

The historical scenes in this book are outstanding.

3/5 stars.
ebook, 432 pages.
Read from January 1, 2017 to February 8, 2017.

This should have been published yesterday, my apologies. This novel showed up on my radar as it has recently won the Giller Prize and was also nominated for the Booker Prize. Once I read the premise, I was excited to see what this historical-fiction would hold.

Marie (Li-Ling) is a first generation Canadian who is unfolding the story of two different generations of her family.  Her family, originally from China, lived through the Mao Cultural Revolutions and the following generation was there for the Tiananmen Square protests. When her estranged older cousin Ai-Ming comes to live with after escaping the aftermath of the protests in China, Marie starts to learn more about her father, Kai, and her Uncle Sparrow who is Ai-Ming’s father, through a series of notebooks. Sparrow and Kai were both accomplished musicians, with Sparrow being genius composer.  The two of them shared an immensely close bond. Kai moved to Canada and started a family while Sparrow remained in China and gave up composing. In secret, Kai went to visit his friend and never returned after taking his own life. The notebook also details countless other family members and their tragic stories in China during these tumultuous times in history.

If the description of this novel seems convoluted, it’s because the plot line is too. The storyline jumps around a lot and it is hard to keep track of the numerous family members in the story.  There are also extensive conversations about music and composers, which I imagine would be great if you were familiar with them, but as I am not, I found parts of this novel to be extremely dry.  I felt very frustrated with this novel. On one part, the historical aspects and scenes of this story are outstanding. Thein creates some phenomenal imagery and at times I felt as I deeply immersed in the story. There are also some very memorable characters and relationships in the book but you had to wade through a family tree to get to ones that mattered. I do not feel that this story was told as well as it could have been. The notebook concept was not delivered very well and at times I felt confused and bored by what I was reading, which is a reflection of how long this novel too me. The story and concept of this novel are award-winning however, the writing is not.

I can say that there were times I considered putting this book down, however there are some golden scenes in this book that made up for it, the ending especially. This book is still worth reading and I would recommend it to history buffs or historical fiction fans.

The Right to Be Cold by Sheila Watt-Cloutier

The Arctic is the world’s air conditioner and if we cannot protect the Arctic than we are all doomed to face the effects of climate change.

3/5 stars.
ebook, 263 pages.
Read from March 14, 2017 to March 22, 2017.

This is the last book I tackled in the Canada Reads 2017 shortlist. I happy to have all five of the book read and reviewed before the debates take place starting on March 27th. This is the one non-fiction submission in the shortlist and while it was not my favourite book the content of the book is a warning that we should all heed.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier was born in Kuujjuaq, Nunavik to an Inuk mother and a white father. Her book recalls fond memories of country foods included seal, whale and caribou, as well as dog sledding trips, and hunting. She was shortly shipped off to Southern parts of Canada as per government regulations for schooling. As she got older she saw how the environmental and cultural changes were taking a massive toll on the Inuk people. Their whole life was be altered against their will and they were not adapting to the changes well. After failing to become a doctor, Sheila became involved locally and internationally in helping improve the way of life for her people. While not initially meaning to be an environmentalist, it became clear that the biggest problem facing her people was climate change.

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs), from around the world settle and find their way to the coldest points on earth. These pollutants poison animals and contaminate the food the the Inuks eat which inadvertently poisons them. Climate change is a real and is being seen in Arctic first. The Arctic is the world’s air conditioner and if we cannot protect the Arctic than we are all doomed to face the effects of climate change. Sheila’s book is memoir, but it is really more of warning of what is to come if we do not take action. She goes through heartbreaking details of the suffering that her people have had to endure at the selfishness of others and is looking for justice and help, not only for her own people, but to ensure that the rest of the world is protected.

Shelia has been given numerous awards and accolades for her work, including a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 along side Al Gore. For a full list of her awards and honours, click here.

The information in this book is undoubtedly valuable and of extreme importance, however I didn’t sign up to read and poorly delivered essay full of committee meeting details. Portions of the book became tedious with this type of detail and detracted from the important message that Sheila was trying to portray. As an editor, I would have focused on the emotional specifics of Sheila’s upbringing and the outcomes of the current climate situation for the Inuks. While it is important to recognize the extensive councils and impacts that Shelia has had, her novel is bogged down with political nuances that don’t add to her cause.

Is this “the is the one book that Canadians need now?” In terms of the cause, absolutely. This type of issue needs to be laid out for everyone to see. Just because you may not be suffering the effects of climate change at this time, it doesn’t mean that others are not and we need to do our part to get a handle on the climate change situation. However in terms of the readability of this book, I would say no.

I would still recommend this book for anyone that doubts or needs more information about climate change and especially for those who have little understanding of the ways different people live their lives.

Company Town by Madeline Ashby

Science fiction often gets a bad rap so it is nice to see great stories, regardless of genre, getting the attention they deserve.

A company town is a place where practically all stores and housing are owned by the one company that is also the main employer. – Wikipedia

3/5 stars.
ebook,  241 pages.
Read from March 1, 2017 to March 7, 2017.

Book number three out of the Canada Reads 2017 five shortlist nominees. This science fiction novel was a nice change of pace from the general fiction genre that normally dominates Canada Reads. Science fiction often gets a bad rap so it is nice to see great stories, regardless of genre, getting the attention they deserve.

Hwa lives in a company town. Almost everyone does these days. Hwa is different than the rest of the people living in the rig as she is nearly completely organic. In the future people use bionics and engineering to enhance their bodies, looks and health. Hwa is a bodyguard for the sex workers on the rig and she is very good at what she does. Having a spiteful mother and upbringing, in combination with the loss of her brother as well as her skills in taekwondo, has given Hwa rough persona, making her an ideal bodyguard. Her skills do not go unnoticed and she is soon asked to be the bodyguard to the heir of the Lynch family who own the large company that owns the town. The Lynch’s are strange and all of their hopes are on this one boy that Hwa must take care of. Soon after she starts this new job watching the Lynch boy,  people she knows start to be murdered in a horrific fashion. Faced with questions about the involvement of the Lynch family and the murders of her friends, Hwa risks her life to find the truth about what is really going on her in her company town.

Hwa is a fantastic character. I only wish that there were more like her: strong, smart, brave (all in the masculine sense too) and she can kick some serious ass. Her Korean heritage was a great addition too. Even the romance that evolves in the story suited me. I actually enjoyed it. It was subtle and didn’t detract from the main story. There is nothing I hate more when an intriguing story is taken over by a lame romance so this novel made me very happy in that aspect.

However I felt that this novel was not as well executed as it could have been. It took me a while to figure out what was going on with all the bionics and tech in the beginning. Additionally, the killer in the story, while not who I expected, did not feel like an important enough character through the book to have such a pinnacle role. I felt confused and disappointed at the end in that sense. I actually had to go back and reread a few parts because I wasn’t even sure how he came into play through the story.

While I feel there are important themes in this books, especially in relation to how massive the oil companies and rigs are in Canada, I don’t feel it has the same potency as the other two books that I have read so far and does not meet the Canada Reads 2017 question (What book do Canadians need now?) as well as the others.

Overall this is a great book for those interested in strong female protagonists and the science-fiction genre.