I have adapted this idea from Kirsty On Books’ Reading the World series. For this post I will give an overall tour, paring down my larger lists to one novel per Territory and Province. I attempt to avoid giving too obvious choices (not always successfully) and name books outside of the usual reading lists. I’ll introduce each book with a quote from the cover blurb.
Newfoundland. The Shipping News by Annie Proulx. When Quoyle’s two-timing wife meets her just desserts, he retreats with his two daughters to his ancestral home on the starkly beautiful Newfoundland coast, where a rich cast of local characters and family members all play a part in Quoyle’s struggle to reclaim his life. As Quoyle confronts his private demons–and the unpredictable forces of nature and society–he begins to see the possibility of love without pain or misery. A vigorous, darkly comic, and at times magical portrait of the contemporary North American family.
Nova Scotia. The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill. Abducted from Africa as a child and enslaved in South Carolina, Aminata Diallo thinks only of freedom―and of the knowledge she needs to get home. Sold to an indigo trader who recognizes her intelligence, Aminata is torn from her husband and child and thrown into the chaos of the Revolutionary War. In Manhattan, Aminata helps pen the Book of Negroes, a list of blacks rewarded for service to the king with safe passage to Nova Scotia. There Aminata finds a life of hardship and stinging prejudice. When the British abolitionists come looking for “adventurers” to create a new colony in Sierra Leone, Aminata assists in moving 1,200 Nova Scotians to Africa and aiding the abolitionist cause by revealing the realities of slavery to the British public.
Prince Edward Island. Saltsea by David Helwig. A lovely, meditative novel, a story about memory, and about how what once was continues to affect what is and what will be. It is the story of a place, of the family that used to own it, and the people who have been its caretakers. Saltsea, a hotel on the shores of Prince Edward Island, where people come for a brief time, their lives intersecting in intimate and unforeseen ways.
New Brunswick. Lauchlin of the Bad Heart by D R MacDonald. There was a time when Lauchlin MacLean was a promising welterweight boxer, a time when his heart was strong and fit, a time when he might have had a future. But instead, he stayed in his tightly knit Cape Breton community, in an island of safety where family roots run deep. Now in his 50s, Lauchlin finds his heart tested again by a beautiful blind woman, the wife of a friend—and by a dark plot for revenge born of blood spilled in the forests that surround the village.
Quebec. Son of a Smaller Hero by Mordecai Richler. Young Noah Adler, passionate, ruthlessly idealistic, is the prodigal son of Montreal’s Jewish ghetto. Finding tradition in league with self-delusion, he attempts to shatter the ghetto’s illusory walls by entering the foreign territory of the goyim. But here, freedom and self-determination continue to elude him. Eventually, Noah comes to recognize “justice and safety and a kind of felicity” in a world he cannot – entirely – leave behind. Richler’s superb account of Noah’s struggle to scale the walls of the ghetto overflows with rich comic satire.
Ontario. Cats Eye by Margaret Atwood. “Cat’s Eye” is the story of Elaine Risley, a controversial painter who returns to Toronto, the city of her youth, for a retrospective of her art. Engulfed by vivid images of the past, she reminisces about a trio of girls who initiated her into the fierce politics of childhood and its secret world of friendship, longing, and betrayal. Elaine must come to terms with her own identity as a daughter, a lover, and artist, and woman – but above all she must seek release from her haunting memories. Disturbing, hilarious, and compassionate, “Cat’s Eye, ” is a breathtaking novel of a woman grappling with the tangled knots of her life.
Manitoba. The Stone Angel by Margaret Lawrence. In her best-loved novel, The Stone Angel, Margaret Laurence introduces Hagar Shipley, one of the most memorable characters in Canadian fiction. Stubborn, querulous, self-reliant – and, at ninety, with her life nearly behind her – Hagar Shipley makes a bold last step towards freedom and independence.As her story unfolds, we are drawn into her past. We meet Hagar as a young girl growing up in a black prairie town; as the wife of a virile but unsuccessful farmer with whom her marriage was stormy; as a mother who dominates her younger son; and, finally, as an old woman isolated by an uncompromising pride and by the stern virtues she has inherited from her pioneer ancestors.
Saskatchewan. Who Has Seen the Wind by W.O. Mitchell. As we enter the world of four-year-old Brian O’Connal, his father the druggist, his Uncle Sean, his mother, and his formidable Scotch grandmother (“she belshes…a lot”), it soon becomes clear that this is no ordinary book. As we watch Brian grow up, the prairie and its surprising inhabitants like the Ben and Saint Sammy – and the rich variety of small-town characters – become unforgettable.
Alberta. The Studhorse Man by Robert Kroetsch. The Studhorse Man is a classic Canadian odyssey–a story told by a madman who works naked in a bathtub. It is the tale of Hazard Lepage, last of the studhorse men, and owner of a superb blue stallion named Poseidon…the sole survivor of its breed. Hazard’s maniacal search to find the perfect mare for this magnificent horse is opposed by his fiancée of thirteen years, Martha Proudfoot, so much so she refuses him both herself and her Arab mares. This is a compelling saga that will move all readers.
British Columbia. J Pod by Douglas Coupland. A lethal joyride into today’s new breed of tech worker. Ethan Jarlewski and five co-workers whose surnames begin with “J” are bureaucratically marooned in jPod, a no-escape architectural limbo on the fringes of a massive Vancouver game design company. The jPodders wage daily battle against the demands of a boneheaded marketing staff, who daily torture employees with idiotic changes to already idiotic games. Meanwhile, Ethan’s personal life is shaped (or twisted) by phenomena as disparate as Hollywood, marijuana grow-ops, people-smuggling, ballroom dancing, and the rise of China. JPod‘s universe is amoral, shameless, and dizzyingly fast-paced like our own.
Yukon. The Golden Volcano by Jules Verne. The tale thrusts two Canadian cousins—unexpectedly bequeathed a mining claim in the Klondike—into the middle of the gold rush, where they encounter disease, disaster, extremes of weather, and human nature twisted by a passion for gold. A deathbed confidence sends the two searching for a fabulous gold-filled volcano on the shore of the Arctic Ocean. But nature, both human and physical, hasn’t finished with them, and their story plays out with the nail-biting adventure of an action thriller and the moral and emotional force of high drama.
Northwest Territories. Late Nights On Air by Elizabeth Hay. Harry Boyd, a hard-bitten refugee from failure in Toronto television, has returned to a small radio station in the Canadian North. There, in Yellowknife, in the summer of 1975, he [is] part of the cast of eccentric, utterly loveable characters, all transplants from elsewhere, who form an unlikely group at the station. Their loves and longings, their rivalries and entanglements, the stories of their pasts and what brought each of them to the North, form the centre. One summer, on a canoe trip four of them make into the Arctic wilderness…they find the balance of love shifting, much as the balance of power in the North is being changed by the proposed Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline, which threatens to displace Native people from their land.
Nunavut. Alego by Ningeokuluk Teevee. It’s almost time for supper, and Alego goes with her grandmother to the shore to collect clams. Along the way, the girl discovers tide pools brimming with life — a bright orange starfish, a creepy crawly ugjurnaq, sea snails, and a sculpin. A rising star of the famed Cape Breton Inuit art scene, author and illustrator Ningeokuluk Teevee draws on her own childhood experiences in the Arctic for this enchanting introduction to the life of an Inuit girl and her world. Printed in both Inuktitut and English, the book includes an illustrated glossary of the sea creatures in the story as well as a map of Baffin Island.