Book Reviews

Sharon Bala on Writing The Boat People

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“I’m an extrovert, in case you haven’t noticed,” Sharon Bala says, her enthusiasm and warmth carrying across the phone from chilly Newfoundland to chilly Nova Scotia. She’s commenting on the hectic schedule for launching and promoting her new book, The Boat People. “It’s demanding,” Sharon says, “even for an extrovert.”

The Boat People (McClelland and Stewart, 2018) was inspired by events in 2010 when the Sun Sea cargo ship brought almost five hundred Sri Lankan Tamils to British Columbia. All of the passengers made refugee claims in Canada but were detained amidst heightened security concerns stirred by the Harper government. Bala writes her novel around Mahindan, a single father travelling with his son, Sellian, but the The Boat People shifts viewpoints, giving readers a broad and enlightening perspective. We not only hear Mahindan, but also Grace, the adjudicator in Mahindan’s case, and Priya, his lawyer.

The Boat People has earned rave reviews. Bala also won the 2017 Journey Prize for her short story “Butter Tea at Starbucks” and was long-listed for the same prize for “Reading Week.”

Sharon Bala took time to talk with Understorey Magazine editor Katherine Barrett about her novel and the writing process. Continue reading

Powered by Love by Joanna Henry, Ilana Landsberg-Lewis & Alexis MacDonald

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At the turn of the twenty-first century, when AIDS-related deaths in developed countries were finally on the decline, infection and death rates in sub-Saharan Africa continued to soar. Stigma, discrimination and misinformation meant that testing and treatment remained unavailable for the millions of people—in some countries up to thirty percent of the population—with HIV/AIDS. The majority of those killed by the pandemic were young adults and parents. Over twelve million children in sub-Saharan Africa were orphaned. The burden, not to mention the grief, fell to the older generation, grandmothers who had lost their children and took in their grandchildren—and then fought back. Continue reading

F-Bomb by Lauren McKeon

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Time Magazine‘s list of Firsts highlights recent accomplishments by American women: First female presidential nominee. First female to own and produce her own talk show. First openly gay person on prime-time TV. First black woman to run a Fortune 500 company….

The list is both impressive and utterly crushing. Most women achieved their “first” only in the past few years; all were achieved in this generation. Have women made it or have we only started?

In F-Bomb: Dispatches from the War on Feminism (Gooselane, 2017), Canadian journalist, editor and feminist Lauren McKeon answers these questions unequivocally: “One of the biggest lies of the twenty-first century is that women have made it.” Continue reading

Refuge in the Black Deck by Nicola Peffers

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Nicola Peffers’ memoir, Refuge in the Black Deck (Caitlin Press, 2017), tells of the struggles many women face to make it in a “man’s world.” Peffers, an Alberta native hailing from my own hometown of Fort McMurray, gives an honest-to-a-fault description of her time as an Ordinary Seaman in the Canadian Navy. Reading the book, I found myself alongside Peffers as she endured harassment, discrimination and exhaustion aboard the HMCS Winnipeg. Continue reading

What We Once Believed by Andrea MacPherson

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I knew that What We Once Believed (Caitlin Press, 2017) would speak to the feminist-mother in me when I read the epigraph, a poem by Catherine Barnett about mothering the mother and a quote from Muriel Rukeyser that asks: “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.”

What We Once Believed, the latest novel by British Columbia author Andrea MacPherson, provides a glimpse of such consequences—and they are both absorbing and complex. Continue reading