A Circle on the Surface by Carol Bruneau

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In 1956, Enman Greene takes his twelve-year-old daughter Penelope out for lunch at a Halifax fish ’n’ chip shop. She believes it’s for her birthday, but Enman has actually brought her there to reveal a secret: the truth about Penelope’s mother.

Once Enman begins his story, A Circle on the Surface (Vagrant Press, forthcoming in 2018), the fifth novel by Nova Scotia author Carol Bruneau, sweeps back to 1943 and the fictional Nova Scotia town of Barrein. It’s a time of great uncertainty, not only because of the war that looms over the lives of the town’s inhabitants, but because of the turmoil brewing between Enman and his new wife Una.

Una and Enman have moved to Barrein to care for Enman’s elderly mother. Una doesn’t like small-town living, however, nor does she like being caregiver to her mother-in-law, a role which has been thrust upon her largely by default. To escape her growing unhappiness, she spends much of her time wandering the beaches alone, where she encounters a mysterious stranger. Continue reading

Gush, edited by Rosanna Deerchild, Ariel Gordon & Tanis MacDonald

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I’d forgotten Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is about religion. What I remember from the book, what most readers likely remember, is that eleven-year-old Margaret desperately wanted her period. For anyone who has had a period—for one year, ten years, forty years—that plot line is so off-the-charts bizarre it’s unforgettable. But the reason Blume’s book was passed around the school yard in the 1970s was not so much that Margaret wanted her period but that she and her friends actually talked about periods, as well as boys, bras, puberty and sex. Few people, youth or adults, spoke openly about such topics, very few about menstruation.

Almost fifty years later, Margaret is still in print and still touted by some as the guide to puberty. So how far have we progressed in terms of open discussion of periods? How much has changed in terms of books we can share, books that start conversations, answer questions, portray common experiences? Not far and not much, I say. Or I did say—until Gush.

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All This Blood by Susie Petersiel Berg

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Blood is a deeply weird word. Its strange proto-Germanic double-O ends in a palpitation—a thud—a footfall on dark earth, while its spectral onomatopoeia hums of haemorrhage, not haemostasis.

In her new poetry collection All This Blood (Piquant Press, 2017), Susie Petersiel Berg uses the process of haemostasis—how the body stops bleeding—to conjure wounds that have closed over but still sting in the shower, against the sheets or out in the cold. Berg’s poems are reminders that blood is always with us, even when we don’t taste its iron or call it by its deeply weird name.

All This Blood is organized according to the three phases of haemostasis: vascular, platelet and coagulation. Her title and guiding metaphors signal, in tandem, the potential for blood in every poem; as the “process” unfolds, this language becomes a kind of forensic, empathic dare to the reader. Continue reading

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