Category Archives: Novella

The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed

One November morning, after staying up late to finish Premee Mohamed’s riveting dystopian novella, The Annual Migration of Clouds, I woke up to news that seemed similar to the fictional world I’d just left.

First, I received an email from my brother in BC, reassuring me that he and his family were safe. (Safe? Safe from what? I blithely wondered from my kitchen table in Toronto, having somehow failed to notice the words ‘atmospheric river’ in my previous day’s doom scrolling). The second sign of Mohamed’s prescience was a CBC radio interview with a woman whose back yard in suburban Pickering, Ontario was being invaded by Eurasian wild boars, an invasive species that, if it interbred with the local pig population, could actually cause them to devolve. Then, it was back to the usual roller coaster of Covid-19 updates. Reality seemed to be edging eerily close to the Alberta-based scientist-poet-fiction writer’s vision of a future transformed by climate emergencies, invasive species, and novel infections.

It’s not easy to build a believable dystopian fictional world that looks back with both longing and contempt at the simple pleasures of the Before Times (store-bought food, medicine, electricity, etc.) through the eyes of relatable, fully developed characters. The Annual Migration of Clouds succeeds on all levels.

“The Annual Migration of Clouds is a unique work of fiction written in a voice that is by turns poetic and gutwrenching, humorous, and tragic.”

A tightly compressed coming-of-age story, the book’s central character is Reid, a teenager who lives with her mom on a derelict university campus in what is clearly Edmonton of the After Times. Reid has grown up in a world that has lost most of its technology and systems of communication. The oldest members of her community can remember the Before Times but Reid doesn’t know what it’s like to touch a switch and have lights flicker on or eat food that wasn’t grown or hunted down (enter the feral hogs). Malnutrition is an ongoing threat, as is a creepy disease called Cad, a possibly-sentient parasitic fungus that sometimes does its best to keep its host alive, but other times kills its host in a gruesome fashion. Reid is aware that her own Cad infection may be controlling her decisions and actions, as well as her mother’s –– a chilling device which is all too believable, given the tough little son of a bitch (to quote from the movie Alien) that our very own coronavirus has turned out to be. The description of the attempts to learn to live with Cad sounds awfully familiar: “For generations we have waited for it to become normal. And it has not. We are still horrified. And there is nothing we can do about it.”

However, the central conflict that drives this superb book is not the creepy parasite or the survival of our species in a post-civilization world, but Reid’s struggle to decide whether to face the unknown dangers of traveling to a distant university that her mother suspects may not even exist. Mohamed has grounded her story in the ambitions, intelligence, and emotions of a young woman with a strong moral compass and powerful sense of self. We’re cheering her on, but we’re also afraid for her – what dangers will she face once she heads off into the Unknown? What will the Cad make her do, or prevent her from doing?

Readers may see flickers of other great works of dystopian fiction in “The Annual Migration of Clouds”, from to the genetically engineered pigoons of Margaret Atwood’s Flood trilogy, to the dangerous backwaters (and glimmers of hope) of Emily St John Mandel’s “Station Eleven”, and even the aforementioned Alien movies. Ultimately, The Annual Migration of Clouds is a unique work of fiction written in a voice that is by turns poetic and gutwrenching, humorous, and tragic. Premee Mohamed has created a dystopic future that is terrifying and yet hopeful: for what is a young woman daring to leave home for wider horizons than an expression of hope?

Personally, I can’t wait to see what Reid and her creator Premee Mohamed do next.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Premee Mohamed is an Indo-Caribbean scientist and speculative fiction author based in Edmonton, Alberta. Her short fiction has appeared in a number of venues. Her debut novel, Beneath the Rising, is out now from Solaris Books, with the sequel A Broken Darkness due out in 2021.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ ECW Press (Sept. 28 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 168 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1770415939
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1770415935

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Terri Favro
Some Rights Reserved  

A Brief Review of Damiana’s Reprieve, and a Conversation With its Author, Martha Bátiz

DAMIANA’S REPRIEVE BY MARTHA BÁTIZ: OPERA’S REAL DRAMA OCCURS BEHIND THE SCENES

Mexican-Canadian writer Martha Bátiz is the author, amongst other works, of a particularly alluring novella, Damiana’s Reprieve (Exile Editions, 2018). With the backdrop of Italian Opera The Marriage of Figaro, the life of opera singer Damiana, and that of her family develop amidst sibling rivalry and a family mystery that relentlessly pulls the reader in. After devouring Damiana’s story during the recent Edmonton heatwave, I caught up with Martha, who generously shared her fascinating life story with the audience of The Miramichi Reader. Below are her insights about her life and work as a Latin American writer living –and working, in Canada. 

Thanks for agreeing to my questions about your novel Damiana’s Reprieve today, Martha! When and how did the idea for your novella occur to you? 

This is a story that I built in my head for years before I started putting it down in writing. I was still single and living in Mexico City, and taking singing lessons. I was a professional actress then, working on stage and on telenovelas, but I was still young enough to entertain the crazy idea of becoming a singer. Needless to say, the enormous personal sacrifice that needs to be done in order to have a successful singing career put me off, but I loved learning those singing and breathing techniques, trying my voice at certain arias (some of them from The Marriage of Figaro, which is the opera that plays an important role in my novella). I had the privilege of being backstage at Mexico City’s Palacio de Bellas Artes, our national opera house, during a performance of La Bohème, starring my dear friend Roland Villazón, back when his stellar career was only starting. I saw how he prepared for singing and witnessed the entire process behind the curtain (getting dressed, putting on make-up and wigs). This, of course, was golden material for the first half of the novella, and without Rolando’s kindness for sneaking me in as he did, the book would never have been as truthful as it is. I also had support from other opera experts and critics, just to make sure that every detail was true to life. I was very privileged that way. I made tons of notes and had a couple of attempts at a beginning, but then I got married, moved from Mexico to the United States, got pregnant with twins, and my writing had to be put on hold. But I never stopped thinking about it, the characters were with me all along, and by the time I arrived in Canada, they were ready to come out into the world.  

MARTHA BÁTIZ

The complete first draft of this novella was written at the Muskoka Novel Marathon a couple of weeks after we landed as immigrants in Canada. Our furniture had not even arrived yet, I had no idea what Muskoka was or how to get there, but I knew they were offering the chance to write a book on a weekend, and I was yearning for that opportunity. I needed time alone to focus and write. The story was complete in my head. I wrote it in Spanish, which was a rarity at the novel marathon (I believe a Mexican on the premises was a rarity, too, but everyone was very nice to me and welcoming). And after that, I worked on edits and kept on working on it while I did my Master’s degree at the University of Toronto. It was a very long process as my husband travelled a lot for work and I was often left alone to care for our daughters, who were three years old then, and I was a graduate student who had to commute to campus and who had a teaching load, on top of that. But I’m happy I never let that stop me from pursuing my dream of finishing this book.  

Why Damiana’s Reprieve? 

The novella is titled “Boca de Lobo” in Spanish, and it had a first edition in English in 2009 titled “The Wolf’s Mouth,” which is closer to the original. There were issues with the distribution of that book at the time, however, so my beloved editors, Barry and Michael Callaghan, of Exile Editions, decided to give the novella a second chance at life in 2018, a year after the launch of my short-story collection Plaza Requiem: Stories at the Edge of Ordinary Lives (also published by Exile, and one of the recommended books by the CBC for short-story month that year). They proposed to title this second edition Damiana’s Reprieve, which I thought was perfect.  

How do masculinities figure in the novel?  

This novella was first published in Spanish in 2007. Domestic abuse was not something that was openly talked about. Not the way we do today. The masculinities in the novella are quite toxic, I think, but very typical of life in Latin America and of the opera world as well.  

How does class? 

The characters are artists (singers, musicians, actors), but the protagonist’s father used to be an ambassador, so this gave her a privileged upbringing which I used to build her story and personality. My main goal, however, was for anyone to be able to read this book and enjoy it, regardless of their love of opera or their knowledge about it. It has always been my desire to write in a way that is accessible to any reader, not just an elite, or a select few. So I tried to show that while many people think opera is only for snobs, or for rich people, the truth is that it’s an art that anyone can enjoy, and the people who make it happen are regular people who, like us, have challenges and struggles. If anything, I tried to rip off labels and show the characters with their naked emotions, hoping that the reader would be able to connect with them at a human level.   

Were you familiar with the world of classical music and opera (High Art) music before writing your novel? Tell us a bit about your background and the research you had to conduct to write your novel. 

Both my parents attended the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New York City. That’s actually where they met. They had both been piano child prodigies (my mother in Venezuela, where she grew up, although she was born in Poland, and my father in Mexico, where he was born and raised), and had received scholarships to pursue their studies there. My father eventually became an orchestra conductor, and my mother was a concert pianist. They both enjoyed very successful careers, full of tours, recordings, etc. I grew up in that world, so it felt natural for me to write about it. In terms of research, I read memoirs by famous singers (like Renée Fleming’s, for example), and watched countless videos of operas, especially different takes on Marriage of Figaro, which is such fun to watch. People think that opera is this serious, dramatic thing, but some operas are incredibly funny, and Mozart’s Figaro is one of them. Not only is the music absolutely gorgeous and lively, but the plot is hilarious (and very brave, if you think about them staging this at a time when royalty ruled, and the royals are not painted in a very flattering manner). I wanted to see what happened if my character was facing a terrible moment in her life while she was singing a very funny opera, an opera with a happy ending (spoiler alert!). They say the show must go on, and I grew up seeing that in the flesh. When my grandmothers died, my parents had performances, and none were cancelled. That was a huge lesson for me. The audience was expecting to watch a performance, they had purchased tickets, and my parents never considered, not even for a second, to let them down and cancel. I wanted to see if my character had it in her to do the same. People think that musicians, singers and actors have this glamorous, luxurious life, and there is some of that, of course, but it comes at a great sacrifice. It’s not something that is often seen, and that is precisely what I wanted to offer my reader: a glance into what happens backstage before and during a performance.  

Where did you want to take the readers with your novel? 

To the world of singing, to the magic of theatre, to the reality of being a performer and having an audience to consider before letting your emotions run loose. It’s a world not many people know, or have seen up close.  

How do you engage with Can Lit as a reader and as a writer? 

I completed the Certificate in Creative Writing at the University of Toronto at the same time I was pursuing my Ph.D. there, so I had the wonderful opportunity to meet many wonderful Canadian writers who were my instructors. I am a huge fan of literature written in Canada. Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro, of course, are at the top of anyone’s head when talking about Can Lit, but there are many others whose work I admire: Lawrence Hill, Kim Echlin, Rosemary Sullivan, Dionne Brand, Miriam Toews, Tanya Talaga, Esi Edugyan, Marina Endicott, Michael Winter, Damian Tarnopolsky, Jael Richardson, Priscilla Uppal, Marina Nemat (who, besides being a former political prisoner in Iran, and an admirable human rights activist, is my son’s godmother), and my Muskoka-novel marathon friend, Christina Kilbourne, whose YA novels are our favourites at home.  

I am constantly looking for new books by Canadian authors, trying to engage with their writing and to meet them if I can. I was very fortunate to curate an anthology of short stories written by Canadian writers, which was translated into Spanish (by myself and some of the students in a literary translation class I used to teach), and published by Mexico’s Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana in 2015. My dear editor at Exile Editions, Barry Callaghan, was instrumental in making this dream a reality. He put me in touch with several of the authors that were included in the book, who thanks to him agreed to let me/us translate and publish these stories. I owe so much to Barry Callaghan, and of course, I admire his writing as well. As a writer, I have been very blessed to find in Exile a publishing house and a home, full of friends who are like family.  

What about your engagement with Latin American literature? 

I completed a Master’s and Ph.D. in Latin American literature, so I am very familiar with its history and development. I read voraciously both in Spanish and in English, and am thrilled to see a wave of Latin American female writers taking over not only the most prestigious literary awards but also grabbing the attention of readers who had previously only been attracted to books written by men. Latin America has wonderful writers, of course, but no one can deny that the most canonical are male: Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Octavio Paz (all of them winners of the Nobel Prize), Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, that “Boom” generation that earned its place in our continent’s literary history. I applaud the huge efforts currently being undertaken to “rescue” the work of female writers who were contemporaries to these famous men, but who were not in the limelight. I think it’s important to remember authors like Rosario Castellanos, Elena Garro, María Luisa Bombal, among many others who passed away without receiving the recognition they deserved. I am a huge fan of writers such as Mariana Enríquez and María Fernanda Ampuero, for example, whose work is available in English and offers a glimpse into the enormous talent that is brewing in our countries. I am the founder and instructor of the Creative Writing in Spanish courses at the University of Toronto, so I’m trying to foster, in a humble way, a community of writers of Latin American origin who are now living in Canada and writing in Spanish. I am also in touch with other Latinx-Canadian writers who, like myself, are trying to keep their careers going in spite of the language barriers. It’s a challenge, but we’re growing stronger as a community and as creators, and I trust good things will come to us in due time.  

How is the audience different in the United States from Canada in regard to Latin American literature? 

I think the United States has an advantage over Canada for a very clear reason: Spanish is their unofficial second language. There are many more readers in the United States than here, which is also obvious, due to the size of its population. I also think that here in Canada there are writers who come from everywhere, and whose communities are larger than ours, so their work has more readers (at least potentially). Sometimes, labels are good, as happened with the Latin American Boom. Nowadays, however, the problem with labelling our literature is that it can lead to the creation of literary ghettos. I don’t know how to solve, prevent or address that. I’m just a writer, and a reader, not an editor or a publisher. But this is an issue that needs to remain on the table.  

Having said that, we must keep working to gain a larger readership for books translated from Spanish, or written by Latin American authors. I think Canada is ready to discover that Latin America is more than just nice beaches, good food, salsa dancing and fiesta time. But what people read will not only depend on what we, as authors, write, but also on the market, on the publishers who decide to open their doors to us, and most importantly, on the reader who picks our books in the stores or online and actually reads them. There’s only so much that we can do. Can Lit is not an easy business, of course. And there are a lot of barriers and stereotypes that, as immigrants, we need to fight against. It’s no secret that we must work twice as hard as someone who was born here, and even harder still if we’re women. But we must believe it can be done.    

Thank you, Martha, and lastly, where can readers find a copy of your book? 

Damiana’s Reprieve (and Plaza Requiem) can be bought at the usual online stores (Amazon, Indigo), but also directly from Exile Editions (where Damiana’s Reprieve is currently on sale at an excellent price!)   

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Bill Arnott’s The Gamble Novellas

The Gamble Novellas are launched, live, and half-price on Amazon!

We’re excited to announce the first three installments of The Gamble, bestselling author Bill Arnott’s e-book novella series (suspense, intrigue, action and humour) are now in a single volume, “The Gamble Novellas: Books 1-2-3.”

Early reviews of The Gamble from Goodreads and Amazon:

“Fast-paced, original, and compelling,” MM

“Gritty writing, entertaining, intriguing,” HMc

“Enjoyable suspense; a completely different experience!” JS

“Arnott is a masterful purveyor of mood and dialogue,” MM

“I can’t wait to read more from this great writer,” JS

“A great read, full of suspense and a real page-turner,” LW

If you don’t know The Gamble, Book 1 is a free Amazon download on Jan 30th and 31st, and the combined set, The Gamble Novellas: Books 1-2-3, is half-price for the launch. Available at Amazon:

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Grass-Fed by Aaron Schneider

Recently, I read a review of a book that stated: “As insightful as it is absurd […] there is nothing derivative about this book, which is original in every sense…” While I agree with that assessment of the book in question (I had read and reviewed it as well) I felt that those words were just as applicable to Grass-Fed, a brilliant novella written by Aaron Schneider, who is an Assistant Professor at Western University (London, Ontario), and founding editor at The /tƐmz/ Review, amongst other accomplishments. Aaron personally sent me a copy of Grass-Fed in return for an honest and fair review.

The setting for Grass-Fed is the exclusive BlackRock Farm, Hunting Lodge and Resort in Northern Ontario, where Alexander Williams, the world-famous writer and “the David Attenborough of food” hosts a week-long retreat for seven people (three couples and a single male) the purpose of which Alexander states in his introductory speech to the group:

“We are gathered here to share a truly unique experience… something extraordinary… a week of discovery and growth during which we will learn about our food and about ourselves. You are stepping outside your comfort zones. You are testing your limits. Today, we are here to discover this essential truth. To learn what it is to be close to our food.”

The group includes an ex-hockey player, businessmen, academics and a talk show host and their spouses. There are four days, Day Five being departure day. The book is divided into Days and Nights; the days are well choreographed by Alexander and the resort’s head chef, Matthew. However, it is the nights are when they are alone in their rooms, either conversing with one another or in silent meditation of the day’s events that are most revealing. None of the couples are friends (nor do they become friends), and they do little in the course of conversation aside from generalities. Perhaps they know what Day Four may bring. Day Four is the climax of the retreat, and I’m not going to give anything away. The real genius of Mr. Schneider’s writing is his deliberate and meticulous character development and the build-up to Day Four’s climactic “life experience.”

The beauty of the novella format allows for extended experimentation with phrasings and styles than the short story, yet restrains the writer to a certain number of pages, so conciseness is key. If you’re looking for something different to read, and a story that challenges and critiques society, privilege and pretentiousness, then get Grass-Fed.

Grass-Fed by Aaron Schneider
Quattro Books

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/2TgANRA Thanks!

This article has been Digiproved © 2019 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Down From by Ursula Pflug

The novella Down From (2018, Snuggly Books) follows on the heels of Ms. Pflug’s 2017 cli-fi novella Mountain, which was published by Inanna. It’s a little hard to describe Down From, but as I see it, it is a story of two females, Sandrine and Vienna. They are the prime characters, with Habib and Sandrine’s husband River providing some male presence. At the outset, Sandrine has just come “down from” the mountain, but it is not a literal mountain, it is a figurative one where Sandrine visits alternate realities. Habib is fishing off a bridge that crosses over the canal. Like exiting a dream, Sandrine has difficulty recalling which present she is in. Her husband’s name eludes her, for instance. Habib, though she instantly recognizes. Perhaps he is a type of gatekeeper between her worlds, she muses.

She figured there must be a lot to rant about on this planet once you got started. Pretty much everything, in point of fact.

Maybe it’s simple,” he [Habib] said. Maybe I’m your gatekeeper because you can remember me, and not the other way around.” Sandrine had to think for a moment what the other way around was. “I can remember you because you are my gatekeeper,” she said.”I think it makes more sense that way. What else explains you being on the bridge every time I come down from the mountain?”

Upon returning home, Sandrine tries to remember her husband’s name:

Mike. Why did Sandrine keep calling him that when she had no idea whether or not it was even his name? Maybe she’d been right the first time and it was Randy. Or the last time, and it was Frank. Sandrine struggled with it again, hoped he’d give it away, and soon. Not knowing your husband’s name, that was probably really bad in this world.

It is while discussing things with her husband that she gets a mental image of a train ride from one of her past realities. Fortunately, Sandrine keeps notebooks of her journeys up in the attic, where there are boxes upon boxes of them. She just has to find the right one. She pulls one out at random, hoping it might have something about a train ride. It doesn’t but she finds this deep thought she once jotted down:

“Over the course of a lifetime, I have found that random thoughts, like dreams, can be cryptic messages from the soul, cryptic, disguised, veiled, which require only a bit of personal pondering, inspection, to parse their meaning and significance.”

The next day, she gets an image or a thought of a grown male child that she had. She presently has two young children with River, but she definitely knows she has a mature, red-headed son. He lives in Montreal, went to Concordia. He has a girlfriend that doesn’t speak much English. Her name is Mireille. This much she knows, but what happened to him? Did she forget that? Who could she ask?

“Did you forget your best friend is a professional witch?” she asked aloud.

Vienna is the witch in question. She lives near a swamp, having moved out of her large house (called Hartwood) into a shack that River had built for her. The house has it’s own existence (not like the house in The Amityville Horror though), and behind each of the upstairs doors lie stories, and it is there, behind a door called Pomme Verte that Sandrine receives the help she needs from Vienna (who has lost her own own daughter and she is not sure if she is dead or alive).

A story that may seem strange at first, Down From slowly coalesces into a narrative on dreams, alternate realities and even ecology, for Sandrine knows (and rants about) the ways we are slowly destroying this world (don’t get her started on fluoridation, or Aspartame!). A very different read to be sure, but one can easily sympathize with Sandrine and Vienna for the losses they have suffered and the burdens that they carry. Worth a look!

Down From by Ursula Pflug
Snuggly Books (UK)

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/2PLI26n Thanks!

This article has been Digiproved © 2018 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

In Every Wave by Charles Quimper, Translated by Guil Lefebvre

Over the few short years of its existence as an imprint of Baraka Books, QC Fiction has now produced nine titles, with a tenth one in the works. Looking back over this diverse catalogue, it would be easy to compare them to snowflakes (no two are alike) or the proverbial sampler box of chocolates. However, I have come to think of QC Fiction as a major league baseball pitcher who has a number of different pitches in his repertoire. In Every Wave definitely represents a ‘change-up” pitch after the huge 600-page epic novel “Songs for the Cold of Heart” for this book is only about 78 pages long.

“Every day is the day you died.”

 In Every Wave is a novella composed of a collection of scrambled thoughts by a distraught man (who goes unnamed) who has been bereaved of his young daughter and only child Beatrice in a drowning accident. The body is never recovered (he claims the little casket is empty at the funeral). He and his wife Marie eventually drift apart, which is not surprising for a 2006 survey said that 16% couples said they divorced after the death of a child and 4% said it was because of the death. One reason given is that men and women grieve differently, and that is certainly the case here with the parents In Every Wave. While Marie appears to grieve in an accustomed way (eventually picking herself up and getting on with life), the father is inconsolable; he cannot manage to turn his unbearable remorse into sorrow. For he loved his daughter, loved playing with her, using his vibrant imagination to create different worlds for them to exist in:

“Do you remember our holidays on Neptune? We would play Marco Polo by the Great Dark Spot. The wind was so strong you could hardly put one foot in front of the other. One of us would hide in the methane clouds while the other searched blindfolded, hands out and trying not to stumble.”

It is his imagination coupled with his insurmountable grief that is his downfall, for he gets more and more delusional as time goes on. For example, he tells us three different times that Beatrice drowned and the body is never recovered. However, each time the story is different: first, by a river, then by the sea, then by a lake. Which is true? If the father thinks that way, can what he tells us in the rest of the story be trusted? Again, an example: are we to believe this man that has turned his living room into a beach and hears water rushing in the walls, subsists on raw eggs and a little flour, is mentally competent to actually build a seagoing sailboat and sail the Seven Seas in search of his baby girl? Too fantastic, yet Mr. Quimper tells it all in a most fascinating, tragic, and prosaic/poetic manner:

“Every day is the day you died. Every morning the sound of water drags me awake, and I lie listening in terror for minutes on end. I’ve combed the Nile and probed the Mediterranean and South China seas without finding any trace of you.”

In Every Wave is a lament for a lost child, a lost marriage and conclusively, a loss of meaning and purpose in one’s life. I’m sure everyone who reads this book will get something different out of it. I’ve only scratched the surface, and I’m pretty sure there might be veiled references to nautical mythology in the tale as well (the man feasts on sea serpents and his daughter is like a mermaid, swimming with Manatees and playing hide-and-seek in the seafoam). In short, a multi-layered tale of unbearable sadness and unrelieved grief as a father searches for a trace of his daughter in every water drop, in every glass of water, in every wave. An impressive novella. Five stars!

In Every Wave is beautifulpoetic, and profound” (Naomi MacKinnon, Consumed By Ink)

*This review is based on an Advance Reading Copy supplied by QC Fiction in exchange for an honest review.

In Every Wave by Charles Quimper, Translated by Gil Lefevbre
QC Fiction

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/2Q4dSbn Thanks! 

This article has been Digiproved © 2018 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Between Rothko and 3 Windows by Corrado Paina

Corrado Paina has published five collections of poetry with Mansfield Press (Toronto) including Hoarse Legend (2000) and cinematic taxi (2015). In Italy, there have been numerous publications including a collection of short stories, several collections of poetry, and the original version of this novella, “tra Rothko e tre finestre”.

Between Rothko and 3 Windows is a literary thriller that should not be overlooked.

One of the greatest joys in reviewing books is the unexpected pleasure of discovering an excellent story when you least expect it. Such was the case with Between Rothko and 3 Windows (2016, Quattro Books). It’s title alone slightly discouraged me from choosing it over other more recent releases, but it idled patiently in my stack of TBR (to be read) books on my end table. Quattro Books has a good standing (with me at least) of publishing excellent shorter works of fiction so while I did not rush to start reading it on arrival in my mailbox, I knew its time would soon come.

Between Rothko and 3 Windows is, essentially, the story of two Italian-Canadian men living in Toronto: Luigi Sasta, the beleaguered editor-in-chief of an Italian language newspaper in slow decline and Michele Carrieri (or Michael Karrier as he has changed his name upon arriving in Canada), a nondescript office worker with a sketchy past in Italy that he is attempting to evade.

“The time had come to tell the truth, not because of remorse, as many people would think, but for a darker purpose, the sense of justice….he must talk again.”

While at the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) on his lunch break, Michael is murdered in a quiet, secluded spot between a Rothko painting and a visual art instalment of 3 windows. Sergeant Stevens of the Toronto police contacts his old friend, Luigi, as he often does when a murder in the Italian community occurs. Luigi has the instincts of an investigative journalist and becomes entwined in the case whilst dealing with angina, a heat wave, a newspaper on the edge of folding and his approaching retirement (to Italy, he dreams). Also, Michael’s killer makes an attempt on his life in a stressful scene near the R.C. Harris water treatment plant. More resolved than ever to uncover why Michael came to Canada, why he felt he needed to change his name and the motive for his murder, Luigi sets out on a mission to set matters right, for himself as much as for the deceased.

“He [Luigi] glanced again at the moon, listening to the muted sounds coming from the main street. Ioccurreded to him that Michael Karrier’s past and his own were bound together, half asleep, on that corner just behind the road, invisible, suffocating and alive.”

Between Rothko and 3 Windows is a literary thriller that should not be overlooked. At less than 200 pages, Mr Paina tells a comprehensive story of youthful misadventures (and their future consequences), middle age “should-have-done” missed opportunities and the changing times, particularly the loss of culture for Italian Canadians in Toronto as successive generations move out of the city to the suburbs. A beautifully rendered story with an appropriate melancholy pace, as befits the novel’s aforementioned themes. A five-star work of short fiction, and I have added it to my 2017 Longlist for a “Very Best!” Award.

Between Rothko and 3 Windows by Corrado Paina (translated by Damiano Pietropaolo)
Quattro Books

This article has been Digiproved © 2017 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Corrado Paina, Quattro Books

Some Rights Reserved  

Original content here is published under these license terms:
License Type:  Non-commercial, Attribution
Abstract:  You may copy this content, create derivative work from it, and re-publish it for non-commercial purposes, provided you include an overt attribution to the author(s).
License URL:  http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Mountain by Ursula Pflug

Ursula Pflug is the award-winning author of the novels Green Music; The Alphabet Stones and the story collections After the Fires and Harvesting the Moon. She has been shortlisted or nominated for many awards and currently lives in Norwood, Ontario. Her latest novel is Mountain (2017, Inanna Publications)

Mountain is a novel (but at only 98 pages, more of a novella) that tells the story of seventeen-year-old Camden O’Connor, a girl who lives in two worlds due to her parents’ separation. Her father Lark is a minor rock star based out of Toronto. When with her Dad, she is the typically spoiled city girl with all-access to her father’s credit cards. Life with her mother Laureen is decidedly different: she is a member of “The Tribe” a nomadic collective community that lives off the grid (for the most part) along the west coast and elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada. Laureen is a self-proclaimed “hardware geek” and it is her main responsibility to set up Internet access for the community. This is where Mountain begins: in Northern California during the spring thaw, the snow is melting and the ground is thawing, giving the area of the encampment a Woodstock-like vibe. Everything is either wet or muddy or both. In a few days, Laureen leaves Camden at the camp to go to San Francisco pressing a $50 bill in her hand (“not that you’ll need it; I’ll only be gone overnight”) and is gone.

The full review of Mountain can be read at the Consumed by Ink book blog: https://consumedbyink.ca/2017/06/26/guest-post-a-review-of-mountain-by-ursula-pflug/


This article has been Digiproved © 2017-2018 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Bus by Adam Pottle

Detailing a six-hour window on April 21, 1941, The Bus (Quattro Books, 2016) features eight different narrators: six mental patients, the doctor who will kill them, and the man who will burn their corpses. Crammed into a bus with thirty-five others and unable to see out the painted windows, the patients are transferred from the Scheuern institution to the Nazi euthanasia clinic in Hadamar, Germany. (From Quattro Book’s website)

The Third Reich had a policy of mercy killing those deemed “incurables” such as the mental patients Nadja, Frederich, Sebastian, Leopold, Emmerich and Judith, all passengers unknowingly on their way to be gassed in a “shower room”, then cremated. The other two narrators are Michael the doctor and Ewald, the crematorium attendant.
The Bus was awarded the 2016 Ken Klonsky Novella award and with good reason. Mr Pottle has captured the individual torments of each character so impressively that, within a mere 150 pages, they are all quite distinct and we have come not only to understand their mental state but sympathise with them. Michael laments that instead of killing these patients, they could be studied, observed in the name of medical science. This is not why he became a doctor for the Reich. Deftly captured too is the overwhelming claustrophobic environment of the bus itself: windows all painted over, no washroom facilities, no food or water for the patients and the smells begin to mount, layer upon layer of sweat, urine, even the pools of blood from a patient who accidentally dies on the trip, the guards refusing to remove his corpse. Sebastian complains to one of the nurses on board the bus:

“We’re not prisoners. You can’t treat us like this. This bus is an abomination. We haven’t been given water or food. We can hardly breathe in here. It’s like a coffin.”

Stark, shocking and succinctly written, The Bus will leave you questioning once again man’s incomprehensible inhumanity to man.

The Bus by Adam Pottle
Quattro Books

This article has been Digiproved © 2017 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Quattro Books

Some Rights Reserved  

Original content here is published under these license terms:
License Type:  Non-commercial, Attribution
Abstract:  You may copy this content, create derivative work from it, and re-publish it for non-commercial purposes, provided you include an overt attribution to the author(s).
License URL:  http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Too Much Light for Samuel Gaska by Etienne Beaulieu

It may be just me, but there seems to be a lot of interest in literature coming out of Quebec these days. Whatever the reason, there have been many recent titles worthy of translation in order to reach a wider audience amongst English readers. Too Much Light for Samuel Gaska by Étienne Beaulieu (2016, Quattro Books, and translated by Jonathan Kaplansky) is a fine example of a novella: the story is too involved to be restricted to a short story, but just large enough for a novella. This is one instance where more words do not equal a more pleasurable read; they would only obscure the imagery of the tortured existential deliberations of Samuel Laska, the only child of Polish immigrant parents living in Montreal.

Too Much Light for Samuel Gaska is an excellent novella that is captivating to read.

Samuel has honoured his father’s wish by becoming a composer, despite the elder Laska’s  “knowing nothing of Chopin, whom he revered because he had to revere something and he probably never heard the name of Samuel Barber, the American composer.” Samuel tells us little of his childhood musical education. His anguish begins when agrees to write the score for a play his childhood crush Catherine is putting on. Soon after agreeing to do this, he and his girlfriend Pascale spend the summer on an island on the coast of New Brunswick, she to write a story, he to work on his composition for Catherine. While there, Pascale attempts suicide and Samuel manages to get her medical help in time to save her life. More anguish added to Samuel’s already full plate of woes. Eventually, Pascale leaves Samuel for another woman and then Samuel leaves them both by moving out west, working odd jobs to pay for the basics all the while dragging around the millstone of composing the promised score. Many times he wishes he was a bird (“Gaska” means goose in Polish) and could fly away from the place he is in:

“This ability to feel everything “musically” quickly became a prison….I want to shake myself like a goose emerging from the sea, to rid myself of this past, to be as light as air.”

It is while he is out west that a major change takes place: getting arrested for destroying a partially constructed church with a crane and serving “two years less a day” in Fort Calahan Prison. There, Samuel begins “to compose like never before, furiously, to get out of this score in which I was imprisoned.”

If I were to continue, this review will be as long as the story and I will be accused of spoiling a good read. It was a fascinating novella to read and if I didn’t always immediately understand Samuel’s depressive thoughts, persevering would eventually clarify the reasons why Samuel felt so embattled by his commitments, both to his dead father and to Catherine. Too Much Light for Samuel Gaska is an excellent novella that is captivating to read.


A writer, professor and publisher, Étienne Beaulieu runs Éditions Nota bene and teaches literature at the Cégep de Drummondville. In 2014 Trop de lumière pour Samuel Gaska (A Surfeit of Light), garnered the City of Montreal’s Prix Jacques-Cartier, the Grand Prix du livre de la Ville de Sherbrooke, the Prix Alfred-Desrochers and was a finalist for the Prix Chambéry (France).

Jonathan Kaplansky studied at Tufts University and Université de Paris III, completing a Master’s in French Language and Literature at McGill University and a Master’s in Translation at the University of Ottawa. After spending several years as a translator in Ottawa and Montreal, he turned to literary translation.

This article has been Digiproved © 2017 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Blackbird Calling by Laura Swart

When I first received Blackbird Calling (Quattro Books, 2016) and started reading it, I soon put it aside because I wasn’t ready for it, my mind wanted an ‘easy’ read at the time (it being summertime and the season of distractions, not to mention yard work) but I vowed to return to it one day. That day came months later, and I finished it in one day. And I wondered why I hadn’t returned to it sooner.

“I knew that an invisible kingdom drummed within me and around me, something more powerful and present than anything I could see with my eyes.”

Blackbird Calling is a story that exists on several levels. There is the story of an unidentified teenage girl who befriends Gloria Little Chief from the Blood tribe who lives in the “double houses” with other natives in another part of her neighbourhood. From Gloria and from her Ni’is (Uncle, I believe) she learns many things, such as the past treatment of native people, residential schools, reservation life and life lessons that she doesn’t receive from her own parents. Then there is the deeper context and the metaphors such as the marshland ecosystem where the Redwing Blackbird is king and how it mirrors life itself, as her brother’s wondrous stories highlight: “The wetland is not a wasteland as some suppose; it’s a Kingdom. And Red-winged Blackbird is King.” The girl thinks: “I knew that an invisible kingdom drummed within me and around me, something more powerful and present than anything I could see with my eyes.” Consider Hamish, an older boy who comes into the neighbourhood and changes the way the other children must play hide-and-seek in the neighbourhood:

“As the nights drained into weeks and months, Hamish gained more and more control. He picked the donkey each turn, directed people to their hiding spots, and decided when the game was over for the night. anyone who did not conform to the new rules fell into a void, like Indians in double houses, strangers outside the camp. Hide-and-seek seemed synthetic now, institutionalized.”

This brings to mind the way aboriginal people were herded onto reserves, pushed out of the lands they had occupied and cared for centuries before the white man came, then were subjected to the institutional residential school system in which generations of native people were forced to speak English and told to forget their native ways. This was one of the biggest takeaways of Blackbird Calling for me: how the children at the residential schools missed out on the stories the elders would have passed down to them, and how some of the stories would die with the elder or older tribe members, never to be told again:

[Bonnie Plaited Hair (a mixed Cree and Blackfoot woman) laments]: “But we’re the mothers and fathers now. It’s up to us to teach our culture to the younger people. So many of the parents went to residential schools and didn’t pass on the culture. And now the youth are lost because they don’t know who they are. They don’t have their culture to lean on.”

I had never considered that particular cultural wound inflicted by those schools on native children and their future generations.

There are many gems to be gleaned from the few pages of this story. There are tragedies, misunderstandings, preconceptions and sometimes, outright violence against those with darker skin, high cheekbones and straight black hair. However, there is the awakening of the unnamed girl’s mind to her heretofore hidden native heritage and the way the land and creation can ‘speak’ and the importance of being attuned to what it says. I genuinely liked this novella and I gave it 4/5 stars at Goodreads.

Laura Swart is passionate about writing and teaching. She taught academic writing at the University of Calgary for twenty years, encouraging students to move their writing from the sterile walls of the classroom to the arenas of publication and exhibition. She is Founder and Director of I-AM, a faith-based ESL program that uses story and song to teach the intricacies of English to refugees. Laura’s degrees and research in Education and Philosophy have shaped her pedagogy, and the theories of Hans Gadamer in particular, have woven themselves into her thinking, her teaching, and her writing.

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This article has been Digiproved © 2017-2018 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Escape!!! by J.P. Rodriguez

One nice thing about being a book reviewer is the cooperation one can easily establish with the small, independent book publishers, of which there are quite a few. I have found them very easy to deal with and they are only too happy to have their titles read and reviewed. Quattro Books is one publisher that has been very supportive of the Miramichi Reader since it has started up. While it is based in Toronto, some of their titles are authored by east-coast authors, such as Binnie Brennan and Joyce Grant Smith. And while J.P. Rodriguez is from Thunder Bay and now lives in Toronto, his latest novel (or novella, since it is only 146 pages) Escape!!! (2015, Quattro Books) will be of interest to those looking for a little something different. At the time I picked up this book, I was between two ‘down-mood’ non-fiction titles, one about PTSD in the Canadian Armed Forces (yet to be reviewed) and the other about the Halifax Explosion of 1917. I was wanting a little escapist reading, no pun intended!

Synopsis

Escape!!! Is the story of a young expat Canadian named Will who is living and working in Tokyo, Japan. The child of a wealthy family, he is determined to escape (among other things) the capitalist leanings of his father and as a consequence, is more of a socialist in his outlook. He wants to save the world, but first he must save himself, so he seeks spirituality and meaning by going to the far east. He has lived in Tokyo for three years and can speak the language quite well. He works as an elevator operator (“one of the last elevator drivers in Japan”) and teaches English on the side. The novel begins optimistically enough, for he meets Sakura (Cherry Blossom) and becomes infatuated with her (and her perfume, Escape by Calvin Klein):

He’s filled with a desire and the accompanying energy to seize the world, to lean into it full-on, to try and arrest its advance and see what it will do.

Their relationship grows, but Sakura is a two-edged (Samurai?) sword for she introduces him to Ecstasy and Crack. At first he finds the drugs’ effect liberating, much like the Zen meditating he has done for years; yet in a few minutes, he gets the same effect from E that took years to attain by meditating. However, such addictions come at a price and this leads to Will’s downward spiral (near the end of the book he is wandering the streets of Tokyo in just a shirt and boxer shorts).

So he’d carried on all the way to Hiroshima, because that’s what he’s been doing to himself with the drugs- dropping nuclear bombs on his brain, razing everything built up over time and irradiating the rubble.

An Elevator Ride of a Story

I will say that I had a hard time getting into the first few chapters, but I decided to stick with it, since the story intrigued me from the beginning, and I wanted to see how it would develop. While I wouldn’t call Mr. Rodriguez’ writing ‘edgy’ it is different in a neuron-stimulating sort of way. Have you ever tried to read a page or two of a book with the book upside down? It ‘tickles’ the brain, compelling it to work in a way it is not accustomed to. That is the best way I can describe the writing style Mr. Rodriguez uses.

Each chapter of the book is an elevator ride with Will up the sixteen floors of the building he works in and each stop causes Will to reflect back on his life, his love of Sakura and the grand meaning of it all. Naturally, the 16th floor is the novel’s climax, so we are along for the ride with Will as he both literally ascends and figuratively descends in his thoughts and planned actions.

Conclusion

If you are looking to read something different, but not too far “out there”, then I can recommend Escape!!! as that type of reading. Caveat: There are F-bombs, primarily borne out of Will’s angst and some casual sex scenes with Sakura, but nothing exceedingly graphic. While I found it hard to get into the initial chapter, I advise sticking with it (and with Will) to the end. I don’t think you will be disappointed in your elevator trip to the top, most honourable reader!


JP grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and studied in various universities and earned a teaching degree. He began writing fiction in Tokyo while teaching English to students ranging in age from 3 to 88, and after two years teaching in London he returned to Canada to pursue a career in social work. He completed a master’s degree and currently works in that field in Toronto.

This article has been Digiproved © 2015 James FisherSome Rights Reserved