Wal­rus Reads

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Books by Jor­dan Tan­nahill, Kate Har­ris, and Sharon Bala

Lim­i­nal by Jor­dan Tan­nahill

jor­dan tan­nahill has made a ca­reer of in-be­tween­ness. The Gov­er­nor Gen­eral Award–win­ning play­wright is also a film­maker, former art gallery owner, and now, a nov­el­ist. The book re­volves around another Jor­dan Tan­nahill — also a play­wright, film­maker, and art gallery owner — who, one morn­ing, opens the door to his mother’s bed­room and finds her seem­ingly dead. As he stands in the thresh­old, he re­treats into his mind, and the novel un­folds as part Bil­dungsro­man, part mem­oir, part philo­soph­i­cal es­say on per­son­hood. Tan­nahill mixes these cat­e­gories as he moves from his child­hood re­la­tion­ship with his mother to his root­less youth to his bur­geon­ing ca­reer as an artist. These shifts can feel un­bal­anc­ing at times — an anec­dote about a foray into the porn in­dus­try segues into a di­gres­sion on the life of Saint Au­gus­tine — but what emerges is a rounded por­trait of a man find­ing him­self cre­atively and emo­tion­ally. Tan­nahill’s flits be­tween au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal fact and fic­tion cre­ate a sus­pended un­cer­tainty about whether the per­son de­scribed is a re­flec­tion of the au­thor or pure imag­i­na­tion. But as Lim­i­nal makes clear, who we are and the sto­ries that we tell about our­selves are never one and the same.

— Daniel Viola

Lands of Lost Bor­ders by kate har­ris

angst that the world has been thor­oughly ex­plored forms the premise of Kate Har­ris’s de­but mem­oir. She sets out to prove that as­sump­tion wrong by cy­cling much of the world’s most fa­bled route: the an­cient Silk Road link­ing Turkey and China. With her friend Mel ped­alling along­side, Har­ris spends months cross­ing desert and moun­tain from Is­tan­bul to Lhasa and into In­dia.

Har­ris, a writer liv­ing off-grid in Bri­tish Columbia, of­fers the best kind of travel lit­er­a­ture, one that fo­cuses on peo­ple so as to il­lus­trate place. There are clas­sic as­sump­tions-gone-wrong mo­ments, such as when an Azer­bai­jani travel-visa fixer takes off with her money only to later reap­pear non­cha­lantly, as well as quiet scenes, in­clud­ing when a photo of the Dalai Lama (banned in Ti­bet) is of­fered to no­mads in thanks for prof­fered yak-but­ter tea. Through­out the gru­elling jour­ney, Har­ris’s ire is di­rected at bor­ders. “We’re so used to think­ing of na­tions as self-ev­i­dent, maps as trusted au­thor­i­ties, the bound­aries vein­ing them blue-blooded and sure,” she writes. With wit and re­flec­tion, Har­ris finds that be­ing an ex­plorer doesn’t re­quire dis­cov­er­ing new lands; it means rel­ish­ing the spa­ces along the most well-trod­den paths.

— Har­ley Rus­tad

The Boat Peo­ple by sharon bala

in 2010, a cargo ship car­ry­ing 492 refugees of Sri Lanka’s civil war docked in Bri­tish Columbia. Draw­ing on this his­tor­i­cal event, Sharon Bala’s de­but novel fol­lows the story of Mahin­dan, a fic­tional refugee. The young wid­ower be­lieves he’s brought his son, Sel­lian, to safety. In­stead, of­fi­cials sep­a­rate the men from the women and chil­dren and lock the former in de­ten­tion cen­tres. While Mahin­dan is fac­ing de­por­ta­tion, Sel­lian is taken to a foster fam­ily. With help from a refugee lawyer and a group of Tamil Cana­di­ans, Mahin­dan sets out to prove to an ad­ju­di­ca­tor that, though he comes from a place of vi­o­lence, he de­serves to stay.

Bala’s story im­plies par­al­lels be­tween Mahin­dan’s struggle and the cur­rent global refugee cri­sis, with a fo­cus on the sus­pi­cions new­com­ers face. The au­thor’s writ­ing is sub­tle; sim­ple, nat­u­ral dia­logue evokes Mahin­dan’s idyl­lic pre-war life. In one vivid pas­sage, Mahin­dan re­calls his late wife hag­gling with ven­dors to win a hand­ful of nuts here, a bas­ket of eggs there. The novel is a sober­ing re­minder that any­one could be shop­ping one day and ne­go­ti­at­ing for their life the next.

— Samia Mad­war

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