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