Five novels vying to be the one book Canadians should read Five novels vying to be the one book Canadians should read
By Paula Brown A battle of the books begins today with the opening of the four-day competition Canada Reads. While five panelists prepare to... Five novels vying to be the one book Canadians should read

By Paula Brown

A battle of the books begins today with the opening of the four-day competition Canada Reads. While five panelists prepare to defend and eliminate a book each day to find the ultimate Canadian tome people should read this year, here is a breakdown of the five finalist novels for this year’s theme of One Book to Move You.


Homes by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah and Winnie Yeung

Published in May 2018, Homes: A Refugee Story follows the al Rabeeah family as they leave their home in Iraq to Syria for a safer life prior to the Syrian war. Homes is told through the eyes of Abu Bakr al Rabeeah and his experiences growing up in a war zone, finding safety in Canada, and the contrast of the horrific experiences of a war zone and normal everyday life. Homes is told by Abu Bakr and is written by his teacher Winnie Yeung. 

Homes was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction and will be defended by Simple Plan drummer Chuck Comeau at Canada Reads.

Brother by David Chariandy 

Brother is the second novel written by David Chariandy, whose first novel Soucouyant was released in 2007.  Published in September 2017 Brother follows the lives of Francis and Michael, two brothers who live in a housing complex, and takes place in the summer of 1991. The sons of Trinidadian immigrants the boys contemplate masculinity, race, family, and identity while also experiencing prejudices. Francis and Michael each have a dream, one of music and the other of a girl named Aisha. The boy’s lives are affected after a tragic shooting, and police crackdowns that follow.

Brother was the winner of the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize in 2017 and the Toronto Book Award in 2018. It will be defended by actress Lisa Ray.

 By Chance Alone by Max Eisen 

By Chance Alone is a Holocaust memoir written by Max Eisen that depicts his life from rural Hungary to Auschwitz. In 1944 Eisen and his family were taken from their home and brought to Auschwitz. At 15, Eisen became a slave laborer in the camp. Injured by an SS guard, Eisen survived an operation by Polish physician Tadeusz Orzeszko who then saved Eisen from death in the gas chambers by giving him a job as a cleaner.

Eisen immigrated to Canada in 1949 and has dedicated educating others on the Holocaust.

Eisen’s novel was a finalist for the 2017 RBC Taylor Prize and will be defended by Ziya Tong, best known for hosting Daily Planet.

Suzanne by Anais Barbeau-Lavalette

Anais Barbeau-Lavalette’s 2017 novel Suzanne is a fictionalized account of her grandmother’s life. Barbeau-Lavalette’s curiosity to understand why her grandmother Suzanne, a sometimes painter and poet who associated with the Les Automatistes (a movement of dissident artists), chose to leave her husband and family. Barbeau-Lavalette hired a private detective to research her grandmother and then wrote fictionalized accounts of Suzanne’s life.

Suzanne was the winner of the Prix des Libraires du Quebec and was translated by Rhonda Mullins. It will be defended by actor Yanic Truesdale.

The Woo-Woo by Lindsay Wong 

Released in October 2018, Lindsay Wong’s novel The Woo-Woo is a coming-of-age, darkly written comedic memoir about her life growing up in her dysfunctional family. Wong’s grandmother suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and her mother is afraid of the Chinese ghosts who visit at times of turmoil known as the “woo-woo”. Wong’s depiction of mental illness is made even more personal when she begins experiencing the symptoms of the “woo-woo” herself and wonders if she will have the same fate as her family.

The Woo-Woo was shortlisted for the Hilary Weston’s Writer’s Trust of Canada Prize for Non-Fiction and will be defended by journalist Joe Zee.


Canada Reads airs on CBC Radio at 11:05 a.m. ET, CBC TV at 4 p.m. ET and will be live streamed on CBC Books, Facebook, YouTube and Gem at 11 a.m. ET.

Keep checking for updates as books are eliminated and the battle for Canada’s ultimate book continues.


Day Two

The end of the second day of Canada Reads sees the novel Suzanne by Anais Barbeau-Lavalette eliminated from the list of contenders to be the book Canadians should read in 2019. Suzanne now joins the novel The Woo Woo by Lindsay Wong in elimination.

Defenders for the novels will continue to debate Wednesday with Brother, Home: A Refuge Story and By Chance Alone still remaining in the running.



Paula Brown