The shortlist for the Governor General's Literary Awards has been announced.
One of my favourite books of the year is on that list, Vincent Lam’s The Headmaster’s Wager.
I had a chat with Vincent about the book and the inspiration behind the story. Download a podcast of the interview here.
Two other books that made it on the shortlist are also finalists for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, Tomas Dobozy’s Siege 13 and Linda Spalding’s The Purchase.
Here is the full fiction shortlist for the GGs:
The Headmaster’s Wager, Vincent Lam
The main character in this book is someone you’ll end up loving one minute, and despising the next. And it’s this flawed character who kept me turning the pages. You just want to know how Pervical Chen’s story will end! Vincent Lam is a great storyteller. He already has a Giller Prize up his sleeve, but The Headmaster’s Wager is his debut novel and it’s one he’s been waiting to write. That passion shows. The main character, Percival Chen, was born in China as Chen Pie Sou. At a young age, his dad leaves for Vietnam in search of the “Gold Mountain” and once he finds his money-making venture, he remains there. Years later, the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong forces Percival to follow his dad to a town outside Saigon. By 1966, Percival goes from poor village boy in China to rich, foreign headmaster in Vietnam. His weaknesses are women, gambling and his son. It’s the fate of his son that drives Percival’s actions throughout the book and sends you, the reader, on quite the ride. The mood of the book is set through what happens around the main characters – the Vietnam War. Lam tells of torture techniques and of ways people were killed to save bullets. The devastation of a 19-year war comes across through this story of a Chinese immigrant and those in his life. The story also has a nice personal touch. Percival Chen was inspired by Lam’s grandfather and his parents helped his writing with recollections of their childhood in Vietnam. Lam had started writing the novel a decade ago, but decided he wasn't ready to finish it until now. It’s a sad story with a lot of energy and endless twists and turns.
Download a podcast of my interview with author Vincent Lam here.
Siege 13, Tomas Dobozy
In December of 1944, the Red Army entered Budapest to begin one of the bloodiest sieges of the Second World War. By February, the siege was over, but its effects were to be felt for decades afterward. Siege 13 is a collection of thirteen linked stories about this terrible time in history, both its historical moment, but also later, as a legacy of silence, haunting, and trauma that shadows the survivors.Set in both Budapest before and after the siege, and in the present day -- in Canada, the U.S., and parts of Europe -- Siege 13 traces the ripple effect of this time on characters directly involved, and on their friends, associates, sons, daughters, grandchildren, and adoptive countries. Written by one of this country's best and most internationally recognized short story authors -- the story "The Restoration of the Villa Where Tibor Kallman Once Lived" won the 2011 O.Henry Prize for short fiction -- Siege 13 is an intelligent, emotional, and absorbing cycle of stories about war, family, loyalty, love and redemption. (description from Thomas-Allen & Son)
Dr Brinkley’s Tower, Robert Hough
Equal parts Mark Twain and Gabriel García Márquez, Robert Hough's wildly imaginative new novel takes us to 1931 and Corazón de la Fuente, a tiny Mexican border town where the only industry is a run-down brothel. Enter Dr. Romulus Brinkley and his gargantuan radio tower, built to broadcast his revolutionary goat-gland fertility operation. Fortunes in Corazón change overnight, but not all for the good. Word of the new prosperity spreads, and the town is overrun by the impoverished, the desperate, and the flat-out criminal. The tower's frequencies are so powerful the whole area glows green, and the signal is soon broadcasting through every bit of metal it can find: fencing wire, toasters, even a young woman's new braces. Meanwhile, Dr. Brinkley has attracted the affections of Violeta Cruz, Corazón’s most beautiful resident. But is he really all that he seems? Peopled with unforgettable characters and capturing a young Mexico caught between its own ambitions and the imperialist designs of its neighbour to the north, Dr. Brinkley’s Tower is a stunning achievement in storytelling. (description from House of Anansi Press)
The Juliet Stories, Carrie Snyder
Juliet Friesen is ten years old when her family moves to Nicaragua. It is 1984, the height of Nicaragua's post-revolutionary war, and the peace-activist Friesens have come to protest American involvement. In the midst of this tumult, Juliet's family lives outside of the boundaries of ordinary life. They've escaped, and the ordinary rules don't apply. Threat is pervasive, danger is real, but the extremity of the situation also produces a kind of euphoria, protecting Juliet's family from its own cracks and conflicts. When Juliet's younger brother becomes sick, their adventure ends abruptly. The Friesens return to Canada only to find that their lives beyond Nicaragua have become the war zone. One by one, they drift from each other, and Juliet grows to adulthood, pulled between her desire to live a free life like the one she remembers in Nicaragua, and her desire to build for her own children a life more settled than her parents could provide. With laser-sharp prose and breathtaking insight, these stories herald Carrie Snyder as one of Canada's most prodigiously talented writers. (description from amazon.ca)
The Purchase, Linda Spalding
In 1798, Daniel Dickinson, a young Quaker father and widower, leaves his home in Pennsylvania to establish a new life. He sets out with two horses, a wagonful of belongings, his five children, a 15-year-old orphan wife, and a few land warrants for his future homestead. When Daniel suddenly trades a horse for a young slave, Onesimus, it sets in motion a struggle in his conscience that will taint his life forever, and sets in motion a chain of events that lead to two murders and the family's strange relationship with a runaway slave named Bett. Stripped down and as hard-edged as the realities of pioneer life, Spalding's writing is nothing short of stunning, as it instantly envelops the reader in the world and time of the novel, and follows the lives of unforgettable characters. Inspired by stories of the author's own ancestors, The Purchase is a resonant, powerful and timeless novel. (description from McClelland & Stewart)
The non-fiction finalists for the GGs have also been announced:
- A Thousand Farewells: A Reporter’s Journey From Refugee Camp to the Arab Spring, Nahlah Ayed
- The Pursuit of Perfection: A Life of Celia Franca, Carol Bishop-Gwyn
- Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest, Wade Davis
- Leonard and the Last Supper, Ross King
- What We Talk About When We Talk About War, Noah Richler
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