Explore Canada through the eyes of these bestselling authors.
by Lori McNulty
It was the image of a nun swinging from the rafters of an iron bridge that stunned me. After reading Michael Ondaajte’s In the Skin of a Lion, I could never look at Toronto, or the immigrants who helped build the city, in the same way.
Travel and fiction take us on a journey. Novelist Lawrence Hill believes readers love to encounter place through literature. “Some of the most engaging and exciting literature is firmly rooted in time and place,” he writes. “The specific, when magically dramatized, becomes universal.”
Great novels help us see further—like magic. So unpack your imagination and take these 11 breathtaking Canadian books along for the ride.
Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism/Barrett and MacKay.
11 novel ways to explore Canada today
1. In the Skin of A Lion, Michael Ondaatje
Set in the 1920s and 1930s, this gorgeous novel imagines tough and turbulent working-class Toronto and the immigrants who built it. Project Bookmark Canada erects literary passages in the same physical location where novels and poems are set. Visit their first-ever bookmark.
2. The Book of Negroes, Lawrence Hill
Freedom-seeking Black Loyalists, slaves who supported the British during the American Revolution, settled in Shelburne, NS, at the turn of the 19th century. Aminata Diallo is the novel’s embattled heroine, whose heart and harrowing journey form the subject of this unforgettable, award-winning novel.
3. A Tale for The Time Being, Ruth Ozeki
Canadian-American born Ruth Ozeki takes readers from the electric lights of Tokyo to the tranquility of Desolation Sound, BC, where fjords and mountains meet. The profound and bewitching novel, shortlisted for the prestigious 2013 Man Booker Prize, explores lives transformed when a Tokyo teenager’s diary is washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox.
4. Lives of Girls and Women, Alice Munro
Winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature, Alice Munro is the undisputed master of the contemporary short story. Often called Canada’s Chekhov, reading Munro is like taking a train ride through Ontario’s lush landscape. In this coming-of-age story collection, we follow the heartbreaks of Del Jordan as she grows up and grapples with womanhood in Jubilee, a small southern Ontario town.
5. The Shipping News, E. Annie Proulx
Feel the salt sea spray on your skin as you read this Pulitzer Prize-winning book about a newspaper reporter who moves from New York State to Newfoundland to escape his emotionally traumatic life. See the story in pics.
6. The Tin Flute, Gabrielle Roy
Montréal’s working-class neighbourhood of Saint-Henri is the setting for this French-Canadian author’s compassionate tale of a family struggling to overcome poverty during the Second World War.
7. Jade Peony, Wayson Choy
Meet Poh-Poh, grandmother and pillar of a family brimming with secrets. Three Chinese-Canadian siblings tell the poignant tale of an immigrant family enduring war and the depression in Vancouver’s Chinatown in the late1930s and 1940s.
9. Monkey Beach, Eden Robinson
Set in the author’s hometown of Kitamaat Village on BC’s west coast, this haunting novel of Haisla First Nation teenager Lisa Hill will leave you moved and awakened by the beauty of the landscape and the rich 9,000 years of Haisla culture.
10. No Great Mischief, Alistair MacLeod
Haunted by their Scottish ancestry, two brothers seek reconciliation in this sweeping yet intimate family tale shared through flashbacks of their childhood home on Nova Scotia’s breathtaking Cape Breton Island and in the mines of northern Ontario.
11. Green Grass, Running Water, Thomas King
A contemporary Blackfoot community in Alberta forms the backdrop for this funny and fantastic tale exploring the tensions between the modern world and First Nations tradition, where shifting lives and the shape-shifting, trickster Coyote meet.
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