Tag Archives: GillerPrize

The Disappeared by Kim Echlin

The Disappeared by Kim Echlin

Black Cat, New York, 2009

Borrowed from my library.  Short-listed for the 2009 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Anne Greves is sixteen year old when she meets Serey,  a Cambodian student and musician, in a jazz club.  He had been forced to leave his home and family during the rise of the Khmer Rouge regime.  Going against her father’s wishes, Anne follows her instincts and falls in love with Serey.  When the borders to Cambodia reopen he returns to search for his family.  Anne is left alone.  She continues with her life, all the time dreaming of her lover.  She secretly studies Khmer, the language of Cambodia.

But in the secret hour of each day I studied Khmer.  The language of love.  A curling script with soundless buried r’s, beautifully balanced between consonants and vowels with two sounds each.  I wrapped my tongue around the language of your childhood, embraced you with each new word.  My teacher had a wooden leg.  His name was Vithu and I paid him with my flower money.  He had managed to escape across the border early in the war but not before he’d stepped on a landmine.  He had been precocious, a farmer’s son who learned to read and write at the monastery.  He taught me words and he taught me how to speak.  He tried to teach me modesty.  He said, If someone says, You cook well or you speak well, you must say, No I don’t, and lower your eyes.  In Cambodia a virtuous woman moves without making a sound on the floor.  from page 48.

A decade later, after writing Serey letters and getting no response, after trying to live with her loss,  Anne sees something on television that changes her life.   She quits her job, buys a ticket to Phnom Penh and goes in search of Serey.  Engulfed in the reality of Cambodia, she begins to learn to see.

Imagine a street; imagine waking up one morning and teenaged voices outside shouting, Comrades, it is Year Zero.

Country kids who cannot drive lurch down the street in tanks and trucks.  They have been hiding out in the jungle.  They screech brakes, pop clutches.  they scream through megaphones.  They fire guns and kill anyone who talks back or asks questions or, god forbid, refuses to move.  They do not have good judgement.  But they can choose anyone to die.  Most neither read nor write.  Imagine going out into the street and watching a man ask why he must leave his home and a teenager lifting his gun and shooting him.  from page 69.

Echlin writes with an intensity that fills her characters with strength and brings the places that they hold in the world into sharp focus.  The Disappeared is a love story, one that expands out from two lovers to engulf an entire culture.  There is beauty and grace in this novel,  the belief that the way to get through the darkness of genocide is to never forget, and the knowledge that love is an antidote for despair.  I’ve been reading a lot of books about war lately.  I think this one is my favorite.  I highly recommend it.

Other reviews: Fizzy Thoughts,   My Friend Amy,   The Mooske and the Gripes

Have your read it?

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Filed under Canadian, CanadianBookChallenge5, GillerPrize, LiteraryFiction, Review

Annabel by Kathleen Winter

Annabel by Kathleen Winter

House of Anansi, Toronto, 2010

Shortlisted for the 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize, on the long list for the 2011 Orange Prize.  I own this one.

Imagine being eleven years old, with thoughts of becoming a teenager and the awkward sense of things changing around you and in you.  Then imagine suddenly learning you are not who you think you are.  This is the story of Wayne Blake.  This is the story of Annabel.  They are one and the same.

Jacinta and Treadway Blake both know there is something different about their child.  Jacinta is torn by a sense of  loss.  Treadway is determined to raise his son the way he was raised.  They never speak about the difference, never share their knowledge with their son.

All children, she thought as she watched him, could be either boy or girl, their cheeks flushed, their hair damp tendrils.  Wayne looked up at her so trustingly she badly wanted to sit beside him, to look at him and honestly explain everything that had happened to him from birth.  At nine, she thought, a child has a capacity for truth.  by age ten the child has lengthened and opened out from babyhood, from childishness, and there is a directness there that adults don’t have.  You could look in Wayne’s eyes and say anything true, no matter how difficult, and those eyes would meet yours and they would take it in with a scientific beauty that was like Schubert’s music.  From pages  93/94.

The decision to keep silent, to keep secrets, places a wedge between Jacinta and Treadway and eventually between parents and child.   Winter is wonderful at developing her characters and sharing their inner lives with the reader.  I ended up caring for all of them, with all their differences.

…..When Treadway needed to speak his mind, he spoke it to a boreal owl he met when he was seventeen.  He and the owl shared physical traits.  Both were small for their species.  Each had a compact rounded shape, efficient and not outwardly graceful.  The boreal owl was one of the quietest, most modest birds.  It roosted in tall, shady thickets of black spruce and drew absolutely no attention to itself.  Treadway had met the owl as he rested halfway between the Beaver River and the trail back home.  He had been in the same spot more than half an hour when the tiny owl caught his eye, twenty feet over his head.  He didn’t know what caused him to look up at that spot.  A silent impulse of recognition.  Treadway often discovered wildlife like that, as if an invisible bubble had burst and somehow it made you look in that spot.  From page 214.

Kathleen Winter has written a moving and eloquent book about mixed gender, identity and the human journey to individuality.  It weaves together the lines that connect us as families and as friends.   It  tells how easily these connections can be broken.  It is a story containing wonder and ugliness,  all beautifully written.  I enjoyed this novel immensely.  It is about about families, about growing up and about trust, acceptance and love.

…..There is a new world for every child, sooner or later, no matter what kind of love has lived in the home.  Strong love, love that has failed, complicated love, love that does its best to keep a child warm through layers of fear or caution.  One day the layers begin to fall…  From page 228.

Other reviews:

Amy Reads, Eclectic/Eccentric, Monniblog Reading Through Life,   The Mookse and the Gripes

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Filed under ContemporaryFiction, OrangePrize, Review