The Shipping News author Annie Proulx has just  had her new novel Barkskins published.

The Shipping News author Annie Proulx has just had her new novel Barkskins published.

Book Talk: Start winter with a good book

This time of year, as the season turns and the weather worsens, is an opportune time to read that book you plan to read.

This time of year, as the season turns and the weather worsens, is an opportune time to read that book you plan to read. And you do not need to go any further than your public library to find it.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing (2016) by Madeleine Thien, winner of the Giller Prize and Man Booker Prize finalist, is certainly well worth anyone’s time.

The scope of this luminescent work is sweeping and yet surprisingly intimate.

It seamlessly draws us inside two successive generations of an extended family––those who lived through Mao’s Cultural Revolution in the mid-20th century and the children of the survivors, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

The characters at the centre of this epic tale are meticulously crafted with superlative writing, wit and humour and simply unforgettable.

At the centre of the story is enigmatic Sparrow, a genius composer wildly desperate to create music yet only able to find truth in silence; his mother and aunt, Big Mother Knife and Swirl, survivors with charming singing voices and an unshakeable bond; Sparrow’s cousin Zhuli, daughter of Swirl and storyteller Wen the Dreamer, who as a child sees the denunciation of her parents and as a young woman is the target of denunciations herself.

Barkskins (2016) by Annie Proulx is a dazzling, violent, brilliantly dramatic saga by a master storyteller about colonialism and the cutting down of the world’s forests. It is a monumental work that spans more than 300 years and features dozens of characters. And it could easily be the best work the author has ever created.

The tale begins with two Frenchmen, Rene Sel and Charles Duquet, who arrive in New France in 1693 to work for a local seigneur in exchange for land. Sel, a born woodsman, fathers three children with Mari, a Mi’kmaq woman the seigneur forced him to marry. Duquet, the wilier of the two, deserts the seigneury and stumbles into the burgeoning fur trade where he earns enough money to set up a timber business in Boston under the name of Duke and Sons.

The story traces the bloodlines of both men through history and time. The descendants of Sel battle the erosion of Mi’kmaq culture and often struggle to adapt to the deluge of Europeans flooding into North America. Duquet’s descendants take up the family business—great grandson James Duke pushes west to find new timber sources and his daughter Lavinia, ambitious and shrewd, takes the company to an unprecedented level of growth.

The Far Side of the Sky (2011) by Daniel Kalla is a historical novel that deserves to be widely read. The setting is unusual—Shanghai in the Second World War—and the tale seamlessly weaves terror, hope and love into an extraordinary tapestry of converging cultures and daily survival and sacrifice.

On Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), the 1938 pogrom against Jews in Nazi Germany and Austria, Dr. Franz Adler’s brother is killed and soon after he is ordered to leave the Reich by Adolf Eichmann. Franz, his daughter, Hannah, his widowed sister-in-law and his gay artist friend, Ernst, set sail for Shanghai, occupied by the Japanese and the only destination open to Jews at this point.

Soon after arriving, Adler meets Sunny Mah, a half-Chinese nurse with remarkable medical skills, and the two fall in love while volunteering at the hospital for Jewish refugees. The danger ramps up for Shanghai’s Jewish refugee community as the Japanese ally themselves militarily with Germany and attack Pearl Harbor. The Japanese soon overrun the European enclaves within Shanghai and Adler struggles to keep the refugee hospital open while protecting his own family and to outwit the Nazis to save the city’s Jewish community.

These three titles are available at your Okanagan Regional Library,

Peter Critchley is a reference librarian at the Vernon branch of the Okanagan Regional Library.

Vernon Morning Star