An Interview with Pauline Holdstock, Author of Here I Am!


Buy Here I Am! now.

MyMum said sometimes refugees don’t eat anything for days and days. Sometimes weeks and months so I am really lucky. I think she exaggerates. But I think she is right about the lucky bit. Or maybe not.

Sometimes I forget that MyMum is dead. But that is probably better than remembering.

When Frankie’s mother dies, he tells his teacher, of course. But he can’t seem to get anyone at his school in southern England to listen to him. So the six-year-old comes up with a plan: go to France, find a police station, and ask the officers to ring his father. Thus a stowaway’s view of the sea opens Giller-nominated Pauline Holdstock’s eighth novel, narrated in turns by Frankie—who likes cheese, numbers, the sea when it’s pink and “smooth like counting,” and being alone when he feels bad—and a cast of characters that includes his worried Gran, his callous teacher, and his not-so-reliable father. Set in the summer of Annichka the Soviet space dog, Here I Am! is a mesmerizing story about the lucidity of children and the shortsightedness of adults.

 

A Biblioasis Interview with Pauline Holdstock, author of Here I Am!

 

For those who are coming to your work for the first time, can you tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

I was born and raised in the UK and immigrated to Canada in my twenties.

I’m primarily a fiction writer—novels and short stories—though I also write essays and occasionally short shorts, my closest approach to poetry.

I’m drawn to subjects that offer a chance to explore the deepest shadows, but I’ve always steered clear of material too close to home. For that reason I’ve set my novels far afield, in time or in place. In Here I Am! I’ve decided to work closer to home, giving my protagonist, Frankie, a background not so far from my own very ordinary childhood in England, but subjecting him to a place of extremity.

 

Three of your books have had child protagonists. What is it that draws you to children’s points of view?

Possibly two influences at work there. The first is that, like most people, I’m always on the side of the underdog, consistently drawn to the plight of the most vulnerable and interested in having them find the wherewithal to overcome their situation.

The second is that I believe the quality we revere in children—that ability to experience life unreservedly, to the utmost—is a quality that once belonged to us all, before adulthood eroded it. Children have the power to reawaken that ability and also perhaps to reveal facets of ourselves long-hidden to us.

 

How is Frankie different from other child protagonists you’ve written?

The others have been marginal characters on the very fringes of society, dispossessed yet yearning to belong. Frankie belongs to the mainstream, yet is set apart by his exceptional abilities and his own singular response to the world.

He’s the only child protagonist of mine to tell his own story.

 

Your novel is quite humorous, but it deals with serious themes: death, loss, and grief, for example, and our tendency to dismiss what vulnerable people tell us. Talk a little bit about the value of humour when exploring serious topics.

Well I think no one is open to the bald message: Death is the pits and we’re all gonna die. That message doesn’t lead to compassion or empathy for ourselves or anyone else. But humour has the potential to take us closer to fellow feeling, to summon a little compassion for all of us sharing this predicament.

And humour’s a valuable tool when you’re working with unpleasant characters. It proved invaluable for the David and Goliath situations that cropped up throughout the book. Definitely the sharpest tool in the box…

 

What are you reading right now?

Three books currently at my bedside: Find You In the Dark by Canadian writer Nathan Ripley, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, and Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne, whose sense of the absurd is boundless.

An Interview with Taras Grescoe, Author of Possess the Air

Possess the Air: Love, Heroism, and the Battle for the Soul of Mussolini’s Rome by Taras Grescoe came out on October 15th!

Whoever you are, you are sure to be a severe critic of Fascism, and you must feel the servile shame. But even you are responsible for your inaction. Do not seek to justify yourself with the illusion that there is nothing to be done. That is not true. Every person of courage and honour is quietly working for a free Italy. Even if you do not want to join us, there are still TEN THINGS which you can do. You can, and therefore you must.

These unsayable words, printed on leaflets that rained down on Mussolini’s headquarters in the heart of Rome at the height of the dictator’s power, drive the central drama of Possess the Air. This is the story of freedom fighters who defied Italy’s despot by opposing the rising tide of populism and xenophobia. Chief among them: poet and aviator Lauro de Bosis, firstborn of an Italian aristocrat and a New Englander, who transformed himself into a modern Icarus and amazed the world as he risked his life in the skies to bring Il Duce down. Taras Grescoe’s inspiring story of resistance, risk, and sacrifice paints a portrait of heroes in the fight against authoritarianism. This is an essential biography for our time.

Here is a Biblioasis interview with Taras Grescoe, author of Possess the Air.

   

 

For those who are coming to your work for the first time, can you tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

I’m the son of writers. My parents started out as journalists, and became editors (they founded magazines in Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton) and authors. I grew up having every sentence I uttered analyzed, every story I told at the dinner table questioned and edited—for clarity, for logic, for good story-telling qualities. I loved to read, was curious about the world, and attended alternative schools where I was encouraged to write and research projects. In my teens and twenties, I resisted my apparent destiny—to be a writer—but around the age of 30, my background and training, perhaps my genes, kicked in. Since then, I’ve written seven books, and a whole lot of features for magazines and newspapers. I can’t stop myself. I alternate between turning my own experiences into stories—non-fiction narratives, for want of a better term in the English-speaking world—and, when I can’t get out into the world to have more experiences, looking for true stories that I think would make great books.

How did you first hear about Lauro de Bosis? What was your research process like?

Before Lauro, there was Rome. I visited it for the first time on assignment, following in the footsteps of Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday for a travel article for National Geographic Traveler. I had gone through a bad break-up in Montreal, it was February, and a week in Rome snapped me out of my heartbreak and torpor. Since then, I’ve been able to explore the city deeply, through repeat visits and obsessive reading.

I first encountered Lauro’s name while reading Iris Origo’s extraordinary memoir A Need to Testify. (Origo was an Anglo-American expat who bore witness to the rise of Fascism from her farm in a Tuscan valley.) Lauro’s courage and intelligence spoke to me, and when I learned he was a child of Rome, and his life was deeply entangled with the city’s history, I knew I’d found a story that would bring a lost city—Rome as it was before Mussolini and the Fascists remade it in their image—back to life.

The research involved on-the-ground visits to all the sites associated with the life of Lauro de Bosis—including the palazzo where he lived in Rome, now converted into the offices of an architectural firm. The book tells the parallel story of Gilbert and Mary Stewart Bagnani, a pair of Canadian archaeologists who witnessed the transformation of Rome under the Fascists, and I visited the places where they lived in Rome—including Gilbert’s childhood apartment, now the heavily-guarded German embassy. And I spent weeks in archives at Harvard, in New York, in Toronto and Peterborough poring over the letters and documents that helped me to tell their stories. The most remarkable of these institutions was the Archivio Centrale dello Stato in the Fascist-built Roman suburb of EUR, which houses the files of Mussolini’s political police, and where I found stories that shed light on what happened to Lauro after his successful attempt to bombard Mussolini’s palazzo in the center of Rome.

You called Possess the Air “an important story for our time” in light of our current political climate. Can you elaborate on that?

We’re living in a time when the strongman—the authoritarian, the autocrat, the dictator—is once again on the rise. Instead of radio and newsreels, the modern version of Mussolini is communicating through Twitter and cable-news networks. And people in the Western world once again seem willing to “voluntarily abandon free institutions”—which scholars agree is a crucial precondition of Fascism and authoritarianism. (I’m very much thinking of Trump and his disturbingly successful attacks on the free press, the judiciary, the rule of law, and all standards of decency, but also Bolsonaro in Brazil, Orbán in Hungary, and the figures of the xenophobic right on the rise in France, Italy, and Austria.) This is happening because the generation that remembers the sacrifices it took to defend these institutions—the generation that fought the Second World War, and oversaw the decades of peace and international cooperation that followed the war—is dying off.

When the Italian Fascists were seizing power through the use of violence, and Il Duce was giving that violence legitimacy by winking at the brutality invading everyday life, Lauro de Bosis chose to resist. He did it not in the name of Communism or Socialism, but in accordance with his own deep patriotism and love of liberty. His is the story of a principled individual took a courageous stand for liberty, reason, and peace at a time when his fellow citizens seemed all too willing to embrace irrationality and belligerent nationalism.

A National Post review for your previous book, Straphanger¸ called it “a book by somebody who loves cities for people who love them.” You’ve written about public transit, overfishing, and the underbelly of old China—all of your books have covered vastly different topics so far. How does Possess the Air fit into your body of work?

There is method to—or at least a rational explanation for—my apparent madness. I started out as a travelling writer, which I saw as a way of rubbing up against the world as a way of challenging and expanding my own worldview. After moving to Montreal from Vancouver, I explored my new home, Quebec, in Sacré Blues. For my second book, The End of Elsewhere, I put my belongings in storage and set out on a year-long voyage across Europe and Asia to look at the way mass tourism is changing the world. Three more polemical travelogues followed, in which I looked at issues that fascinated me: in The Devil’s Picnic, I explored the negative impact of prohibition; in Bottomfeeder, I looked at the devastating effect of human appetite and greed on our lakes, rivers, and oceans; in Straphanger, I made the case, through trips to 14 cities around the world, that our urban future is better

All of these books involved a lot of travel. When I became a father in my 40s, and decided to spend as much time as possible with my family in Montreal, I realized I could still travel—in time, and in my imagination. Shanghai Grand took me—and I hope my readers—to a lost world, the Treaty Port of Shanghai before the Communists took power in 1949. Possess the Air is a voyage to another lost world, the atmospheric Rome of the 1920s and 1930s, even as it was being transformed into the pretentious Third Rome of the Fascist imagination.

If there’s something that links all my books, though, it is writing about place. I fall in love with a spot on the globe—more often than not, a city—and strive to find a way to explore that place, and bring it to life on the page.

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading The Road to Oxiana, Robert Byron’s record of a voyage through Persia and Afghanistan in the 1930s. It’s an unjustly neglected masterpiece—Paul Fussell rightly calls it the Ulysess or Waste Land of modern travel writing—and the richest of texts imaginable. Discovering this prolific and intellectually challenging writer, whose pen was stilled when his ship was torpedoed in the Second World War when he was en route to Cairo, is an unexpected delight.

 

Possess the Air is available for purchase here.

Next Week at Biblioasis: We Welcome Benedek Totth, author of DEAD HEAT

The winner of Hungary’s Margó Award for Best First Book of Prose soon to be available in English:

DEAD HEAT

Written by Stephen King’s Hungarian translator, Dead Heat shocks and then stays with you. It’s like Lord of the Flies meets Friday Night Lights. 

Next week Benedek will be at the bookstore (1520 Wyandotte St E) on Friday, October 25 at 7 PM. Come on out for an unforgettable reading! 

Can’t make Friday? He will be in Ann Arbor at Literati Bookstore the night before! Here are the details.

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Born in Hungary in 1977, Benedek Totth studied American literature and now works as an editor and translator in Budapest. His translations into Hungarian include works by Stephen King, Cormac McCarthy, Hunter S. Thompson and William S. Burroughs. Dead Heat, his first novel, caused a sensation in Hungary, where it won the Margó Prize for best first novel of the year. It has been published in translation in France and Slovakia.

 

In a nameless Hungarian town, teenagers on a competitive swim team occupy their after-training hours with hard drinking and fast cars, hash cigarettes and marathons of Grand Theft Auto, the meaningless sex and late-night exploits of a world defined by self-gratification and all its attendant recklessness. Invisible to their parents and subject to the whims of an abusive coach, the crucible of competition pushes them again and again into dangerous choices. When a deadly accident leaves them second-guessing one another, they’re driven even deeper into violence.

Brilliantly translated into breakneck English by Ildikó Noémi Nagy, Dead Heat is a blistering debut and an unforgettable story about young men coming of age in an abandoned generation.

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“This is a satire of the bleakest strain: there is scarcely a page that does not offend. And yet the result is utterly enthralling…As savage, reckless, and abhorrent as the world Totth delivers is, what’s worse is how frighteningly real it all feels. Dead Heat is an undeniably uncomfortable novel, but so too is the truth it’s trying to get at.”—Quill and Quire, starred review

“Totth’s novel and its translation from the Hungarian by Nagy both excel… in conveying the banality and numbness as its narrator proceeds through this parade of horrors.The juxtaposition of transgressive behavior with competitive sports recalls nothing quite so much as Jim Carroll’s The Basketball Diaries. Like that book, the way in which this narrative is told makes for compelling reading even as the acts it describes can inspire shudders. Totth’s debut is a harrowing experience but also a frequently gripping one.”—Kirkus

“Let’s say it up front: reading Dead Heat, the Hungarian writer Benedek Totth’s first novel, is a shock . . . [like] the cry of love and desperation flung out by a generation that’s finished before it can begin, before it can even reach maturity.”—Yann Perreau, Les Inrockuptibles

A brilliant novel, but brilliant like a black diamond and cursed so that you don’t want to hold it, a tale that never lets you go, no matter how much repugnance you may feel.”—Encre Noire

Intense, brutal and relentless. As on a mad merry-go-round, you’re delighted not to be able to get off before it’s over. But watch out: the harsh form and subject matter will leave more modest readers shaken.”—TéléStar

 

Thanks for Celebrating Our Anniversary with Us!

 

To chance the ducks: to do something despite the risk of disaster.

 

This October, Biblioasis has been celebrating fifteen years in the publishing business–and what a fifteen years they’ve been! From a one-person operation, the press has grown to publish thirty books a year; this year Biblioasis books have been nominated for the Giller and finalists for the Governor General’s and Booker prizes, just to name a few of the press’s accolades.

We’re deeply grateful for the wonderful writers we publish and for the wonderful readers whose support allows us to keep doing what we do.

We’re grateful for the media who have brought our story wider attention.

And we’re grateful to the more than 225 supporters and friends who came out to help us celebrate in Windsor and Toronto last week, including our six fabulous featured readers:

K.D. Miller is the author of two previous short story collections (Give me Your Answer and Litany on a Time of Plague), a novel (Brown Dwarf), and an essay collection, Holy Writ. Her work All Saints was shortlisted for the 2014 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and longlisted for the 2014 Frank O’Connor Award. She read from her story collection Late Breaking, currently shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award in the English Fiction category. She lives and writes in Toronto.

 

Stéphane Larue was born in Longueuil in 1983. He received a master’s in comparative literature at L’Université de Montréal and has worked in the restaurant industry for the past fifteen years. He lives in Montréal. He read from The Dishwasher, his first book.

 

Pauline Holdstock, who read from Here I Am!, is an internationally published novelist, short fiction writer and essayist. Her novels have been shortlisted for a number of awards, among them the Best First Novel Award, the Scotia Bank Giller prize and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Her historical novel Beyond Measure was the winner of the BC Book Prizes Ethel Wilson Award for Fiction. The Hunter and the Wild Girl, her most recent book before Here I Am!, won the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize. Pauline lives just outside Victoria on Vancouver Island.

 

Catherine Leroux, who read from Madame Victoria, was born in 1979 in the Northern suburbs of Montreal. After holding various jobs she became a journalist and devoted herself to writing. Her first novel, Marche en forêt, was published in 2011 by Éditions Alto, and her newest novel is Madame Victoria (Éditions Alto, 2015). The Party Wall, her English-language debut published with Biblioasis in 2016, was selected for Indies Introduce for Summer/Fall 2016, was shortlisted for the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize, and won the 2016 Governor General’s Award for Translation.

 

Taras Grescoe, who read from Possess the Air, is the author of seven non-fiction books, including Sacré BluesThe End of ElsewhereThe Devil’s PicnicBottomfeederStraphanger, and Shanghai GrandBottomfeeder won the Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction, the Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-fiction, and was a finalist for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. He has contributed to the New York TimesThe GuardianThe New YorkerGourmet, and The Wall Street Journal. His books have been translated into half a dozen languages. He lives in Montreal.

 

Martha Wilson read from Nosy White Woman. Her fiction has appeared in Best Canadian Stories 2017 and in the New Quarterly. She was runner-up for the 2017 Peter Hinchcliffe Fiction Prize and a finalist for the New South 2018 fiction prize. Her writing has also been in Real Simple, New York Times, Japan Times, Kansai Time Out, and International Herald-Tribune. She is American but for more than twenty years has made her home in Canada, where she lives with her husband and two daughters.

 

Thank you, everyone, for fifteen glorious years. Here’s to the next fifteen!

Happy Canadian Pub Date to Here I Am! by Pauline Holdstock

Today is the Canadian pub date for Here I Am! by Pauline Holdstock!

If you liked The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

You’ll love Here I Am! by Pauline Holdstock!

     

 

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Here I Am!

Sometimes I forget that MyMum is dead. But that is probably better than remembering.

When Frankie’s mother dies, the six-year-old comes up with a plan: go to France, find a police station, and ask the officers to ring his father—and so begins Giller-nominated Pauline Holdstock’s eighth novel. Narrated in turns by Frankie, who likes cheese, numbers, the sea when it’s pink and “smooth like counting,” and being alone when he feels bad, and a cast of characters that includes his Gran and his father, Here I Am! is a mesmerizing story about innocence lost and found.

I would describe it as a cozy weekend read. I curled up with it on a Saturday after I had just read a really long book, and I finished it on Sunday. It reminded me of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close—just like those books, it’s narrated by a lovable kid who sees the world his own way, and doesn’t let the fact that he’s a kid keep him from going on a unique quest.

Though Here I Am! isn’t based on a true story, author Pauline Holdstock was inspired by an actual case in the US where a kindergarten child had had to go home and spend the night with the dead body of her mother because her teacher didn’t believe her when she said her mother had died.

 

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You can read an excerpt here.

 

 

Hat trick Tuesday! DREAM SEQUENCE by Adam Foulds and LATE BREAKING by KD Miller Nominated for 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize!

On Tuesday, September 3, 2019, it was announced that Dream Sequence by Adam Foulds and Late Breaking by K.D. Miller have been longlisted for the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Dream Sequence and Late Breaking are published by Biblioasis, an independent literary press based in Windsor, Ontario. Since 2004, Biblioasis has published contemporary fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and literature in translation. Another Biblioasis book, Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2019 just this morning.

In a statement, publisher Dan Wells said, “Well: it’s been a busy morning indeed around the Bibliomanse.  On the heels of Lucy Ellmann’s Booker shortlisting for Ducks, Newburyport comes two Giller nominations here in Canada: for Adam Fould’s Dream Sequence and K.D. Miller’s Late Breaking.  And if we were euphoric after Ducks, we’re positively moon-walking now. We’re so happy for all three authors. And it’s certainly not a bad way to kick off our 15th Anniversary year.”

Miller said, “This is such an affirmation. Always, in the back of a writer’s mind are the questions, ‘Will anyone want to read this? Will anyone enjoy and be moved by it?’ Getting the news about being long-listed for the Giller Prize was like hearing an enormous ‘Yes!’ to all that.  Thank you!”

Foulds said, “I am hugely honoured that Dream Sequence has been included on this longlist. It is a particular thrill as a new Canadian to receive this recognition from one of Canada’s most storied cultural institutions.”

 

ABOUT DREAM SEQUENCE

Henry Banks, star of the UK’s most popular television series, has higher aspirations, ones befitting of his talent: a serious film career, beginning with a role in a brilliant Spanish director’s next movie. To make the jump to the big screen, he’ll have to remake himself in more than one way. But as he runs his morning miles and scrutinizes his changing physique in the mirror, he doesn’t know that he’s not alone in his obsession—Kristin, an unstable American fan, has her own lofty ambitions. From the author of Man-Booker shortlisted The Quickening MazeDream Sequence is a moving depiction of psychological damage and the unsettling consequences of fame.

Adam Foulds is a poet and novelist from London, England, now resident in Toronto. He has been the recipient of a number of literary awards, including the Sunday Times Young Writer Of The Year, the Costa Poetry Prize, the Somerset Maugham Award, the South Bank Show Prize for Literature, the E. M. Forster Award, the Encore Award, and the European Union Prize For Literature. His 2009 novel, The Quickening Maze, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2010. He was named as one of Granta Magazine’s Best of Young British Novelists in 2013 and of the Poetry Book Society’s Next Generation Poets in 2014.

ABOUT LATE BREAKING

Inspired by the work of Alex Colville, the linked stories in K.D. Miller’s Late Breaking form a suite of portraits that evoke the paintings’ looming atmospheres and uncanny stillness while traveling deeply into their subjects’ vividly imagined lives. Throughout, the collection bears witness to the vulnerability of the elder heart, revealing that love, sex, and heartbreak are not only the domain of the young, and deftly rendering the conflicts that divide us and the ties that bind.

K.D. Miller is the author of two previous short story collections, Give Me Your Answerand Litany on a Time of Plague, and an essay collection, Holy Writ. Her work has twice been collected in The Journey Prize Anthology and Best Canadian Stories, and she has been nominated for a National magazine Award for Fiction. She lives and writes in Toronto.

PRAISE FOR DREAM SEQUENCE

“Dream Sequence succeeds as a narrative thanks to Foulds’s prose. He doesn’t waste a single word, is frequently very funny, insightful and surprising. And he does a marvelous job of making us wonder who loves Henry the most, Kristin or Henry—and which of these possibilities is the most alarming consequence of celebrity.”
New York Times Book Review

“The quality of the prose carries the book beyond conventions, as Mr. Foulds is able to conjure, with the unsettling immediacy of a person breathing against your neck, both Henry’s and Kristin’s private fixations and fantasies.”

The Wall Street Journal

“Adam Foulds is one of the best fiction writers working today. Dream Sequence possesses all the hallmarks of his previous books–emotional acuity, beautiful prose–and also a seductive plot and an ingenious structure. It’s a great novel. I read it practically in one sitting.”
—David Bezmozgis, author of the Giller-shortlisted The Free World

Dream Sequence notices everything . . . Description is intimate and visceral, scratching at the glossy surface of the lives of the characters and underpinning the ‘vacuum’ they move through, together but apart . . . This is a novel of screens, of echoes and constant counterpoint, driven by changes in light as much as its reflective plot where matters of ‘acting’ are paramount … [a] shimmering novel.”
Times Literary Supplement (TLS)

“[An] entertainingly skewering new novel about ambition and obsession.”
Toronto Star

“An outstanding and unyielding exploration of celebrity, fame, and all its attendant obsessions…Foulds’s novel is fun, smart, and tense, part psychological drama about media-driven obsession and part razor-sharp social critique.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“[Dream Sequence] is an exquisitely concocted, riveting account of artistic ambition and unrequited love verging on obsession . . . Foulds is proving himself to be a versatile writer of intelligence and charm.”
The Spectator

PRAISE FOR LATE BREAKING

“A deft, nuanced, and human collection of stories. K.D. Miller’s gaze catches both humour and darkness in a wide variety of relationships. A thoroughly captivating book.” —Rebecca Rosenblum

“An undercurrent of the surreal pulses through 10 linked stories…sensitive portrayals of the fragility of love and ubiquity of need. ”—Kirkus Reviews

“If K.D. Miller had produced nothing other than “The Last Trumpet,” the opening entry in this collection of linked stories, she would still have a place on any list of this year’s best fiction. Taking up themes of aging, loneliness, and regret, “The Last Trumpet” is one of the saddest, most affecting pieces of short fiction to appear in this country in recent memory. But that story is just the first blast in a collection that is consistently engaging and assured. The stories in Late Breaking—loosely tied together by recurring characters, a focus on aging and death, and the paintings of Alex Colville—are moving and beautifully written.” —Steven W. Beattie

“Compulsively readable. Like an Alex Colville painting . . . the longer you look, you realize there’s something darker going on underneath the surface. My favourite book so far this fall.” —CBC Ontario Morning

“Miller’s attentiveness . . . is touching . . . The stories themselves are rich with coherence, meaning, and suggestion, and part of what makes them so satisfying is the space they leave free for us to engage with them and find our own interpretation.” —Quill & Quire

“Each of the 10 stories is introduced by a haunting Colville image . . . These paintings, through mood and theme, serve as prompts for the stories, with characters often wandering in from one verbal canvas to another. Refreshingly, the stories feature people in their 60s experiencing big fat emotions that younger writers often deny them.” —Toronto Star

“These stories plumb the depths of sadness and despair but never lose sight of their obverse: the quiet resilience and dignity of the human spirit, which doesn’t fade with age.” —Hamilton Review of Books

Lucy Ellmann’s DUCKS, NEWBURYPORT Shortlisted for 2019 Booker Prize

#chancetheducks

On Tuesday, September 3, 2019, it was announced that Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann has been shortlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize!

Booker Judge Joanna MacGregor said,  “Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport offers a radical literary form and voice. Dense to look at, challengingly epic, the novel is built around one Ohio housewife’s monologue, flowing with dazzling lightness and speed. The detritus and maddening complexity of domesticity unfold in one breath, over a thousand pages. Shards of film plot and song collide with climate change anxiety; the terrors of parenting, healthcare and shopping lists wrestle with fake news and gun culture. The narrator reverberates with humour, wordplay and political rage. The writing resonates like a dissonant yet recognisable American symphony for massive forces, with riffs and themes folding back, proliferating, and gradually cohering. Its one long sentence occasionally breaks to simply describe a mountain lioness and her cubs: a meditation on nurture that will be wrapped into the violence of the ending. Lucy Ellmann has written a genre-defying novel, a torrent on modern life, as well as a hymn to loss and grief. Her creativity and sheer obduracy make demands on the reader. But Ellmann’s daring is exhilarating ― as are the wit, humanity and survival of her unforgettable narrator.”

In a statement, Ellmann said, “In my book I suggest you should never tell people you’re happy, in case they wreck it for you. That’s why I’m having trouble writing this statement about getting put on the Booker shortlist. The fact is I’m euphoric.”

Biblioasis publisher and founder Dan Wells said, “We, too, are euphoric.  Ducks, Newburyport is a brilliant book, one of the most important we’ve been a part of as publishers.  It’s a book for our times, full of rage and sorrow and wonder, a revolution in book form, and now, because of the Booker jury’s endorsement, many more Canadian readers will discover it than might otherwise have been the case.  It’s very gratifying.

“A few months ago, we came across the nineteenth century phrase, “to chance the ducks”: it means, essentially, to do something regardless of the risks or potential for disaster.  Which pretty much describes what independent publishers around the world — with a special nod to our British counterparts, Galley Beggar Press, who first alerted us to Lucy’s magisterial novel — do every day.  It’s gratifying that with Ducks in particular the risk looks to be rewarded.  We’re all very grateful. To chance the ducks, indeed.”

Ducks, Newburyport will be published in the United States and Canada on September 10 by Windsor, Ont.-based press Biblioasis. Biblioasis titles have won the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s Rogers Fiction Prize, two Governor General’s Literary Awards and Trillium Book Awards, as well as seen ten nominations for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Referred to by the Globe and Mail as “the first truly great Canadian press of the 21st Century,” Biblioasis celebrates its fifteenth year publishing fine books this October.

The news comes on the heels of an extraordinary burst of critical praise for the novel, with the Los Angeles Review of Books writing it “could possibly turn out to be the most important novel of the decade … Read Ducks, Newburyport. This is a novel for the idea of America today.”

The Irish Times called it “Breathlessly brilliant … an extraordinary achievement of wit and imagination … this isn’t just one of the outstanding books of 2019, it’s one of the outstanding books of the century, so far.”

Baking a multitude of tartes tatin for local restaurants, an Ohio housewife contemplates her four kids, husband, cats and chickens. Also, America’s ignoble past, and her own regrets. She is surrounded by dead lakes, fake facts, Open Carry maniacs, and oodles of online advice about survivalism, veil toss duties, and how to be more like Jane Fonda. But what do you do when you keep stepping on your son’s toy tractors, your life depends on stolen land and broken treaties, and nobody helps you when you get a flat tire on the interstate, not even the Abominable Snowman? When are you allowed to start swearing? With a torrent of consciousness and an intoxicating coziness, Ducks, Newburyport lays out a whole world for you to tramp around in, by turns frightening and funny. A heart-rending indictment of America’s barbarity, and a lament for the way we are blundering into environmental disaster, this book is both heresy—and a revolution in the novel.

One of the premier literary awards in the English-speaking world, the Booker carries a prize purse of £50,000 and has recognized outstanding fiction since 1969. Chair of the 2019 judges, Peter Florence, said of the list’s authors: “Imagine our world, familiar from news cycle disaster and grievance, with wild humour, deep insight and a keen humanity. These writers offer joy and hope.”

Awarded annually to the best novel of the year written in English and published in the UK or Ireland; this year’s panel is Afua Hirsch, Liz Calder, Xiaolu Guo and Joanna MacGregor, chaired by Peter Florence. Last year’s winner was Milkman by Anna Burns. Previous winners include Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie.

Lucy Ellmann’s first novel, Sweet Desserts, won the Guardian Fiction Prize. It was followed by Varying Degrees of Hopelessness, Man or Mango? A LamentDot in the UniverseDoctors & Nurses, and Mimi. Her short stories have appeared in magazines, newspapers and anthologies, and she has written for the New York TimesWashington PostGuardianIndependentTimes Literary SupplementTelegraphNew Statesman, Bookforum and The Baffler, among others. Though American by birth, she lives in Scotland.

PRAISE FOR DUCKS, NEWBURYPORT

“Breathlessly brilliant … an extraordinary achievement of wit and imagination … this isn’t just one of the outstanding books of 2019, it’s one of the outstanding books of the century, so far.”—The Irish Times

Ulysses has nothing on this … Once you get going, you’ll be too absorbed to stop.”Cosmopolitan

“Could possibly turn out to be the most important novel of the decade … Read Ducks, Newburyport. This is a novel for the idea of America today.”—Los Angeles Review of Books

“It’s a book that quite restores our faith in the possibility of literary ‘greatness’ while questioning what forms such ‘greatness’ can or should take. It is certainly, in its humane range and weight, a Great American Novel. Is it any good? Oh my word, yes. Reading it at this point in times seems like an act of human solidarity, a commitment to the world of truth and reason.”—Literary Review

“A wildly ambitious and righteously angry portrait of contemporary America.”—The Observer

“[Readers] will recognise Ellmann’s dauntless cataloguing of desires, her refusal to be anything but self-directed … It’s a book about a mother’s love, but also about loss and grief, and anxiety dreams about Donald Trump, and despair about mass shootings … It is also a catalogue of life’s many injuries and mishaps … and of the simple joys and consolations of memory and imagination. [A] triumph.”—The Guardian

“A remarkable portrait of a woman in contemporary America contemplating her own life and society’s storm clouds … brilliant.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A jaw-dropping miracle.”Library Journal (starred review)

“Mesmerizing, witty, maximalist…a bravura and caring inquiry into Earth’s glory, human creativity and catastrophic recklessness, and the transcendence of love.”—Booklist (starred review)

“Resplendent in ambition, humour and humanity … dizzying … a lifetime of memories hoarded and pored over, like the family heirlooms the narrator and her husband have inherited along with all the joy and desolation contained within them … In Ducks, Newburyport Ellmann has created a wisecracking, melancholy Mrs Dalloway for the internet age.”—Financial Times

For more information about Ducks, Newburyport, please see the attached press kit. For a review copy or to schedule an interview with the author, call 519-915-3930, or write to Chloe Moore at cmoore@biblioasis.com.

ABOUT BIBLIOASIS

Biblioasis is a literary press based in Windsor, Ontario. Since 2004 we have published the best in contemporary fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and literature in translation.

Happy U.S. Publication Date, MOSTARGHIA!

 

U.S. Readers: The Wait Is Over!

Donald Winkler’s English translation of Maya Ombasic’s Mostarghia, a moving memoir of refugee experience and filial love, is available today in U.S. bookstores.

 

AN OPENCANADA SUMMER READ 2019

In the south of Bosnia and Herzegovina lies Mostar, a medieval town on the banks of the emerald Neretva, which flows from the “valley of sugared trees” through sunny hills to reach the Adriatic Sea. This idyllic locale is the scene of Maya Ombasic’s childhood—until civil war breaks out in Yugoslavia and the bombs begin to fall. Her family is exiled to Switzerland, and after a brief return, they leave again for Canada. While Maya adapts to their new home, her father never does, refusing even to learn the language of his new country.

A portmanteau of Mostar and nostalgia, Mostarghia evokes Ombasic’s yearning for a place that no longer exists: the city before the civil war, when its many ethnicities interacted in a spirit of civility and in harmony. It refers as well to Andrei Tarkovsky’s classic film Nostalghia, the viewing of which illuminated the author’s often explosive relationship with her father, a larger-than-life figure who was both influence and psychological burden: he inspired her interest, and eventual career, in philosophy, and she was his translator, his support, his obsession. Along with this portrait of a man described by turns as passionate, endearing, maddening, and suffocating, Ombasic deftly constructs a moving personal account of what it means to be a refugee and how a generation learns to thrive despite the struggles of its predecessors.

 

Praise for Mostarghia

“Fascinating and timely…anybody who wants to think deeply about what happens when people are forced to leave their homelands will want to pick this book up.” —Book Riot

“Intimate, a filial cri de cœur…The book is run through with dark humour, and some of the most fatalistic scenes are also wryly funny…The condition of nostalgia is both dissociative and cleaving, and it is this tension that Ombasic most adeptly conveys.” —Montreal Review of Books

“Strikes a great balance between the ebb and flow between unemotional observations that provide context for the lasting divides in the Balkans, and a humanization of the victims of conflict….[Ombasic writes] with a tender care that evokes a sadness mixed with levity, anger mixed with love.” —The Walleye

“After her father dies, Ombasic seeks to resolve all that was unresolved between them in life. Her memoir ripples with the tension of these two great hearts each trying to shoulder an outsized burden… Subtly and with lyricism, Ombasic unpacks her father’s role in her history alongside the role of their hometown, Mostar, not to mention the Balkans, religion, communism, war, displacement, and nostalgia.” Foreword Reviews (starred review)

“With great candor, Ombasic shares how her experience as a refugee differed from her father’s…Through beautiful prose and impressive attention to detail, Ombasic paints a loving yet honest portrait of her father in all his complexity.” —OpenCanada

“An overwhelming homage, clear-eyed and drenched in tenderness, Mostarghia is driven by Maya Ombasić’s strong, sensitive voice, which allows us to glimpse the reverse side of the shadow of exile. Magnificent.” –Le Devoir (Montreal)

“In an unadorned style, which contains emotion by restricting itself to facts, the author recounts her years during the war, then her exile in Switzerland, then Canada. The book’s strength stems in large part from its ability to show the concrete daily consequences of a war from which the family suffers without participating in it directly, to showcase the absurdity of the issues–ethnic, religious, territorial–from which children and parents feel themselves estranged.” –Le Monde (Paris) 

“The book, its title inspired by Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Nostalghia, is a daughter’s love song to her father and the tale of her salvation, her refusal to be defeated by depression in order to move on.” –l’Humanité (Paris)

 

Happy US Pubdate to Stéphane Larue’s THE DISHWASHER!

“Reads like a cross between the dearly departed Anthony Bourdain and Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter, combining the complicated life of a kitchen wretch with a highly literate voice…hypnotizing.”—Kirkus

 

 

The Dishwasher

It’s October in Montreal, 2002, and winter is coming on fast. Past due on his first freelance gig and ensnared in lies to his family and friends, a graphic design student with a gambling addiction goes after the first job that promises a paycheck: dishwasher at the sophisticated La Trattoria. Though he feels out of place in the posh dining room, warned by the manager not to enter through the front and coolly assessed by the waitstaff in their tailored shirts, nothing could have prepared him for the tension and noise of the kitchen, or the dishpit’s clamor and steam. Thrust on his first night into a roiling cast of characters all moving with the whirlwind speed of the evening rush, it’s not long before he finds himself in over his head once again. A vivid, magnificent debut, with a soundtrack by Iron Maiden, The Dishwasher plunges us into a world in which everyone depends on each other—for better and for worse.

Translated into English for the first time by Pablo Strauss

30,000 copies sold in Quebec alone
(pop. 8.3 mil)

Winner of the Quebec Booksellers’ Prize

Shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award
for French-language Fiction

 

 

Check out what other booksellers have already said about The Dishwasher:

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The Dishwasher is a gruff-yet-affable working class lament, seasoned with hangdog determination and bleary verisimilitude. From the bar booths to the slop sinks to the shooting galleries of a painstakingly rendered Montreal, Larue proves himself a more than adept raconteur of blackout debauchery and wage labor drudgery. Think Nelson Algren by way of Bud Smith, such is the hardscrabble exactitude on offer in this wincing grin of a novel. An industrious and absorbing slab of cutthroat cuisine, Québécois death metal, and gambler’s dilemmas.”
—Justin Walls, Powell’s Books (Portland, OR)

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“Prepare to get your soul scrubbed down and wrung out. This novel from Quebec captures a world that will be familiar to folks in the service and music industry. Vividly painted scenes from the trenches of a barely-functional kitchen during a rush followed by dizzying late-night get togethers make up this portrait of the loneliness of late-capitalism and the strength we can find from art and our allies. Gritty, loud, and compassionate.”
Luis Correa, Avid Bookshop (Athens, GA)

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“I’ve never been to Montreal but I have worked in restaurants and Stéphane Larue’s The Dishwasher made me feel as if I do know that world in great, mad, detail. More importantly, it goes so beyond being a food industry novel or a novel about metal or gambling, it is a book that is both tender and tough. I appreciate this book for all that it must’ve taken to create–it is a wondrous thing.”
—Hans Weyandt, Milkweed Bookstore (Minneapolis, MN)

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“A simple story of a want-to-be-artist that has to come to terms with the reality of his vices and get out of his own way. The pacing and phrasing of this novel is in beautiful contrast to the raw story told. The sense of place is unforgettable. From the behind the scenes look of working in a restaurant to the weight of addiction, I devoured every page as I found myself hopeful for the underdog in this brilliant debut.”
—Shannon Alden, Literati Bookstore (Ann Arbor, MI)

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“All I did last weekend was read The Dishwasher.”
—Caitlin Luce Baker, Island Books (Seattle, WA)

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The Dishwasher is a tragi-comic adventure through the dark underbelly of a high end Montreal restaurant kitchen that follows a down on his luck 30-something brilliantly talented artist with fabulous taste in music and a little gambling addiction.  As much a  philosophical dive into life, love, trust, obsession, and heavy metal as just a damn good story, the Dishwasher made me laugh, cringe,shake my head and  drool over amazing food. I absolutely just couldn’t put this  quirky cool debut novel by Canadian author Larue that is just perfect for fans of David Sedaris or Anthony Bourdain.”
Angie Tally, The Country Bookshop (Southern Pines, NC)

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Mike Barnes’s BE WITH Shortlisted for the Toronto Book Award!

We’re thrilled to announce that Mike Barnes’s thoughtful, compassionate nonfiction book Be With has been shortlisted for the Toronto Book Award.

The jury wrote: “Caregiving for loved ones is a topic often left out of contemporary writing. In Be With, Mike Barnes lifts the curtain on his own experiences with dispatches to anonymous caregivers/loved ones living with the fallout of Alzheimers disease. This slim volume is filled with wisdom for the moments when caregivers may need it most—the long periods of uncertainty while waiting. While Be With may be directed to those who need it most, its in-depth look at human connection is relatable to anyone.”

“It’s wonderful that a book all of us care so much about here at the press has made this shortlist alongside such fine company,” said Biblioasis publisher and founder Dan Wells. “Mike Barnes’s Be With is a book about care, and is as generous and profound and beautiful a book as there is on the subject: We’re thankful that the jurors saw the value in this slim wonder of a book.”

Be With: Letters to a Caregiver is what its title promises: four dispatches to an anonymous long-term caregiver. In brief passages that cast fresh light on what it means to live with dementia, Barnes shares trials, insights, solace—and, ultimately, inspiration. Meant to be a companion in waiting rooms, on bus routes, or while a loved one naps, Be With is a dippable source of clarity for harried readers who might only have time for a few lines or paragraphs. Mike Barnes writes with sensitivity and grace about fellowship, responsibility, and joyful relatedness—what it means to simply be with the people that we love.

Established by Toronto City Council in 1974, the Toronto Book Awards honour authors of books of literary or artistic merit that are evocative of Toronto. The annual awards offer $15,000 in prize money: finalists receive $1,000 and the winning author is awarded $10,000. The Toronto Book Awards celebrates books that are evocative of Toronto.

The other shortlisted authors are Ian Williams (Reproduction), Cary Fagan (The Student), Dionne Brand (Theory), and Didier Leclair (This Country of Mine). The winner will be announced at a ceremony October 2 at the Bram and Bluma Appel Salon at 759 Yonge St.

 

PRAISE FOR BE WITH

“Timely, lyrical, tough, accurate.”

Margaret Atwood

 

“Beautiful.”

Annette Hamm, CHCH-TV

 

“My heart lodged in my throat and my eyes stayed glassy over the brief duration of Be With: Letters to a CaregiverIt’s a lovely, loving, and unflinching work … He shares knowledge (“The truth is, there’s no graceful way to take control of someone’s life away from them”) and he asks questions (“How much room in your own heart?”) any caregiver must consider. He also asserts his primary insight: “But being with in person trumps all else. It’s the one way of caring most likely to be right, and the least likely to be regretted. ”

Toronto Star

 

“Barnes shares a tender exaltation…with a clear and melodic tenor; there’s poetry in his myriad introspections, and a willingness to put everything on the table, good, bad, and heart-wrenching. This is a powerful book for those who have experienced similar trials, regardless of length of time or severity.”

Publishers Weekly

 

“In their simplicity and even-handed tone, the letters achieve their author’s difficult aim: they present as a literary Third Man, a friendly, authoritative voice in the dark that will lead its at-the-end-of-their-tether listeners through to the endgame…What really matters, he concludes, is the hardest thing, being there with her. ‘For every thousand pages describing how living is shattered by this dread disease, there should be at least one page observing how living goes on within it.’ Be With has 156 pages of them.”

Literary Review of Canada

 

“Powerful…the short, digestible letters are written with a realistic understanding of busy, exhausted caregivers’ time and energy and stay true to the book’s title, emphasizing the deceptively simple need to just “be with” – to witness, see, and accept. Poignant but never heavy-handed, it’s a relevant and empathetic book that meets caregivers where they are.”
Open Book

 

“The particulars of Mary’s dementia give this brief book universal appeal. The author effectively humanizes himself as a man who has made errors, who wishes he had done things differently, and who has his own psychological burdens to bear…A book that tells the reader that you are not alone, whoever you are.”

Kirkus Reviews

 

ABOUT MIKE BARNES

Mike Barnes is the author of ten books of poetry, short fiction, novels, and memoir, including the novel The Adjustment League and The Lily Pond: A Memoir of Madness, Mystery, Myth and Metamorphosis. He has won the Danuta Gleed Award and a National Magazine Awards Silver Medal for his short fiction, and the Edna Staebler Award for nonfiction. He lives in Toronto.