Book Talk: Canadian novels cross different borders

A great story transcends boundaries and speaks to readers no matter where they may live.

A great story transcends boundaries and speaks to readers no matter where they may live.

The following three novels, all by Canadian authors, are almost perfect examples of a talented writer’s ability to focus on the specific to tell a story appeals to readers around the globe.

A Fine Balance (1995) by Rohinton Mistry is a magnificent work by one of the most gifted writers of our time. It is set in India in the mid-1970s when Prime Minister Indira Ghandi, in defiance of a court order to resign, declares a state of emergency and imprisons the parliamentary opposition, as well as thousands of teachers, students, trade unionists and journalists.

The absorbing tale features a large cast of memorable characters and focuses on four of them – Maneck Kohlah, a naïve college student, who rents a room in the small house of Dina Dalal, a widowed seamstress in her early 40s, and two other boarders: hapless but enterprising tailor Ishvar Darji and his nephew Omprakash, the son of a village untouchable murdered as punishment for crossing caste boundaries.

The four ordinary people, faced with overcoming the barriers of class, suspicion and politeness, strive to achieve lives of dignity and meaning amidst the chaos of social anarchy, endemic corruption and bureaucratic inanities. And the author, with great empathy and wit, masterfully weaves a mesmerizing, nuanced tale that is simply unforgettable.

Solomon Gursky Was Here (1989) by Mordecai Richler reworks Canadian history to spin a sharply sardonic novel that skewers the pretensions of the rich, the religious and the greedy. The ribald tale chronicles the fortunes of the mythical Gursky family from patriarch Ephraim, a con man who arrived with a doomed Arctic expedition, through his bootlegger grandsons Bernard, Solomon and Morrie, who created a distillery fortune during Prohibition. And the family’s penchant for larceny, both grand and petty, plays off against upper-crust Canadian and English society, torn between greed and anti-Semitism in equal measure.

The narrative of the brilliant novel, hailed as the author’s finest, is pieced together by Moses Berger, the droll, alcoholic biographer of Solomon. Solomon Gursky features an outlandish cast of hilarious characters and is a perfectly irreverent take on all levels of Canadian society.

Fall On Your Knees (1996) by Ann-Marie MacDonald is a deeply textured novel about the secrets within several generations of a Canadian family.

The setting of the saga shifts back and forth in time and ranges from Cape Breton Island to New York City in the 1920s.

The author is remarkably adept at evoking the social milieu and specific details of the two different worlds and the story of the Pieper family, set against a backdrop of racial tension and social change in Canada, showcases the author’s gifts for dialogue, character development and pacing and plotting.

It is an entrancing work of emotional depth, both intense and darkly humorous, that explores the repression, guilt and violence that runs like a dark, red thread through generations of the Pipers. It never flags, despite the epic quality of the work, and the story resonates long after the last page is turned.

These three titles, as well as other great Canadian novels, are available at your Okanagan Regional Library

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