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Mary Melfi’s “Via Roma” Reviewed in The Ottawa Review of Books

We’re delighted to announce that the latest edition of The Ottawa Review of Books features reviews of two Guernica releases, Via Roma by Mary Melfi and The Expo Affair by Geza Tatrallyay!

via roma Caroline Vu begins her review of Via Roma by asking “is it still possible, in this day and age, for respected female writers to portray women as hopelessly dependent on the affection of men?” Vu answers, “yes, if they are gutsy enough to buck trends”.

Vu explains that Melfi’s newest novel “revisits themes found in her earlier works…Love-equals-bondage, sex-equals death”. Vu refers to Melfi’s earlier works, such as A Dialogue with Masks, in which she states “let’s face it: sex and death are married to each other. They have to be…Adam and Eve decided that sex was worth dying for”.

Via Roma tells the story of Sophie Wolfe, who Vu describes as “a young Anglo Montrealer struggling with her insecurities”. As a woman who does not know her father and was raised by an independent and sexually-liberated mother, Sophie develops a “childhood fixation on a 1950’s style family [that] eventually transforms Sophie, a Generation X kid, into a woman of the last century…Subconsciously rejecting her mother’s values, Sophie becomes what feminists loath: a happily dependent woman”. Once Sophie’s husband dies, she transforms “into a morbid, self-flagellating creature obsessed with ghosts and the underworld” – that is, until she meets a new love to become dependent on.

As to whether Via Roma is a feminist novel, Vu explains that the book “transcends such simple discourse”. Instead, Vu explains how the book borrows from Freudian psychoanalytic theories, especially the Electra Complex.

Vu concludes her review by stating that Via Roma “is fun to read. The voice is original, the novel full of witty one-liners and quirky insights into the lives of Italian Canadians…Besides entertaining us with her sardonic humour, Melfi also informs us with her meticulous research on death, religion and the ins and outs of Quebec politics”.

Mary Melfi is the author of over a dozen critically-acclaimed books of poetry, prose, and drama. These works have been translated into many different languages, including her first novel Infertility Rites, which was translated into French and Italian. Her memoir, Italy Revisited: Conversations with my Mother, was also translated into Italian, and a French edition under the title La-bas, en Italie, will soon be available from Les Editions Triptyque. Her works have also inspired William Anselmi’s Mary Melfi, Essays on Her Works, released by Guernica Editions in 2007. Her newest book, Via Roma has just been released by Guernica Editions this fall.

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Lisa Pike and Stan Rogal Shortlisted for ReLit Awards!

lisa pikeWstan rogale are very proud to announce that two Guernica authors have been shortlisted for the ReLit Awards! Congratulations Lisa Pike and Stan Rogal!

Lisa Pike has been shortlisted for a ReLit award for her novel, My Grandmother’s Pill. Described as “a story of mean drunks and happy ones, and of the women who outlive them, My Grandmother’s Pill is a rollercoaster ride through three generations of abuse and addiction”. Nino Ricci has stated, “My Grandmother’s Pill weaves a compelling tale of the pasts we carry with us across the generations and of the mistakes we learn from and those we seem doomed to repeat. Lisa Pike writes with humour, with insight, and with grace”.

Lisa Pike was born and raised in Windsor, Ontario. After completing her M.A. in English and Creative Writing at the University of Windsor, Lisa completed her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Women & Gender Studies at the University of Toronto. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, she is also the author of a poetry chapbook entitled Policeman’s Alley.

Stan Rogal has been shortlisted for a ReLit award for his poetry collection, after words. The collection pulls together poems that acknowledge the people whose lives and/or works have influenced the author, where each piece is forwarded by a short background story as well as an epigram. Karl Jirgens has stated the following about after words, “throughout these meta-poetic portrayals, Rogal’s autobiographical narrator inhabits the realms of literary and artistic precursors including Artaud, Atwood, Bogart, Burroughs, Calvino, Cohen, Eliot, Nin, and Shakespeare. A series of brilliant tours-de-force while providing an inspirational tour of the art of words”.

Stan Rogal was born in Vancouver and has lived in Toronto for 25 years. His work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies in Canada, the US and Europe, some in translation. He has published 19 books, including four novels, four story and 11 poetry collections. He is also a produced playwright and the artistic director of Bulletproof Theatre.

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F.G. Paci on Writing Short Stories

f.g. paciIn a recent article for the Sault Star, Brian Kelly states that “when author Frank Paci needs a break, he keeps writing”. Kelly describes Paci’s newest collection of short stories entitled Talk About God and Other Stories as “’an eclectic collection’ with characters including a celebrity chef, a billionaire who teaches inner peace and ‘losers in life’ who gather for a final film binge. Most of the eight stories told over 300 pages are set in the Toronto area”.

Kelly also refers to remarks that Paci made in a recent telephone interview with the Sault Star, in which he states the following about short story writing: “it’s an antidote to the serious stuff that I’m doing in my novels…I go to the short stories for a change of pace. I’m not restrained by the reality and all the constraints that come from that. In the short stories, I can burst the boundaries of common sense. It’s fun”.

Paci later explains, “people don’t usually like to read serious stuff as much as fun stuff. But the stories have a serious element to them as well. They use humour and whimsy in order to draw people into some serious themes”. Paci achieves this with such short stories as the title work, “Talk About God”, which tells the story about how “a teacher, who is an atheist, reappraises his life after having a near-death experience”.

F.G. Paci was born in Italy and grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. He was the Elia Chair writer-in-residence at York University and has an honorary degree from Laurentian University. He is the author of more than a dozen novels. A book of essays on his work was released by Guernica Editions in 2003.

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“In Your Crib” is filled with “heart-throbbing urgency”

in your cribIn a recent review of Austin Clarke’s In Your Crib for ARC Poetry Magazine, David Swartz states in the first paragraph, “In In Your Crib, Clarke speaks with heart-throbbing urgency. His message is a dire warning, his tone accusatory, and yet his poetry itself is melodious, compassionate and assertive”.

Swartz emphasizes the force of the collection, and its powerful reflections on issues of blackness. He explains, “the poems read like one long concentric chant. They speak about recovery through self-consciousness, black pride and vision, the sacrifice of politeness, the price of assimilation and ignorance and the desire to ‘Let the world be a Black Poem’”.

Swartz also mentions that despite the size of the collection, they are filled with “intense fire”. This fire is fuelled by reflections on the recent history of blacks in America, and its moments of oppression, assimilation, and triumph. The collection is guided by “true-true Elders” like Malcolm X, Bob Marley, Amiri Baraka, Martin Luther King, John Henrik Clarke, LeRoi Jones and Elijah Mohammed.

Asking “just what does it mean to be black?”, Swartz points out that according to Clarke, “the Elders say it means to have ‘black faces, faces that are black, a black community’”, yet Clarke suggests that “the face is not identiful enough”. Being black means being willing to “Let the world be a black poem”.

Swartz concludes his review by stating the following: ““Despite a prophetic, Jeremiah-like tone, there is irony and humour, pregnant phrases, overlapping repetitions. Beyond his ostensible subject – the black experience in a multicultural setting – In Your Crib is about exile itself, the visible and invisible realms of human experience, the price of wearing masks, the painting of faces, incorruptible truths, the paradoxical Other”.

Austin Clarke is the writer of ten novels, six short story collections, and three memoirs in the United States, England, Canada, Australia, and Holland. His books have been shortlisted for many awards, and have received numerous literary prizes. In 2003 he had a private audience with Queen Elizabeth in honor of his Commonwealth Prize for his tenth novel, The Polished Hoe, and in 1992 he was honored with a Toronto Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature. In 1998 he was invested with the Order of Canada, and in 1999 he received the Martin Luther King Junior Award for Excellence in Writing. His book In Your Crib, a “lyrical plea, both indictment and lamentation, and a powerful account of the ongoing struggle for racial equality” was released by Guernica Editions earlier this year.

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Preview of “The Voyageur”

VOYAGEUR-cover-00_SmallSequential: Canadian Comix News & Culture featured a preview of Jeffrey Sturge and Nick Marinkovich’s graphic novel The Voyageur in a recent article posted on their website.

The preview begins by explaining that Jeffrey Sturge first conceived of The Voyageur in 2009 as a “vehicle to chronicle the voyages of Samuel de Champlain”. Yet, as the characters began to evolve, the graphic novel became something a little different.

Sequential continues to state, “Jeff brought the idea to Nick, who came on board as an illustrator and collaborator. He chose to work in photo-based style rendered in ink and abstracted to achieve what they hope is a haunting look. Architecture, landscapes and wardrobe from the era have been researched, deriving inspiration from historical buildings and period drawings”.

The Voyageur focuses on compelling characters who drive a fast-paced story set in the 17th century that addresses themes of alienation, a young boy’s coming of age, and a fish out of water thrust into a strange new world. Marinkovich’s signature ink-rendered, photo-based artwork has been heavily stylized to achieve a haunting look. Every detail of this novel has been accurately recreated from over two years of meticulous research.

Jeff Sturge is a screenwriter with many years of experience. He has written numerous shows – mostly for history and crime-based stories – for broadcasters like National Geographic, Discovery Channel, A&E, and History.

Nick Marinkovich is a Canadian illustrator, graphic novelist and multi-media artist. He has worked for IDW, Devils Due and Marvel, as well as releasing his own titles under Image and Pop Sandbox. He is known for a signature ink-rendered, photo-based artwork that is heavily stylized.

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Guernica’s Book of the Month: December

palestineDecember is a month to celebrate many things, including International Human Rights Day on December 10th. For December we’ve decided to feature Hubert Haddad’s Palestine, translated by Pierre L’Abbé. Palestine calls to attention issues of human rights with strength and compassion – it is no wonder that Le Monde has called it “probably one of the most beautiful books from a writer who takes a stance against his times”.

One of the first things the reader will notice about Palestine is Haddad’s descriptive abilities, which are both subtle and sensual. On one of the first pages, the novel’s protagonist reels from an attack:

“A flickering of sparks takes the place of his memory. A whirlwind of moons and suns on his lips. Sleep of anguish. The all encompassing night. Apart from the tingling in the tips of his fingers, all feeling leaves him. He does not hear the storm that strikes long after the bombs. An absence does not identify itself, nor take on a shape. A fine blade lands between this moment and the fathomless abyss of nothing. In one stroke nothingness swallows billions of years and randomly churns up a sigh of resurrection” (19).

Haddad’s descriptions create the kinds of vivid impressions that leave the reader feeling wary, unsafe, immersed in the tension of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The geography of the region is represented with the kind of detail that a story like this deserves: “The upper hills to the east of Hebron were thick pleats on the neck of a Goliath…To the north, towards the Bekaa Valley, where the southern section of the security fence began, one could make out new work sites for roads reserved for colonists which would connect Harsina to Kiryat Arba” (42).

What Palestine does especially well is portray how confusing this geography is, a region whose borders are continually shifting. The confusion between dreams and reality parallels the novel’s representation of how nebulous territories can be in this region, as the novel’s protagonist falls in and out of dreams – somnambulistic states that are more delirious than they are wondrous.

Most importantly, Palestine paints a portrait that shows how confusing the Palestine-Israel conflict is. Through his stylistic choices, Haddad insists that this conflict is not simple – it is complicated, multifaceted, and nightmarish. There are so many more sides to the conflict than two: there are pacifists on both sides of the border, innocent bystanders, radicalized fighters who create destruction in the name of both Israel and Palestine. By weaving in an impressive array of Biblical imagery, Haddad shows that there are Goliaths and Good Samaritans on both sides of the conflict.

Palestine is truly a call for peace. This is a call that focuses on the Israel-Palestine conflict, but also reaches beyond:

“Everywhere below and on the hills, the darkness studded with lights was subdued by the cold clarity of the stars. From far out in the distance, the call to isha, the evening prayer, rang from one minaret to another. Even louder still, the metallic voice of the television news from the ground floor rose in a hubbub of clanging dishes, sudden laughter and slamming dominoes. An endless inventory of human mystery was strung out like a marine weather bulletin: bloody arrests and raids in Ramallah, more fratricidal combat in Sri Lanka, inter-communal massacres in Iraq…” (96).

“’It is not so far away…,’ Falastin said while curling up in the hollow of his chest. ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Nothing. War is never far away’” (96). This December, pick up a copy of Hubert Haddad’s Palestine, a compassionate novel that shows how all humans have rights – and that conflict can only be resolved by appealing to common humanity.

Hubert Haddad was born in Tunis and raised in Paris. He has published more than fifty novels, plays, and essays. The original French version of Palestine won the Prix des Cinq Continents de la Francophonie in 2008, and the Prix Renaudot Poche in 2009.

Pierre L’Abbé published his first book, Lyon, in 1996. He is also the author of Ten Days in Rio, a novella in verse, Kiss of the Beggar, and he is the translator of Benjamin Fondane’s Exodus.

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Marina Sonkina’s “Expulsion” and “women who strive to make a difference”

expulsionIn a recent article by Jan DeGrass for the Coast Reporter, DeGrass reviews Marina Sonkina’s Expulsion alongside Bonnie Reilly Schmidt’s Silenced: The Untold Fight for Equality in the RCMP as two books about “women who strive to make a difference, to save what is good, to state what is honest”.

Beginning her review with an account of how Marina Sonkina fled the Soviet Union in the 1980s, DeGrass describes the collection as follows:

“Many of the tales in this new fiction collection…recall the women of Moscow who strive to make a living or simply to survive. There’s naïve Inna whose honest execution of her duties is not what the boss wants. And there’s a nameless wife who is lonely even though she lives in a communal apartment in Moscow with a listless husband, nasty neighbours and active bedbugs. In another story, Tanya seeks a miracle to make her wandering husband love her again, so she becomes baptized, not a politically correct activity in the Soviet Union. She pays heavily for defending another man who has also found religion. In the title story, Expulsion, young Alexandra strives to learn math and earn respect, until she meets a lewd gypsy”.

Ending her review by praising Sonkina’s story “Face”, DeGrass explains, “Sonkina’s characters inevitably gallop to surreal disaster, yet they are the backbone of her tragicomic stories”.

Expulsion & Other Stories consists of two parts: a novella followed by a group of short stories. But the main protagonists have one thing in common: they are all women coming of age in difficult times. Nobody spells out the rules of survival to the young girls and women, yet each learns to play – or pays the price, that of facing “expulsion”.

Marina Sonkina was a teacher of literature and linguistics at Moscow State University until she escaped to Canada, where she worked as a CBC producer, broadcaster, documentary film researcher, and translator. She taught humanities at Dawson and Vanier College in Montreal and now shares her time between teaching at Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia as well as writing. She has published two collections of short stories and two children’s books.

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H Nigel Thomas Discusses His Inspiration for “No Safeguards”

nosafeguardsIn a recent article published in Daily Xtra, Dinah Zeldin discusses the inspiration behind H Nigel Thomas’ newest novel, No Safeguards.

Zeldin begins by explaining the basis of the novel, which follows two St. Vincentian brothers who move to Canada to join their mother, who has fled St. Vincent in order to get away from her abusive and fundamentalist Christian husband. While in Montreal, the brothers come to terms with the fact that they are gay. Zeldin states, “No Safeguards draws on Thomas’ experiences growing up as a gay man in St. Vincent, where anal sex is still punished with 10 years imprisonment. An incident recounted in the book, where a gay couple’s house is surrounded, the man beaten, and the home burned to the ground, is drawn from Thomas’ early childhood memories”.

Zeldin’s article draws on a conversation with H Nigel Thomas, in which he explains how in St. Vincent, “violence was a common occurrence and, as an effeminate boy, he was often its target. ‘Effeminacy and homosexuality were considered to be one and the same thing,’ he says. ‘People would literally hit me and say ‘Act like a man,’ or mock my voice and call me names’”.

Although H Nigel Thomas entered his first long-term relationship in the 1980s, he “did not publicly come out until a series of homophobic articles appeared in the Vincentian press in 1994”. This prompted Thomas to denounce the offending papers by writing an article in response. After its publication, Thomas found himself “dueling with the archbishop of the Windward Islands”.

Although Thomas was “criticized for his openness by Montreal’s Vincentian community”, even pointing that “following an interview with the Montreal Gazette in 2000, where he spoke about black people in the LGBT community, he received angry phone calls”, he later joined the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Association of Montreal. There, he found himself welcomed, stating “to my great astonishment, people were quite happy to have me”.

Zeldin ends the article by stating, “there is hope for the future. One bookstore on the island now sells Thomas’ books. There is a secret gay association. While local gay activists use pseudonyms, allies openly write and speak about LGBT rights”.

H. Nigel Thomas was born in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and has been living in Montreal since 1986. He has written three other novels, Spirits in the Dark, Behind the Face of Winter, and Return to Arcadia, along with three collections of short stories, How Loud Can the Village Cock Crow, Lives: Whole and Otherwise (translated into French as Des vies cassées), and When the Bottom Falls Out and Other Stories. He has also written a collection of poems, Moving through Darkness, and two scholarly texts.

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David Joiner on the Beauty of Vietnam and Universal Themes in “Lotusland”

lotuslandGarry Craig Powell recently sat down with David Joiner, author of Lotusland, for an interview published by Rain Taxi. Powell begins by stating, “with its complicated cast of characters and evocative settings, Lotusland is likely the most vivid novel set in post-colonial Southeast Asia that contemporary readers will encounter”.

Powell asked Joiner a few questions about the inception of the novel, to which Joiner replies “I don’t know that a specific idea led to the inception of Lotusland, but I do remember wanting to fill a niche in U.S. literature about Vietnam. I wanted to set my novel in contemporary Vietnam, during the time that I was writing it, and have it turn the page on the war we fought there”.

The story of Lotusland hinges on the various deceits of the novel’s characters, and “the conflicts come about because there are serious issues of trust”. Joiner explains, “one needs to be rather careful there both in business relationships (as with Anthony) and romantic ones (as with Le and Huong). After all, legal protections in Vietnam hardly exist. Also, Vietnamese people in general distrust their government, the police, and others in positions of power. That distrust often filters through to everyday relationships, which play out dramatically in the novel”.

That said, Lotusland avoids giving a one-sided representation of Vietnam. Instead, as Powell emphasizes, “Lotusland is a rich and textured portrait of the country…that reveals both the worst things about it – the corruption, the poverty, and the tawdriness – and the best: the beauty, not only of its landscape and art, but often glimpses of transcendent beauty in quite ordinary scenes, as well as the humanity of the people, their present sufferings and their brave attempts to overcome the trauma of ‘The American War’”.

When asked about Joiner’s particular aesthetic approach towards writing Lotusland, he states “setting is important to my aesthetic…I’ve always been fascinated by, even moved by, both the natural and urban landscapes of Vietnam. It’s kind of a wabi-sabi ethic, where one finds beauty in the potential of things, in their imperfections. To me, no other country possesses the kind of beauty Vietnam is endowed with, and because that beauty, that aesthetic, really can’t be replicated in the West, I need to paint scenes with a certain type of brushstroke to ensconce readers in the place itself”.

Even though Lotusland focuses strongly on Vietnam, and the conflicts between the characters stem from issues with Vietnam’s social and economic conditions, Joiner maintains that “Lotusland develops certain universal themes – love is one, finding one’s place in the world is another, learning to do what is morally right is one more”.

Lotusland tells the story of Nathan Monroe, a 28-year-old American living in Saigon who falls in love with a poor but talented Vietnamese painter. After failing to protect their love from her desperate chase for a better life in America, Nathan is hired by his old friend Anthony to work at his real estate firm. Only much later does Nathan discover that Anthony has intended all along for him to take over his job and family so that he, too, can escape and start his life over in America.

David Joiner was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, but has since made his home in nearly 20 different cities across the US, Japan, and Vietnam. David currently lives in Kanazawa, Japan, where he is working on a second novel set on the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia. His earliest experience in Vietnam was as a volunteer teacher in 1994, when he became the first American since the end of the Vietnam War to live and work in Dong Nai province. Lotusland is his first published novel.

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Ami Sands Brodoff Calls “No Safeguards” “a dense, meditative book about the wounds of history”

nosafeguardsIn a recent article published in the Montreal Review of Books entitled “Can You Go Home Again?” Ami Sands Brodoff discusses H. Nigel Thomas’ newest book, No Safeguards, which she describes as “a dense, meditative book about the wounds of history filtered through memory”. Brodoff also sits down with the author to talk about Thomas’ background and inspiration.

Brodoff begins by explaining some of the major plot points of the novel, stating, “in No Safeguards, Thomas grapples with the complex bonds and migrations of a Vincentian family, among those people often left out of conventional Canadian histories”. One of the first questions that Brodoff has for Thomas “is how closely the novel hews to his own history”. Thomas explains, “’it’s not autobiographical in any factual way,’…though he acknowledges parallels in the violence of the father and in the inspiration of a grandparent”.

Thomas states that the major influence that drove him to pursue literature was his grandfather, who taught him how to read before he went to school. Thomas’ early love of literature motivated him to become an English teacher, which he achieved when he arrived in Montreal, ‘eager to experience life on a continental scale.’ After teaching English and French for a dozen years, he went on to earn his PhD and was appointed assistant professor of US Literature at Université Laval. Since 2006, he has devoted himself to writing full time”.

Brodoff praises Thomas’ writing, stating that he “evokes landscapes with a painterly brush”. Brodoff also states, “Thomas’ strengths are voice and dialogue and he has a lively sense of humour”. One example that Brodoff gives in her review refers to the character Paul from No Safeguards, whose “speech, rap music, and poetry are seasoned with wit, poignancy, and power, as he incessantly needles and confronts his older brother. There is a priceless scene in a Montreal gay club when Paul says ‘Tonight you’ll give it up, Bro. Besides, let’s face it: brothers who sin together bond better’”.

Brodoff concludes her article by discussing the novel’s portrayal of homophobia, which is a concern for the brothers Jay and Paul in No Safeguards. Jay and Paul are both gay, although they come from a region where there are “anti-homosexuality laws, gay people are tortured, imprisoned, and murdered”. Brodoff explains that these “concerns are rooted in Thomas’ own experience. He sees the themes of the novel as ‘the accommodations we must make to live in society, as well as the high cost of repression.’ In 1994, despite rampant homophobia in St. Vincent, Thomas came out publicly there. ‘This was the first time my family knew I was gay, the first time friends knew’”.

No Safeguards is the first in a trilogy of novels focusing on Jay and his brother Paul from childhood to young adulthood. The book deals with the impact of fundamentalist Christianity on their family, the ways that this becomes even more poignant when they leave their grandmother’s home in St. Vincent to join their mother in Montreal, and the further oppression that the brothers encounter when it is revealed that they are gay.

Nigel Thomas was born in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and has been living in Montreal since 1986. He has written three other novels, Spirits in the Dark, Behind the Face of Winter, and Return to Arcadia, along with three collections of short stories, How Loud Can the Village Cock Crow, Lives: Whole and Otherwise (translated into French as Des vies cassées), and When the Bottom Falls Out and Other Stories. He has also written a collection of poems, Moving through Darkness, and two scholarly texts.

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