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Book Reviews 2012


Better Living Through Plastic Explosives by Zsuzsi Gartner

Review by Laurel Thomson

Zsuzsi Gartner’s greatly anticipated book of short stories is exactly what you’d expect from a Canadian writer known for her dark satire and wit. She has no inhibitions about exposing people’s personal desires and violent capabilities. Her writing has depth and intensity. Her ability to pinpoint the flaws in a world we’ve created and the flaws that make up the human condition is what brings her words and characters to life.

The Vancouver-based writer is best known for her debut book of short stories All the Anxious Girls on Earth (Key Porter Books, 1999). Like All the Anxious Girls on Earth, Better Living Through Plastic Explosives is a collection of short stories set in different areas of Vancouver. It chronicles the lives of people struggling over what they have and what they lust after. The collection is incredibly diverse and intelligently written. The novel earned instant recognition as a shortlist finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Follow Gartner’s words as they illustrate characters who conspire against a new neighbour in a quiet cul-de-sac. Meet fictitious Vancouverites who disguise themselves in order to kidnap children on Granville Island. Read about the struggles of a recovering ex‑terrorist mother. The collection of ten stories delves into psychological conflicts and
everyday issues.

Gartner’s ability to shine light on a hidden side of Vancouver makes her writing an incredible reality check. Once you begin reading her collection, it’s impossible not to fall into Gartner’s dark, funny and very real world.

Published by Hamish Hamilton Canada 2011

Ru by Kim Thúy

Review by April McIntyre


Kim Thúy’s first novel, Ru, is a masterful story of freedom. She deftly strings her words together in this poetic remembrance of suffering and change. The novel tells the tale of a family’s escape from a war-torn Vietnam to a new life in Quebec.

Winner of the 2010 Governor General’s Award, it was originally written in French and recently translated to English by Sheila Fischerman. Each chapter is an individual anecdote weaving the story of Nguyen An Tinh. She fled from Saigon thirty years ago, sailing away from a country divided in two on a tiny wooden boat. After spending time in a desolate Malaysian refugee camp, she and her family made their way to Quebec, seeking a better world.

The chapters are short and to the point. They are composed with a lyrical structure; the novel reads like a poem. While not originally recognized as a memoir, after publication Thúy announced that the novel is semi-autobiographical.

The story is of a childhood spent in the shadows of others, a journey to find deliverance from a crumbling reality, and the sweet choruses of a glad life now lived. The anecdotes—sometimes detailed, sometimes vague—allow the reader to easily navigate the path of her journey. Thúy’s voice flows freely, illustrating haunting memories and recollections of the past. Her words dance over the pages and evoke mingled feelings of sorrow and joy. Moving from past to present, the novel comes to an end in a beautiful show of appreciation for her life today.

Ru is a vivid celebration of life at its most desperate. It paints a brilliant picture of escape, survival, and renewal. This small novel is bound to move each reader who welcomes it with open arms.

Published by Random House Canada 2012

2010 Pacific Rim Cover, Image of woman covered in gold jewelry and adornments.

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