Who Will Win Giller This Year?

The Giller Prize 2021 longlist was announced on September 8, the International Literacy Day. From these twelve titles that were chosen amongst the 132 books submitted by publishers across Canada, the jury announced the finalist on October 5, and these five titles will be competing for the most prestigious and richest Canadian literary award on November 8, 9 PM.

This year’s longlist selection is as diverse as Canada itself – in the jury’s words, the longlist “showcases an ecstatic diversity of voices and styles, of narrative deployment and moral urgency, of formal innovation and old-fashioned storytelling pleasure. There is something for everyone on this list, but within each of these books there is to be found beauty, honest reckoning, human compassion, and the irrefutable mark of the sublime.”

Each longlisted title is brilliant and unique, but part of the game is that the jury must pick out five finalists and one winner. How brutal! Fortunately, that doesn’t mean that we can’t talk about the longlisted titles that didn’t make the shortlist here (thanks to VPL for giving us this platform!). So, the three books that I’m going to share with you, one made the finalist, the other two not, yet all of them are definitely worth-noting.

What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkard

Believing in fiction’s power to make a change in the world, the former The Globe and Mail journalist, El Akkard, became a full-time novelist. After his award-winning debut novel American War, his second novel What Strange Paradise is again creating tremendous impact – it is now in this year’s Giller shortlist.

What Strange Paradise offers a timely response to the refugee crisis at the southern U.S. border and the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean. It is a harrowing read, right from the first line: “The child lies on the shore. All around him the beach is littered with the wreckage of the boat and the wreckage of its passengers.” But, as readers’ hearts are going to break, El Akkard gives them hope: “A wave brushes gently against the child’s hair. He opens his eyes.” When the child, the only survivor of the shipwreck, awakes in the Greek island and tries to escape from the authority, Vanna, a native teenage girl, did everything in her power to save him. (The Globe and Mail)

It’s a wonderfully told story about humanity in its simplest form, where right and wrong is crystal clear – a much-needed, powerful message in the midst of this world’s never-ending, tumultuous sociopolitical upheavals! (Quill & Quire)

Astra by Cedar Bowers

Have you ever been in a situation where someone made a comment about you and the comment totally surprised you because the impression that you had made on that person was just a very small fragment of you, if not entirely untrue to yourself?

Bowes crafts this concept into ten engrossing chapters from the eyes of ten different people who have interacted with Astra, the heroine, and the many ways in which she touches these people’s lives. Collectively, these narratives illustrate a complex character who’s magnetic and elusive. “Astra is unusually well suited to be the object of others’ projections, that her particular way of inhabiting – or never fully inhabiting – a given place, of withholding while seeming to surrender, leaves a beguiling space for others to fill with their own agendas.” Bowers never judges her heroine, rather, she ensures she’s is incomplete and captivating. (Quill & Quire)

The series of portrayal gives the readers an opportunity to explore the liquid nature of families and the heavy weight of blood relations. One of the characters says, “I’ve found it’s much, much harder to lose the people who never gave you enough, than it is to lose the ones who gave you everything.” Now the question is: do we really want to “lose” this person if he or she is related to us by blood? (Quill & Quire)

Swimming Back to Trout River by Linda Rui Feng

The last book about Cultural Revolution that I read was Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien. The 2016 Giller winning title is a breath-taking, expansive work. At times, I had to close the book to regroup my courage before reading on the scenes of the denunciation and torture. But judging by the first chapter of Feng’s Giller longlisted debut, I suspect the work will render a very different reading experience. Feng’s lyrical narrative quietly interweaves different characters’ complex back stories and sentiments into one harmonious unity. That calmness, ironically, urges me to place a hold on our catalogue immediately.

I’m very happy to see more books about Cultural Revolution getting published in the English world. This part of the Chinese history, together with the land reform, had impacted my family enormously, and it’s painful to even read about them. But as I get older, I realize, to remove the painful memories is not to avoid them, but to confront them and reframe them. I’m glad that I now have one more source to see what other Chinese people had experienced during this dark period of our home country’s contemporary history.

About Heather

Heather is the Librarian II, Literacy and Readers' Advisory, with the Vaughan Public Libraries. Her job is to connect leisure readers and aspiring writers with the endless space of imagination and creation through words in all forms.  |  Meet the team