Granma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret
By Ondjaki, Biblioasis, 172 pages, $18.95
Writing a child narrator is hard. Good, precocious, innocent children might exist in real life, but do you want to read an entire book told by one? Angolan author Ondjaki has found an appropriate balance between knowing and not-knowing, sweetness and cruelty with his young narrator in this novel originally published in Portuguese and here translated by Stephen Henighan. Though it’s set in a different country, English readers might be reminded of NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names. Here we are in 1980s Luanda. Somewhere else in Angola, both sides of the Iron Curtain fuel a civil war, but in Bishop’s Beach the main worry is the former president’s rocket-shaped mausoleum and the rumour that its construction will evict the beach’s inhabitants. In language laced with Cuban Spanish and Russian-accented English, the story is informed by its political context but still manages to evoke that magical form of thinking that children in particular possess.
By Anna Leventhal, Invisible Publishing, 184 pages, $19.95
The two epigraphs that open Anna Leventhal’s debut story collection concern doing bad. From Derek Walcott: “There is just the joyous torment, all your life, of doing the wrong thing.” “Joyous torment” runs through this book, both as a theme and as an example of the overriding aesthetic. As the protagonist in the title story notes, when you pair a positive adjective with a synonym for “pain” it creates a whole new meaning, e.g., “sweet affliction.” A similar logic is at work in the narration of these stories, at least half of which are connected through a small recurring cast. Though not true of all the stories here, many employ shifting periscopic narration – switching from one limited, subjective perspective to another. It is through the juxtaposition of perspectives – seeing a character from outside and in – that we derive meaning, albeit one that is uncertain and relational. It’s a joy to read.
By Grant Buday, Anvil Press, 255 pages, $20
Born in 1945 in Vancouver, Cyril Andrachuk is the only member of his family not to have lived through Stalin’s programmatic starvation of the Ukraine. For the next half-century, this fact drives him apart from the rest of the Andrachuks in Grant Buday’s latest novel, a story about the recurrence of love and betrayal told in four parts. At 17, Cyril is a talented artist and is in love with one of his classmates, but his parents’ determination that he should not know what they suffered has seeded growing resentment towards his difference. When his mother sabotages his art-school entrance submission, Cyril’s life is thrown off course and is set to run parallel to, rarely touching, that of his love. Cyril at 50 might be considered to have wasted his early promise, but this is a realistically uplifting portrayal of a child of immigrants who is trying to pull himself out of a rut.