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THE CELLIST OF SARAJEVO By Steven Galloway, Knopf Canada, 261 pages, $29.95

In 1992, cellist Vedran Smailovic witnesses the deaths of 22 people by mortar shell. The following day he puts on his tuxedo, sits with his cello in the crater left by the explosion and begins to play. He does this for 22 days. This portrayal of living in the despair of the present, but with an unkillable knowledge that things can be otherwise, connects Galloway's characters and his novel with the legacy of the cellist. Steven Hayward

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LITTLE BROTHER By Cory Doctorow, Tor, 382 pages, $19.95

In the very near future, high-schooler Marcus Yallow is walking with friends in San Francisco when a 9/11-sized terrorist attack occurs blocks away. Everyone around is secretly abducted by the Department of Homeland Security. If you read only one SF novel this year, make it this one: a coming-of-age, political-awakening and sweet-but-hip love story. Spider Robinson

COCKROACH By Rawi Hage, Anansi, 312 pages, $29.95

Montreal's Lebanese and Iranian communities as achingly experienced from beneath the belly of these underdogs. The unnamed narrator is a petty thief with a large and angry imagination. Hage's writing is hyper-energized by the indignities of immigrant experience, the existential anxieties of the second half of the 20th century, a righteous indignation as old as the prophets, and ink-black humour. T.F. Rigelhof

THE MAN GAME By Lee Henderson, Viking Canada, 513 pages, $32

A young man stumbles upon a secret sport in this epic tale of pioneer Vancouver. The parallel historical narrative is populated by a grizzled crew who spout a foul-mouthed, distinctly Canadian dialect, their lives brightened only by vice and violence. This is the sort of sprawling, innovative, exhilarating yet quintessentially Canadian novel many of us have been waiting for. An absolute triumph. Pasha Malla

THE FLYING TROUTMANS By Miriam Toews, Knopf Canada, 274 pages, $32

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The heart of the book is an automotive road journey made by Hattie, Thebes and Logan to find Cherkis, the kids' dad. The novel is rich in dialogue, sometimes zany, sometimes stunningly sad, always character-true. Toews is an extraordinarily gifted writer, with unsentimental compassion for her people and an honest understanding of their past, the tectonic shifts of their present and variables of their future. Gale Zoë Garnett

GOOD TO A FAULT By Marina Endicott, Freehand Books, 372 pages, $25.95

A car crash causes Clara Purdy's solid sense of everyday morality to soar beyond previous experiences. Until the accident, she has been living a small, quiet and affluent life, but "in a state of mild despair." Marina Endicott is a sweet-natured but sharp-eyed and quick-tongued social observer in the Jane Austen-Barbara Pym-Anne Tyler tradition, who can wring love, revulsion and hilarity in a single page. T.F. Rigelhof

BLACKSTRAP HAWCO Said to be About a Newfoundland Family, by Kenneth J. Harvey, Random House Canada, 829 pages, $34.95

Harvey's novel is a complete portrait of Newfoundland, as it has been and will be. His mastery of an almost limitless array of techniques anchors this novel firmly in our time. He has created and portrayed something unique, from the morbidly grotesque scenes of ship's passage by early settlers to the numbed and numbing consciousness of the sealers, from alcoholism and abuse to ongoing poverty. Michel Basilières

RED DOG, RED DOG By Patrick Lane, McClelland & Stewart, 332 pages, $32.99

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One of Canada's foremost poets sets his debut novel in the Okanagan Valley during a fateful few weeks in 1958. Tom and Eddy Stark are brothers with a painful past and secrets to keep. Lane's craftsmanship is exquisite, particularly his unerring instinct for images that wound and enlighten in equal measure, bright shards of a broken mirror. Matt Kavanagh

THE GREAT KAROO By Fred Stenson, Doubleday, 480 pages, $32.95

Stenson has produced another outstanding historical novel, a masterly work about Canada's involvement in the Boer War. It is subtly subversive not for its postcolonial attitude toward British imperialism, but because it plays down leading figures such as the legendary Sam Steele. And it's significant because it discovers and illuminates a lost chapter of Canadian history. Ken McGoogan

FALLING By Anne Simpson, McClelland & Stewart, 318 pages, $32.99

Family members in Nova Scotia struggle to put their lives together after a calamity. Simpson has the poet's art of paying close attention to details, which take on added fierceness and luminosity because they are part of the record of grief. From the description of a moth to the sound of children in an outdoor pool, Simpson makes the reader feel the passing moments, the strands of time. Shaena Lambert

ASYLUM By André Alexis, McClelland & Stewart, 496 pages, $34.99

Mark, the narrator of Asylum, is living in Italy at a Gregorian monastery. Then, after 14 years away from his birthplace, he longs for Ottawa with heartfelt anguish. Alexis continues the serious writer's magical business of making it possible for readers to lose themselves and find themselves in another's words, "losing and finding," as Mark says, "being the heart of whatever the journey of this life is." T. F. Rigelhof

THE SOUL OF ALL GREAT DESIGNS By Neil Bissoondath, Cormorant, 223 pages, $29

At its most deceptively obvious, it's a love story: the man, born to suburban parents, and a successful interior designer; the woman, the only child of Indo-Canadians, and named in memory of an aunt killed in the Air India bombing. Beneath this, Bissoondath explores many questions: Can identity really be refreshed like some reality-TV makeover? Lucid, compassionate and compelling. Elizabeth Grove-White

READING BY LIGHTNING By Joan Thomas, Goose Lane, 388 pages, $22.95

We're in 1930s Canada, where Lily's father arrived three decades earlier on the tails of a mission that promised fertile agricultural land. But they had been diddled and dumped in the middle of Manitoba. Now William Piper and his wife farm their land and place little hope in this life. Thomas's prose is carefully considered, troubled, alert to the texture of experience and scenes of heightened anxiety. David Jays

THE WITHDRAWAL METHOD By Pasha Malla, Anansi, 319 pages, $29.95

Pasha Malla's considerable talent has already been recognized in several prize nominations. The stories here are an astonishing and bizarre mix of styles, voices and locales, from Vienna in 1755 to a rather scary future Niagara Falls. Malla is an impressive young voice that gives one hope for a future of new Canadian writing talent. Alma Lee

STUNT By Claudia Dey, Coach House, 245 pages, $19.95

Playwright and Globe and Mail columnist Dey's debut novel cracks open the intricate interior life of Eugenia Ledoux, the irresistible nine-year-old narrator who is abandoned by her father and sets out to make sense of his abrupt departure. Dey's prose teeters evocatively and provocatively between the real and the surreal, and the gritty Toronto setting is itself a character. Nikki Barrett

COVENTRY By Helen Humphreys, HarperCollins, 175 pages, $24.95

Harriet Marsh, disguised as a man, is volunteering on the roof of Coventry cathedral the night of the Luftwaffe attack of Nov. 14, 1940. She moved to Coventry as a newlywed, but then her husband was killed at Ypres. Humphreys captures, alluringly, the joyful and solitary nature of the human heart, which she renders as a swallow flying above the cathedral: swooping, soaring, untethered, free. Donna Bailey Nurse

THE BOYS IN THE TREES By Mary Swan, Henry Holt, 214 pages, $15.50

Mercurial and mesmerizing, dark but thrilling, Mary Swan's The Boys in the Trees is a splendid book, probing the hidden and disastrous side of life in a late 19th-century Ontario factory town. The pleasure for the reader is in Swan's smudged distinctions between reality, memory, dream, illusion and image - the sense of being played by a fine mind and enjoying it. Lynda Grace Philippsen

YOUR SAD EYES AND UNFORGETTABLE MOUTH By Edeet Ravel, Viking Canada, 274 pages, $32

Ravel's first book of adult fiction since her much-praised Tel Aviv Trilogy is a very fine and moving novel about a middle-aged Montreal woman coping with being a child of Holocaust survivors. Ravel covers this territory in a nuanced, compassionate, insightful and gently humorous way. Nora Gold

MORE By Austin Clarke, Thomas Allen, 356 pages, $29.95

"More" of what we've come to expect from Austin Clarke: sensuous immersion in the rhythms of Caribbean vernacular, bold layers of memory and history into the novel's present moment, and a harsh yet spiritually generous take on the black experience. More covers four days and four nights in the basement-apartment life of Idora Morrison. By writing Idora's story as Toronto's story, Clarke boldly challenges, and transforms, Canadian sense and sensibility. Sonnet L'Abbé

WHAT THEY WANTED By Donna Morrissey, Viking Canada, 325 pages, $32

A father has a heart attack; a brother and sister leave Newfoundland and go to Alberta to work; a tragedy brings reconciliation, but also terrible loss. Primarily a novel of character, this is also a novel of Canada, of two very specific and vividly drawn places. Donna Morrissey's characters are passionate, troubled, sensitive, quick to be moved to anger or pain, and just as quick to laughter and affection. Lewis DeSoto

WHERE WHITE HORSES GALLOP By Beatrice MacNeil, Key Porter, 332 pages, $32.95

The novel takes place during the Second World War, but it is not a war story. In fact, it is an antiwar story, and rather than taking in the grand sweep of historical events, it focuses on one village in the author's Cape Breton, specifically on four young men and their families. A wonderful book, heart-wrenching and lyrically beautiful. Lewis DeSoto

THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES By Nino Ricci, Doubleday Canada, 496 pages, $34.95

In this winner of the Governor-General's Award for fiction, Alex, a young Italian Canadian in 1980s Montreal, achingly needs to write, to talk, to make order of his life and of the clutter of information he has accumulated. He also wants a girlfriend. Because Ricci is a skilled, language-loving writer, Alex's life as a skilled, language-loving writer is a rich journey. Gale Zoë Garnett

2666 By Roberto Bolaño, translated by Natasha Wimmer, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 898 pages, 3 volumes, $33

The late Roberto Bolaño's final novel, which takes place in a fictionalized Mexican border town where hundreds of women are missing and murdered, has an urgency that is truly mesmerizing and breathtaking. The vast and complex novel holds an "unquiet mirror" up to hell and stuns with its brilliance. It is a modern epic - a masterpiece. J.S. Goldbach

FINE JUST THE WAY IT IS By Annie Proulx, Scribner, 221 pages, $29.99

The characters in Annie Proulx's latest story collection speak matter-of-factly, in recognizable English, like actual Wyomingites. She has also considerably softened toward her characters. For the first time, there is an enduring sense of respect - a palpable, if reluctantly rendered, tenderness - for her people. It's an astonishing departure from her usual arm's-length approach, and the result is undeniably powerful. Alexandra Fuller

THE PLAGUE OF DOVES By Louise Erdrich, HarperCollins, 311 pages, $27.95

In 1911, four Ojibwa men discover a family of farmers slaughtered on the outskirts of an all-white community on the edge of a native reservation. An inebriated posse of white men then lynches three of the Indian men. Louise Erdrich offers remarkable compassion, wit and lyric grace in the face of a tragic and shameful past. A deeply moving novel. Karen Luscombe

HOW THE DEAD DREAM By Lydia Millet, Counterpoint, 244 pages, $26.50

In young Thomas, or T., Millet creates a complex self capable of complex encounters. This is vintage Millet, social critique jousting with absurdity, familiar suburban domesticity infected with a slightly alien sensibility. It's hard, in fact, to convey how invigorating Millet's fiction is, how intelligent and thematically rich, how processes of thought are themselves made urgent and lively through the specificity of her observations and sentences. Catherine Bush

BEIJING COMA By Ma Jian, translated by Flora Drew, Knopf Canada, 586 pages, $34.95

We are trapped in the head of a coma patient who has lain immobile for a decade, able to hear, smell and remember, unable to see, speak or respond. Ma Jian is arguably his country's essential writer, and this sprawling, visionary meditation on the fate of the individual within China's big zone of authoritarianismis a landmark in Chinese literature. Charles Foran

THE HAKAWATI By Rabih Alameddine, Bond Street, 513 pages, $32.95

No doubt with an apocalyptic eye on the post-9/11 United States, Lebanese writer Alameddine has called the narrator of this intersecting tale Osama al-Kharrat. The al-Kharrats are wealthy owners of a Beirut car dealership. The Hakawati (an Arabic word meaning "storyteller') throws off a dazzling array of narrative sparks. It coruscates and glitters. It is, literally, a devil of a book. Chris Scott

WHAT WAS LOST By Catherine O'Flynn, Anchor Canada, 246 pages, $22

The tale of children, their families and Green Oaks, a suburban shopping mall that dominates the landscape and psyche of Birmingham, England, as well as the characters' lives. This exquisite satire eviscerates societal conventions and elucidates the sorry state of the human bestiary, yet loves them tender, loves them sweet, with an empathy bred of wisdom. It's a deadly good combination of the tragic and the laugh-out-loud hilarious. Zsuzsi Gartner

INDIGNATION By Philip Roth, Viking Canada, 233 pages, $30

Roth's novel, set in 1951 at the height of the Korean War, is narrated by Marcus Messner, a young Jew who has gone from his hometown, Newark, N.J., to Winesburg College, Ohio, and relates the consequences of his ill-considered plunge into WASPdom. Here are familiar Roth themes of sexual, religious and societal repression, but it is the implacable face of history that broods menacingly over everything else. Guy Vanderhaeghe

THE WHITE TIGER By Aravind Adiga, Free Press, 276 pages, $28

This year's Man Booker Prize-winning novel by a first-time novelist is about a poor Indian boy who grows up to find success in the big city. This book amounts to an exposé, the glum subject of which is made compulsively readable by the comical, objective, irreverent voice of our hero, Balram Halwai. Trenchant, moving, elegant and witty, this lives up to the hype. Donna Bailey Nurse

LUSH LIFE By Richard Price, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 464 pages, $28.50

The New York novelist and screenwriter ( The Wire) focuses on Manhattan's rapidly gentrifying Lower East Side, where customers line up for tables at a tony restaurant while others wait in the heat to see a vision of the Madonna in the glass of a convenience-store cooler. The closing pages are devastating. Robert J. Wiersema

A MERCY By Toni Morrison, Knopf, 169 pages, $27.95

Set in 1690, when North America was struggling as a mélange of refuge and colony, this novel circles a cluster of characters thrown together. A devastating examination of the conditions that led to the nation that is the United States. Morrison knots language into beautiful, intricate imagery, and then, in exquisitely cadenced prose, slices open those same knots to reveal a shining elucidation. Aritha van Herk

GIRL MEETS BOY By Ali Smith, Knopf Canada, 161 pages, $25

A retelling of Ovid's mischievous myth of the love of Iphis and Ianthe. As a storyteller, Ali Smith's supreme gift is that, with what seems effortless confidence, she shows us unfamiliar beauty within the mundane, as if we were children again. In prose marked by harmonious opposites, she's childlike and wise, exuberant and subtle, humorously intelligent and provocatively dry. Susie Maguire

THE PEOPLE ON PRIVILEGE HILL By Jane Gardam, Abacus, 213 pages, $16

A melancholy and joyful new collection of stories from the wonderful Gardam. Although all have a magical and antic quality, the emotional vibrations vary enormously. Befitting her age, Gardam more than teases at infirmity and death, but the prospect of morbidity is never morbid. This oddly cheerful collection, including a story featuring Sir Edward Feathers of Gardam's masterpiece Old Filth, is always hovering on the fringes of belief. Martin Levin

HOME By Marilynne Robinson, HarperCollins, 325 pages, $29.95

This is both a companion volume to Robinson's previous novel, Gilead, one that deepens that volume's meditation on fathers and sons and, read on its own, a subtle look at what makes home home, as prodigal son Jack Boughton returns after 20 years to Gilead, Iowa. Robinson's work is morally complex, subtle and she can be an extraordinary stylist: words pitched precisely to effect. André Alexis

THE LAZARUS PROJECT By Aleksandar Hemon, Riverhead, 294 pages, $27.50

In 1908, in Chicago, Jewish immigrant Lazarus Averbuch arrives at the home of the chief of police and is immediately shot dead. A second tale sees Bosnian American Vladimir Brik writing about Averbuch to assuage his own guilt about the war he escaped. Hemon's funny, wise, indicting book reminds us how emblematic the novel of immigration is to a time in which each migrant is a Lazarus rising from the dead. Darryl Whetter

GOLDENGROVE By Francine Prose, HarperCollins, 275 pages, $26.95

Nico, the teenager who narrates this novel about a family shattered by the drowning of a promising daughter, is captured utterly, a 13-year-old with a voice as believable as Holden Caulfield's. As Nico begins to embody her sister's ways, even to a dalliance with her boyfriend, Prose gives us a consummate tale about doubles and duplication, and a brilliant portrait of grief, both individual and familial, both transcendent and quotidian. Aritha van Herk

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