The Canada Reads tournament is upon is! In less than 2 weeks, eminent Canadians (including badass Olympian Clara Hughes, who has won multiple medals in both the winter and summer Olympics, and Farah Mohamed, the founder and CEO of G(irls) 20, a social profit enterprise that promotes the economic and educational empowerment of girls and women) will meet to battle for their chosen books.
Five books with the theme of “starting over” have been chosen: The Illegal by Lawrence Hill, Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz, Minister Without Portfolio by Michael Winter, Birdie by Tracey Lindberg and The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami.
I started with The Hero’s Walk.
Sripathi Rao’s daughter Maya and her husband Alan Baker have been killed in a car accident, leaving behind their 7 year old daughter, Nandana. Sripathi and his daughter have been estranged for nearly a decade and he’s never met his granddaughter but he goes to bring her home to India, where she must learn to live a new life, away from everything she’s ever known. So too must Sripathi come to terms with this permanent estrangement from his daughter, in a world that is becoming less and less familiar. His house is falling down around him and the social constructs that have always governed his life are being broken down around him, given a helping hand by his social activist son, Arun.
I love an inter-generational tale and The Hero’s Walk had plenty of drama to keep me engaged. Sripathi’s mother clings to the old ways of life, when as the wife of a Brahmin lawyer, she was above the rest of society – she tortures her daughter-in-law and refuses to let her 42 year old daughter get married. Nirmala, Sripathi’s wife, devastated by the loss of her daughter before she was able to reconcile her with her father, breaks out of her role as helpful, mild helpmate. She is angry with Sripathi for allowing so much time to go by, to let their daughter die without letting her ever come home and for keeping her away from her granddaughter.
And yet, for all the drama and the struggle to get out from under the oppressive weight of grief and the past, this book was lacking something for me. Maybe this week was the wrong time to read this – I suspect that it might be the kind of book that benefits from spending longer stretches of uninterrupted time with it.
When I was reading it, I was thinking about the tournament and how it holds up the theme of starting over. Obviously Nandana has to start a new life in India with her mother’s family, who are basically strangers. But Nandana’s story is almost a footnote, mute as she decides to be – she is a character that is on the periphery, observing. Sripathi starts over in any number of ways – a life without his daughter or the chance to ever make it right, as a man on the edge of retirement, a man letting go of the old ways of life in this town he’s only ever left once, as a man who is looking at his family in a new way – but I wonder how it will hold up against heavyweights like The Illegal or Minister Without Portfolio. But who knows, maybe this quieter tale of redemption at any age will strike a chord with readers.
I can’t wait to tune into the debate, in any case!
I did receive a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada. This does not affect my review.