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2006 06 06
Imagining Toronto: A Review of the City of Toronto Book Award Shortlist

The Toronto Book Award Committee has released its shortlist for the 2006 Toronto Book Award. Established in 1974, the Toronto Book Award honours authors of literary or artistic works that are evocative of Toronto.The winner will be announced in September. This year's nominees are:

Howard Ackler, for The City Man (Coach House Books). A sharp, spare novel that nonetheless insinuated itself into my mind like the probing fingers of its pickpocket characters. Toronto is described in black and white shot through with garish colour filtered through city smoke: depression grime sifting from a trolley toward the sagging drapes in a rented room; lipstick stained with cigarette ash. It's 1934 and the city waits: for the depression to end; for the rumours of war to become shouted orders; for the tip to become a filched wallet or a news report worth filing at the daily.

Dionne Brand, for What We All Long For (Alfred A. Knopf). My personal favourite, What We All Long For is a rich chronicle of loss and longing, in which the city's streets are narrated as rivers along which the grief and hope and longing of generations separated and rejoined coalesces in turbulent flow. One of Brand's characters, the young artist Tuyen, builds a lubaio -- a Chinese signpost -- to which she pins the city's longings to like prayers. And like prayer flags or weeds, Brand's young characters strain upward, rising toward the city's thin and scattered light, stunted by the winds of circumstance and yet resiliant and luminous.

Stephen Marche, for Raymond and Hannah (Doubleday Canada) Raymond and Hannah is a weepingly beautiful, visceral novel about two lovers, one a graduate student bound to his studies in Toronto, the other seeking her roots and religion at a Jerusalem yeshiva. They are drawn together and severed by youth, passion, geography. The novel is both geographical and corporeal: both cities are narrated as flesh. I cried as I read this novel, at the loss (and equally in relief at the loss) of my own unstable passions.

Jason McBride and Alana Wilcox, editors, for uTOpia: Towards a New Toronto (Coach House Books) The past year's break-out best-seller, uTOpia captured the sentiments of a city overdue for some optimism. A diverse, provocative collection of essays on subjects as diverse as infiltrating out-of-bounds buildings, pedestrian planning, the city's utopian architecture, and the secret lives of public toilets. Perhaps a little scattered, but a superb talking piece. Coach House has a sequel in the works, forthcoming within the next year (my essay, "Toronto's Tower of Babel", will be published in it).

and M.G. Vassanji, for When She Was Queen (Doubleday Canada) The only nominated book I haven't yet read, although Vassanji is a deft storyteller whose understated language spills metaphors like a burst pomegranate.

Your favourites? Other books you wish had been short-listed? (I'd have loved to see Cory Doctorow's Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (Tor), a novel about what happens when the offspring of a mountain and a washing machine moves into Kensington Market and Ray Robertson's Gently Down the Stream (Cormorant), a story about a struggling Parkdale writer who sings karaoke at the Gladstone, make the list)

[email this story] Posted by Amy Lavender Harris on 06/06 at 09:42 PM

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