Congratulations to Charles Langdon, winner of our “Make Your Own Walrus Cover (of Vancouver)” contest. We considered opening the results to online voting, but Charles’s image of Vancouver was such a hit at Walrus HQ that we have instead called an audible: he’ll be receiving a prize pack headlined by a half-dozen books about Vancouver from Douglas & McIntyre; each of the seven runners-up in our online gallery — which you can launch by clicking on Charles’s photo at left — will receive a complimentary one-year subscription to The Walrus. (We’ll be in touch via email to arrange the details.)
Thank you to everyone who entered. Now, who’s hungry for Chinese?
Steven Heighton’s new novel, Every Lost Country, will be referred to as his Tibetan book, for understandable reasons: it opens with a 2006 incident on the China-Tibet border, and the ensuing action traces the reverberations of that event across both countries. But like all of Steven’s work, it will be remembered in a much more complex way than such simple epithets allow, cherished for its characters, who are numerous, challenging, and deeply alive; for its precise and beautiful language; and for its ambitious (and successful) effort to grapple with issues that are central to the way we live in a world of ever-increasing moral ambiguity.
Steven and I started talking about the possibility of running a section of it in The Walrus last summer, when we were working on his story “Noughts & Crosses: An Unsent Reply,” which ran in our November 2009 issue. Editing fiction for the magazine means reading an incredible number of stories each month, so I leapt at the change of pace of Steven’s manuscript. I read Every Lost Country while travelling in Turkey, and, as I told Steven on my return, the highest compliment I can give the book is that it gripped me so much that I stayed put for an entire day to finish it.
I knew we had to excerpt this truly exceptional novel, but wasn’t sure of the best way to do so. Every Lost Country follows several different main characters, and is told in a sort of third-person limited omniscience that alternates among them. So to isolate one section of the book is necessarily to cut off many voices; viewing something through the eyes of just one of them fails to represent the nuance with which the novel constructs events. The opening scene, for instance, is viewed repeatedly from different perspectives. It’s only after seeing it these many times that the reader begins to understand the complexity of what’s happening, an interconnectedness that subtly suggests the way in which we all become, to some degree, dependent on those around us as co-builders of our lives.
I originally wanted to use a section of the novel in which Lew Book, the Toronto doctor whose minor heroics are seen at the end of “Bystanders,” plays a Nepalese strategy game called bagh chal with Kaljang, a sherpa. For me, it contained so many layers, and stood alone as a wonderful set piece. But it occurs too far into the novel to make sense on its own. In the end, we settled on a slightly adapted version of the novel’s opening, in which we see the border event for the first time through the eyes of Sophie, Lew’s daughter. I love the clarity of her perspective, the way in which she dissects this deeply confusing event, parsing its component parts and attempting to make sense of it. I felt that it resonated with the experience of the reader (and thus is a clever way to open a book). And I loved the section that followed, in which we return to the past and to Toronto as we recall through Sophie her father’s intervention with the high school kids. For me, Lew’s assertion that “there’s no such thing” as bystanders speaks not only to the preceding section, but addresses the major dilemma of the novel that’s to come.
Every Lost Country will be released in early May from Knopf Canada. Hopefully you’ll pick up in the book where we left off in the magazine. Watch this space — we’ll be giving away a few signed copies in this space to help with the transition.
(Illustration by Benbo George)
Picture this: it’s a cold, snowy November evening; you arrive home after a long day at work to find a snowman on your front lawn. After greeting your husband and son, you compliment them on their charming, Frosty-like creation in the yard. They are confused — they didn’t build a snowman at all. But if they didn’t, who did? And why is it facing the house?
So begins The Snowman by Norwegian crime novelist Jo Nesbø (pronounced Yo Nezbah), the seventh novel in his Inspector Harry Hole (pronounced Huarry Hooola) series. Harry is a character who lives in the tradition of the hard-boiled detective. A recovering alcoholic who keeps a bottle of Jim Beam under the sink in case of emergency, he is, in Nesbø’s words, “morally dubious.” You’re never quite sure whether he will make the right choices. But you know you want him to.
The Snowman, originally published in 2007 under the title Snømannen, is the fifth of Nesbø’s novels to be translated into English. The book follows Harry as he tracks a serial killer through the streets of Oslo, Bergen (Norway’s second-largest city), and the Norwegian countryside. At the scene of each murder, the killer leaves a snowman as a calling card, beckoning Harry to track him — or her — down. The technical construction of The Snowman is an impressive achievement in itself; Nesbø keeps his reader guessing until the very end by avoiding gender pronouns for the killer until the big reveal.
Nesbø is one of his country’s most popular authors, having sold over 3.5 million books worldwide. Born in Oslo, his family moved to the small town of Molde when he was eight years old. Returning to Oslo after university, Nesbø rekindled his love affair with the city. His “romantic” feelings for the city are evident in The Snowman, where it becomes a second main character. In addition to the Harry Hole series, Nesbø has written two stand-alone novels, a collection of short stories, and a series of children’s books. A man of many talents, he also fronts the popular, but mostly defunct, Norwegian band Di Derre and has worked as an economist. I recently interviewed him on a park bench in Toronto. (more…)
The first time I meet S. he talks about the importance of killing: “Only by killing his enemies can an Awajun establish his leadership. That is why we train our youth how to fight.”
He says this because, in his view, Peru’s native communities will never achieve their demands through dialogue alone.
What are those demands? First, to be granted title over ancestral lands — a step the government has agreed to in principal, while in practice signing over just a third of the recognized territory — and second, to be consulted before any industrial activity takes place on those lands.
Last week, the International Labour Organization declared that Peru’s government was obliged to halt all resource exploitation until proper consultation with affected natives and campesinos could take place. This derives from Article 169 of the ILO, which the Peruvian government has signed. The ILO’s demand was quickly, predictably repeated by groups ranging from Survival International, an NGO representing indigenous rights worldwide, to Peru’s own National Coordinator for Human Rights. The government, just as predictably, declined to respond, leaving it to a representative of Peru’s business community to remind leftists that Article 169 isn’t legally binding.
S. and I are sitting in a small restaurant beside the humble Lima office of AIDESEP, the national association of Amazon Indians. He is working through a plate of lomo saltado for breakfast; dressed in jeans and a plain red t-shirt, he’s a slight man in his early forties who speaks quietly, with a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth. (more…)
You’d think I’d know better. After spending the better part of three years examining the course of American pop culture in the Muslim world, I’ve waded into another fraught cultural cage match, thus inviting a second volley of apparently endless, staggeringly well-argued commentary and hate mail. Woe is me, and all that. The reaction to “Cape Flats Calling,” my Walrus Blog post on the so-called Zef-rap outfit Die Antwoord, along with the general interweb frenzy regarding the band, is a reminder that 150 years after Manet outraged the Paris salon with his Olympia remix, art can still get folks hot under the collar. Millions of Die Antwoord–related bits and bytes have been uploaded, a fair bit of actual ink has been spilled; it thus appears that a quick revisit is called for.
Die Antwoord are a white South African rap group, lead by a gangly fellow named Ninja, who channel (or appropriate, or ape, depending on your view of these things) Cape Town Flats–coloured gang culture, creating a mash-up of grime, rave, and old-school hip hop. In early February, after a number of influential blogs picked up on their free-to-download album $0$, they became the first genuine internet phenomena of this brand new decade. Entirely complicit in all the promotional brouhaha, Die Antwoord have surfed the capricious wave of Web 3.0 on, some say, the backs of a marginalized community who will decidedly not be joining them on the stage at Coachella. The band is now negotiating with the home of the Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga, and M.I.A., Interscope Records. Them’s the big leagues.
If journalism is literature in a hurry, then web-journalism is literature at warp speed. In my first post, I made a number of errors — since corrected — that somehow escaped the sentinels at my normally impenetrable factual firewall. For those, I was rightly taken to task. Interestingly, a measure of the criticism directed my way comes from a piece on indie music Mecca Pitchfork, in which Ninja called my assessment of their music “quite fuckin’ brilliant.” I have thus been labeled a Die Antwoord booster, as if the brokest band in the known universe sent a Lear Jet round to schlep me off to gigs, softening me up with tik, coconut bongs, and luxury guided tours of Cape Town’s ghettos. There was also some suggestion that Die Antwoord’s popularity was driven mostly by the fervour of people just like me, white South African expatriates who spend their time in Australia, the UK, and Canada trawling the net for: (a) anything that confirms the fact that SA is now an unlivable disaster zone rife with violent crime, thus validating their decision to emigrate, and (b) anything that scratches their paradoxical itch for home. But Interscope does not consider signing bands based on the listening requirements of white ex-Johannesburgers; Die Antwoord must thus be considered a genuine global pop cultural phenomenon. It’s worth considering why that may be. (more…)
The Walrus needs your help. To celebrate our upcoming Summer Reading issue, we’re asking you — the reader — to select the cover for us. Anyone can participate, but we’ll need your email address to enter you in a draw to win fabulous prizes, including a framed print of the victorious cover (retail value $99), a Drawn & Quarterly gift pack, and a one-year subscription to The Walrus.
Internationally acclaimed cartoonist Seth (Palooka-ville, It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken) has crafted two whimsical illustrations to choose from. You have until 5:00 pm EST on May 6 to pick your favourite here. We’ll announce the winning voters on June 14th — at which point everyone can check their local newsstands to see which cover design prevailed.
Three years ago, when the Amazon Kindle was little more than a gleam in Jeff Bezos’s eye, I wrote an article for The Walrus called “Apocalypse Soon: The future of reading.” In it, I lamented how my book publishers had prevented me from releasing my debut novel online, and predicted an e-book revolution, the rise of e-readers, widespread e-piracy, the demise of many publishers and booksellers, and, ultimately, a world in which readers would decide whether to pay for books after reading them.
Now seems like a good time to follow up. Not least because my predictions appear to be coming true. E-readers like the Kindle, the Nook, and the iPad (with its associated iBooks app) are spreading everywhere; the market share of e-books has already eclipsed audiobooks, and continues to grow like bamboo; local bookstores are vanishing by the hundred, Amazon has gone to war against publishers over e-book prices, and Borders is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Meanwhile, the publishing industry has been sufficiently shaken that hardly a day goes by without one of its dinosaurs penning another tedious navel-gazing essay about this terrifying brave new world. (Most such claim that piracy won’t be a significant factor, from which I conclude that the essayists in question are either smoking crack or in deep denial.)
But the important question isn’t What does this all mean for the book business? What matters is What does it mean for books? (Though authors, and aspiring authors — a group which, so far as I can tell, includes approximately half the human population — tend to also tack on What does it mean for us?) Answers are hard to come by. My friend Jo Walton recently wrote a blog post about her personal experience with online publication entitled “Some actual information about ebooks”; it ends with, “I’m posting this because it’s not handwaving or airy speculation, it’s actual data, of which there seems to be something of a shortage.”
She’s quite right. And so, in a similar vein, I’d like to tell you about my squirrel. (more…)
In the March 2010 issue of The Walrus, Arno Kopecky’s article “Law of the Jungle” took a hard look at Canada’s recent free trade deal with Peru. A few days ago, Kopecky flew back into Lima, Peru’s capital, en route to the country’s northern jungle. During the months to come, he’ll be “piping up semi-regularly” from the region with notes on local effects of the Canadian government’s so-called Americas Strategy. This is his first post of the blog series to come.
It seems that strategy matters to the Harper Administration, which made sure the proposed Free Trade Agreement with Colombia was the first bill Parliament saw after prorogation. The issue of free trade always inspires colourful debate, but this one is particularly heated, in light of allegations linking Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s government to an impressively wide range of human rights abuses. CBC’s The Current ran a good piece on the issue in late February; writing in the Globe and Mail a few days later, Campbell Clark suggested that our government’s motivations in signing the deal have less to do with money than power. After all, he noted, Colombia only buys about 0.2 percent of our exports, so what’s really going on here is a snub to Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, arch enemy of Prez Uribe and all things fair and free.
While I don’t doubt Harper’s enthusiasm for the Great Game (and hockey too), I do think it’s important to consider what we might want to buy, and on what terms, from an oil-sodden country filled with precious woods and metals. So far, there’s little evidence that even the most benevolent intentions from Ottawa and Bogota can enforce human rights and environmental regulations in Colombia’s hinterland.
I haven’t been to Colombia yet, so rather than wade deeper into speculative cynicism, I’ll refer to an experience I had last fall in another resource-loaded, regulation-deprived country now linked by free trade to Canada: Peru. Speaking off the record (sigh) with a Canadian diplomat in Lima, I asked why Canada had refused to publicly criticize Peru’s government for a lethal clampdown on native protesters in the Peruvian Amazon last June — precisely the kind of action everyone fears in Colombia. (The Peruvian protests were a direct response to free trade and resource extraction on native land.) This seemed as good a chance as any to hold our trade partners accountable for human rights. The diplomat, however, assured me that conversations were taking place behind closed doors, and that to raise the issue publicly would be counterproductive.
Really? Then why did Peter Kent, our Minister of State of Foreign Affairs for the Americas, immediately and publicly condemn Chavez — with whom Canada is not even considering a FTA — for shutting down six television stations in January? I don’t ask that question to endorse Chavez or his tactics. But as Canada starts hurling sticks and carrots into Latin America, I wonder how carefully we’re watching where they land. Sooner or later, folks here will start throwing them back.