1. The Orenda by Joseph Boyden
The words I used to describe this book are "sweeping, powerful, epic, breathtaking." Following a young Iroquois girl, a Huron Warrior, and a Jesuit missionary, this book takes readers on an incredible journey into the history of our First Nations people. Longlisted for the 2013 Giller Prize and shortlisted for the 2013 Governor General's Award, it won Canada Reads in 2014.
2. Emancipation Day by Wayne Grady
Emancipation Day by Wayne Grady is a moving and touching novel that looks at how far a man would go to belong and how far his family would go to let him. Against the backdrop of jazz music and the second World War, this is a novel about love, family, sacrifice, secrets, and race. Longlisted for the 2013 Giller Prize and winner of the Amazon.ca First Book Award, this book was my favourite of 2013.
3. The Imposter Bride by Nancy Richler
A young woman arrives in post-war Montreal to marry a man she has never met. But when Lily Azerov steps off the train, her fiancee takes one look at her and leaves. Her would-be brother-in-law takes pity on her and marries her but it quickly becomes apparent to those around her that Lily isn't who she claims to be. And when she disappears, leaving behind her husband and baby daughter, all of the questions surrounding her identity remain unanswered. Shortlisted for the 2012 Giller Prize.
4. Juliet in August/Cool Water by Dianne Warren
This book was released in Canada in 2010 as Cool Water and later in the United States as Juliet in August. Welcome to the town of Juliet, Saskatchewan, population 1011. At first glimpse you would think that there isn't much to this dusty oasis. But a closer look at some of the inhabitants show that this town is full of life and that its people are its heartbeat. It is quick, engaging and heartwarming and is a great example of Canadian fiction.
5. The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill
This book takes readers on an incredible journey from West Africa, to an American plantation, on to a small community in Nova Scotia, the coast of Sierra Leone in West Africa and finally to London, England. The journey belongs to fictional character Aminata Diallo but is that of the thousands of Africans forced into slavery. Titled Someone Knows My Name in the US and Australia, soon to be a mini-series airing on CBC in Canada and BET in the United States.
6. Touch by Alexi Zentner
This is a beautiful story of a pioneering family, the three generations that carved their place in the wilderness and the ways in which the wilderness remains forever imprinted on their lives. Monsters, witches and golden caribou roam the woods as the townspeople face love and death amidst the crippling cold of the logging town. A 2011 Giller Prize nominee, the prefect words to describe this debut novel are evocative, stunning, haunting, and page-turner.
More by Austin Clarke
More is a wonderfully written book that does not hold back on its criticism of the state of race and poverty in Canada. Austin Clarke challenges readers to see Toronto from a different perspective, what is often an invisible perspective to so many. Idora’s story is that of so many immigrant women to Toronto, who are striving to make their lives better for their children in a place where every opportunity should be given to them but isn’t. Clarke portrays the city of Toronto beautifully. It is a character unto itself with its emotions, beauty and contradictions
8. Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay
Late Nights on Air is an incredible story about life in the North, it's harshness and isolation, it's sense of community and beauty. Characters lives play out against the backdrop of daily life in the Northwest Territories, as well as the Mackenzie Pipeline Project Inquiry. Relationships form, and complications arise. Love, loss, jealousy and trust all play out in this book. The book will peak your interest in the Canadian North and the beauty that it provides. Late Nights on Air was the winner of the Giller Prize in 2007.
9. Kicking the Sky by Anthony De Sa
This is a fictional work driven by the real life event of the murder of Emanuel Jaques. It takes you back in time to when Toronto’s famed Yonge Street was surrounded by strip clubs, bars, and body rub parlours. And it introduces you to a community full of hardworking people who were struggling to attain their immigrant dreams but watching them slip away. This is an incredible coming of age story set against a tragic backdrop.
10. In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje
A fictional account of the lives of the immigrant men who physically built Toronto in the early 1900's but whose stories aren't told in the official history. Weaving real-life stories into the story of the migrant men who built some of Toronto's biggest landmarks, this is an incredible novel. First published in 1987, one of my favourite Canadian novels of all-time and one I'm reminded of every time I drive under the Bloor Street Viaduct.
What Canadian novels would you recommend to someone who hasn't read CanLit?