"Tell" by Frances Itani

It is just a few months after the Great War has ended and the people of Deseronto, Ontario are trying to put the pieces back together.  Kenan, a young soldier, confines himself to his house, damaged and disfigured from his time at the Front.  His wife, Tress, is struggling to adjust to the man who has returned and trying to help him deal with his trauma.  She turns to her Aunt Maggie for advice.

But Maggie and her husband, Am, have their own struggles.  An incident from the past lies unspoken between them.  When Maggie begins rehearsing with the Choral Society, she discovers a part of herself she thought was left in the past.  And as this happens, she draws closer to the Music Director, Lukas, a man who has just recently moved to town from Europe.

As these people go about their daily lives, struggling to find a new normal, they find themselves entwined with each other, and figuring out just what they will share and what they will hide from those who are closest to them.

Tell, by Frances Itani, is a moving novel about the burdens we carry and how the choices we make, even the ones to protect ourselves, can come back to hurt us.  

The setting of a small town in Ontario drew me in, especially since it is set in the months following WW1.  It reminded me of stories I heard from my grandmother, of how life changed because of the war and how people struggled to find a new way to live.  

This is a very unassuming novel, one whose purpose is to quietly hit you with the strength and emotion of the characters.  Unfortunately, for me, it never quite “hit.”  It is an enjoyable story, one that is easy to read.  But I never felt like the emotion came out of the pages.  I never felt much connection to the characters.  The writing style was absolutely beautiful, but the storyline fell flat for me.

This is the first piece of work by Itani I have read and given her achievements in the CanLit world, I’m not going to let it be my last.  This one just wasn’t my cup of tea and that happens.  This book has been shortlisted for the Giller Prize and I know many readers out there really enjoyed it so this is still one I would recommend to others looking for a CanLit read.  


  1. Itani is very subtle in her story telling. I have to be in the right mood for her. But the thing I've found is that one or two of her images stick with me long after I've read the book, so the books seem better in hindsight. I'd almost say her books are GOOD but not necessarily enjoyable, if you get what I mean.

    1. I get what you're saying. The book is very understated and that is definitely something you have to be in the mood for. I think because I was reading it for the Giller (and reading it within a certain time frame) and not because I just picked it up, is why I didn't feel like I was in the right mind for it.


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