Tuesday, April 06, 2010
CITIES OF REFUGE by Michael Helm (2010)
This third novel by Michael Helm is his best to date and the two previous ones made it to the short list of the top fiction prize in Canada, the Scotiabank Giller. I expect no less of this one, except I dare to hope that it be selected the 2010 winner.
In CITIES OF REFUGE subtle Russian nesting doll narratives and meditations on loss and violence set it apart from other literary novels, though paradoxically Helm's stylistic restraint is reminiscent of Coetzee's. If you've read the Nobel Laureate's DISGRACE, you'll know what I mean.
In spare and haunting prose, Helm both unravels and weaves the stories of 28-year-old Kim and her estranged father Harold, an historian of Latin America. Both Kim and Harold have come face-to-face with blind violence and it is that untenable bond that cleaves them.
CITIES OF REFUGE is also a novel about illegal immigrants and the people who try to help them find new lives when there may be absolutely no reason to hope. And, it is a love letter to Toronto neighborhoods, to a dying mother and to those with the power to save or condemn. Expect to be challenged morally and intellectually by this worthy and moving book.