Tag Archives: “Esi Edugyan”

Canada Reads 2014: The Debate Continues and It’s Down to Two


By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

This year’s theme for the 13th annual battle of the books that is Canada Reads hosted by Jian Ghomeshi,  is: What is the one novel to change our nation? Which is the one novel all of Canada should read that can instill social change? Which book will inspire Canadians the most to take action?

There will be four days of debate and at the end of each show each panelist will vote to eliminate one title.

The five contenders in this annual book contest and round-table debates are:

Cockroach by Rawi Hage defended by Samantha Bee, Correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

cockroach cvr

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan defended by Donovan Bailey, world record holder for the indoor 50-metre dash.

half-blood blues cvr

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden defended by Wab Kinew, Journalist and Aboriginal Activist. the orenda cvr Annabel by Kathleen Winter defended by Sarah Gadon, Actress.

annabel cvr

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood defended by Stephen Lewis, Chair of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which provides support to women and children in Africa living with HIV/AIDS.

year of the flood2


Day One

After three days of debate, the first day introduced the panelists and their subsequent books in competition with a rapid 60-second plea by panelists on behalf of the books they champion.

 While Wab Kinew made an aggressive and dramatic introduction to The Orenda by Joseph Boyden, Sarah Gadon made a compelling argument about compassion on behalf of Annabel by Kathleen Winter. And though Donovan Bailey’s introduction was as speedy as his world record in the 50-metre dash, his points rooted for Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan. Samantha Bee was a passionate contender on behalf of the subject of immigration in Cockroach by Rawi Hage and Stephen Lewis was as articulate in his free-form intro of The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood as expected by his impressive, intellectual, diplomatic, and activist background (the man has 37 honorary degrees!).

Perhaps the other panelists feared the power of Stephen Lewis’ future arguments and preferred not to debate him, nor keep him at the round table, but preferred to get rid of their competition early, which may explain the first elimination:

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

year of the flood elimination

Day Two

On Day Two, the panelists were raring to go, ready to defend their titles to one another. Though The Orenda by Joseph Boyden was highly attacked for being a book of “missed opportunity,” critiqued for its acute violence, which Wab Kinew passionately defended, the book was not eliminated.

Instead, when the vote took place, Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan was taken off the table, argued against for its geographical and contextual distance from the Canadian experience.

half-blood-blues elimination

Day Three

Day Three has been by far the most active debate on behalf of all panelists especially covering the issue of intersex people in the novel, Annabel, by Kathleen Winter.

After a passionate debate all around, much to Sarah Gadon’s disappointment, Annabel was voted off by the majority of the panelists.

annabel-cvr elimination


Be sure to return on Friday for the winning result of Canada Reads!


Which book do you think will win Canada Reads? Cockroach by Rawi Hage or The Orenda by Joseph Boyden?

Do you think the context of the books were seriously considered in the voting process or do you think the eliminations were primarily strategic based on the panelists?

Are you #TeamCockroach or #TeamOrenda?


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Top 20 Bookish Memories

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Top 20 Bookish Memories


By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

1. Winning my very first short story prize.

first prize ribbon

When I was seven-years-old, I wrote a three-page short story about a boy who was accidentally locked in the basement. I submitted it to my teacher as a writing assignment for English and was surprised to be asked to read it aloud in front of my class and then received a First Place prize for it. It was a wonderful affirmation of my joy in writing and reading and my first experience in reading in front of an “audience,” even if they were only a group of my seven-year-old peers.

2. Getting accepted into the Creative Writing Program at York University.

vanier residence
I lived at the Vanier Residence for my first two years of study at York University in the Creative Writing Program. Photo from: http://www.yorku.ca

The best Creative Writing Program in the country is known to be the program at the University of British Columbia (UBC). The next best program is the Creative Writing Program at York University. Since I received a York University Entrance Scholarship and was living in the GTA at the time, attending York University in Toronto made a lot of sense. It was a relief and privilege to finally receive my acceptance letter to the Creative Writing Program at York after I submitted my writing portfolio—an achievement that gave me a great sense of pride and fulfilment.

3. Seeing my work in print when published for the first time.

(c) "The Worm" by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
(c) “The Worm” by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.


It’s quite an experience to see your work, which began as a simple idea, become a draft and then again into perhaps a number of drafts after many revisions, finally come off press and in print. When if first happened to me, I was filled with pride and disbelief.

4. Seeing my son learn how to read for the first time.

My son, Michael---the Book Worm (like Mommy).
My son, Michael—the Book Worm (like Mommy). (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

I remember the first time the meaning of words in print were finally revealed to me and the feeling I had when I finally understood what it meant to be able to read. When I witnessed my son read his first words off the page out loud, I was extremely proud to see him pass such an important milestone and nostalgic of my own memories of reading as a child. The picture above is a picture of Michael already eight-years-old and able to read chapter books!

5. Meeting Barbara Gowdy in person, having a conversation with her, and a glass of red wine.

Barbara Gowdy
Barbara Gowdy

One of my professors for the Prose Fiction Workshop course I took as part of my studies in the Creative Writing Program at York was published poet and author, Christopher Dewdney, who also happened to be the long-term partner of author, Barbara Gowdy. Barbara Gowdy also just happens to be one of my favourite authors! Because of her connection with my professor, I was able to meet her personally during her reading of her new book at that time, White Bone, with a special introduction from Christopher Dewdney. She gave me writing advice while we both sipped red wine. It’s one of my all-time favourite bookish memories.

6. Being asked to join Random House of Canada’s Blogging Team.

Random House logo at front reception. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Random House logo at front reception. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.


When I was asked to officially join the Blogging Team for the prestigious and largest publishing company in Canada, Random House of Canada, I was absolutely thrilled. They have always published an excellent quality of literary fiction, which is my preferred genre, and their books have published many of my own favourite Canadian authors such as Margaret Atwood, Leonard Cohen, M.G. Vassanji, etc. Reviewing books for Random House of Canada continues to give me great joy and privilege!

7. Becoming an editorial assistant for the literary journal, Existere.



When I was accepted as an editorial assistant for the literary journal, Existere, I was extremely excited to be able to work alongside peers of the same creative interests. My experience there taught me to sharpen my critical and editorial eye and have a first-hand peek at the publishing world. Not to mention, I was able to make great friends who also happened to passionate about reading and creative writing.

8. Reading my poetry for a Poetry Night reading at the Grad Lounge.

The Grad Lounge Bill. I was first up that night! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The Grad Lounge Bill. I was first up that night! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.


Writers tend to be introverts. Who else could tolerate hours of writing in solitude? So, when I was slotted to read one of my poems for Poetry Night at the Grad Lounge, it was not only an honour, it was a nerve-wrecking experience. I’m naturally a shy and introverted person, but to be able to share my work with others in this type of venue meant getting up and reading my work out loud…in front of an audience…live! While I was perhaps self-conscious of that fact, I read through my poem with ease (since it was of course, so familiar), and was elated to receive a good response from the audience. When I left the stage, the bartender actually complimented me on my work, “That was a really good poem, good job!” While it made me blush, it helped to reaffirm my motivation to continue writing.

9. Attending my very first Canadian Book Expo.



When I worked as an editorial assistant for a small publishing house, UCPH, a few of us were granted the opportunity to attend the Canadian Book Expo event in Toronto. It’s an event that hosts Canadian publishers an opportunity to showcase their publications and their authors by providing members of the publishing and book world with free copies of books, ARCs, galleys, and book signings. For a book lover like myself amongst the many hundreds of people who attended that particular weekend, The Book Expo was a forum to be able to completely immerse myself in book mania. Both my husband (who was a book buyer at the time) and I attended, which made it even more meaningful.

10. Attending the Random House Blog Fest and meeting Erica Ehm and authors Ami McKay, Erin Morgenstern, and Paula Mclain all in one day.

Authors: Paula Mclain, Erin Morgenstern, Ami McKay at Random House Blog Fest, Feb. 2012. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Authors: Paula Mclain, Erin Morgenstern, Ami McKay at Random House Blog Fest, Feb. 2012. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.


Me and Erica Ehm. Random House Blog Fest, Feb. 2012. (c) Photo Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Me and Erica Ehm. Random House Blog Fest, Feb. 2012. (c) Photo Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.


As a book addict and potential author worshipper, to be able to attend an elite event such as The Random House Blog Fest in February 2012 meant that I was privileged enough to meet not one favourite author, but three! I was not only able to meet them, but I was able to chat, take photos, and receive personally signed books! What more could a bibliotaphe ask for? Not to mention, I was surprised to also meet Erica Ehm, the former V-Jay of Muchmusic, who I had watched religiously as a teenager!

11. Receiving a personal tweet from Margaret Atwood.

Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood


As most of my readers know, Margaret Atwood is not only a Canadian literary icon, but one of my favourite authors. I had written a review on her book, Cat’s Eye, and published on my blog as well as shared it online on Twitter. Margaret Atwood actually read my review and tweeted me personally in response!

12. Receiving my very first book for review from a publisher—and it was signed!

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. My signed copy! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. My signed copy! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.


The first book I received for review was The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I not only thoroughly enjoyed reading the novel, I was so happy to have coveted a copy that was personally signed by the author. Imagine my surprise, when I was able to meet her later in person at the Random House Blog Fest later that year!

13. Receiving news that other publishers would like me to review a book(s) for them on a regular basis.

Slowly, but surely, other publishers came through in deciding to put me on their book blogging distribution list. It certainly is flattering to be asked to review books for more than one publisher on a regular basis. It’s also a great opportunity and privilege to work with creative people in the industry who, though don’t pay me monetarily for my reviews, pay me in kind with free books and collegial, working relationships.

A special thanks goes out to the Trisha at House of Anansi, Corey at Goose Lane Editions, Emily at Constable & Robinson, and Anneliese at Simon & Schuster!

14. Creating my book blog, The Bibliotaphe Closet



When I created my book blog, The Bibliotaphe Closet, for the very first time, the achievement of learning how to publish a posting in itself was rewarding. Prior to The Bibliotaphe Closet, I was completely unfamiliar with the blogosphere and the working of WordPress. It was wonderful to create a forum to advocate literacy, share my thoughts about books I’ve read, and to be a part of an online reading community—all with my personal branding!

While many of those who don’t blog merely consider blogging as a “nice, little (and perhaps useless) hobby,” book bloggers themselves know the amount of time and effort it takes to create — and maintain a book blog.

I am happy to see The Bibliotaphe Closet survive and pass its first year bloggoversary. The Bibliotaphe Closet is now a-year-and-two-months old!

15. Receiving a personal tweet or blog comment from Eugenia Kim, Benjamin Wood, and Scott Fotheringham in response to my reviews of their books.

I had written a review of Eugenia Kim’s novel, The Calligrapher’s Daughter. It was an absolute pleasure to discover she had read my review and left a comment to thank me personally for my work. She was the first author who contacted me in response to a review I had written and it made me realize that, yes, authors do indeed read the reviews book bloggers write and appreciate the thought and work put into them.

Since then, I have received personal tweets and comments from authors like Benjamin Wood for his novel, The Bellwether Revivals, and Scott Fotheringham for his novel, The Rest Is Silence.


@zaraalexis So pleased you connected so strongly with the book, Zara. Thanks for the thoughtful review.

— Benjamin Wood (@bwoodauthor) March 22, 2012

Hey! Thanks @zaraalexis for the review in your blog. Glad you liked it.

— Scott Fotheringham (@SFotheringham) May 1, 2012


16. Winning and receiving a personally signed copy of Haruki Murakami’s limited edition novel, 1Q84, by winning the Haruki Murakami Writing Contest.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.


My signed copy of 1Q84. Limited edition. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
My signed copy of 1Q84. Limited edition. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.


It’s one thing to receive a free book from winning a giveaway contest; it’s quite another thing to win a free book that happens to also be signed in a limited edition because you’ve won a writing contest! One of the most treasured books in my entire book collection is Haruki Murakami’s signed novel, 1Q84 because of how I received it and, of course, the opportunity I have to own it personally, and the pleasure I have to read it someday.

17. Chatting with Esi Edugyan, author of Half-Blood Blues, online.

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan.
Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan.


esi edugyan
Esi Edugyan. From: http://www.esiedugyan.com/images/author.jpg

The novel Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan won the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2012. It took Esi Edugyan eight years to write her debut novel and the time was well spent since its debut not only put her on the longlist and shortlist of the $50,000 Giller Prize, but actually won her the Big Kahuna!

To chat with her live online was a pleasure. Here’s a portion of that conversation I had with Esi Edugyan through the CBC Book Club Chat event on January 27, 2012:

As an award-winning writer and a friend in the craft, what’s the best advice you can give to aspiring writers out there (okay, by this, I mean: me)?

by you 3:41 PM

My advice to aspiring writers is first, to read everything, and secondly, to keep going. When the rejections are pouring in, keep going. If you’re advised to stop, keep going.
by Esi Edugyan 3:42 PM

18. Buying my very first book from my school Book Fair.

My original copy of "Charlotte's Web" by E.B. White that I bought as a child from my school Book Fair. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
My original copy of “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White that I bought as a child from my school Book Fair. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.


My first inscribed signature at eight-years-old. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
My first inscribed signature at eight-years-old. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.


I didn’t get allowance as a child so I had no means of buying myself a copy of any book at my school Book Fair. I did, however, convince my mom and dad to give me money so that I could place an order through Scholastic Inc. I remember wanting only one book at that time: Charlotte’s Web by E.B.White.

When the book arrived at school and my name was called so I could pick it up from the library’s Book Fair, I was so happy. When I received it, I simply stared at it in awe. My very first purchased book! I remember inscribing my name inside the front cover just to make it official. While it’s a little tattered, I still own the original copy I bought as a child.

19. Listening to Gordon Korman read in my school auditorium when I was eight-years-old.

gordon korman book cvr


Aside from reading books by Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, I also read a lot of books written by Gordon Korman when I was a kid. When I heard the news that my school was hosting a special reading by him in the school auditorium, I was starstruck. I couldn’t believe the person who had written all the books that I spent all my time reading at that time would be in my school gymnasium! Though I didn’t have a camera to capture this moment, this bookish memory has stayed with me for a very long time—it would have to—I was only eight.

20. The times I have cried in response to being deeply moved while reading a wonderful book.

There is nothing more wonderful than being deeply moved by a story you’ve read. While I’ve enjoyed reading many different kinds of novels, there are those that I remember that have simply moved me to tears, or rage, or both! And those are the best books and bookish memories one can have—how books and their stories make such an emotional impact on one’s life.


Thanks to the Broke and the Bookish blog for providing and hosting this weekly meme!

How many wonderful bookish memories can you recall?

Which books have you read that moved you to tears? Or rage? Or both?


zara alexis blog signature

A Review: Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

A Review:

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan


By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis


Category: Literary Fiction

Author: Esi Edugyan

Format: Hardcover, 304 pages

Publisher: Thomas Allen Publishers

ISBN: 978-0887-6274-15

Pub Date: August 25, 2011

Winner of the 2012 Giller Prize



 I could say I finished this “gem” of a book, but to call it that would do it an injustice. This jazzy, soulful novel isn’t a gem; it’s a whole lot of gems in a truckload—a mine. Hell, I wept at key parts (that if you’ve read it, will know exactly which parts I’m referring to) and I’m no crying type…well, not really.

I usually come at a book as a ruthless editor and a fair, but brutally honest, sometimes brash reviewer. But this Giller beauty has earned every penny and glory worth its acclaimed prize.It’s a little rough at the beginning, and by that, I don’t mean poor in writing, but brittle in narrative that forces you as the reader to realize how you read, think, and speak.

The dialogue, like the story, grows on you until our very thoughts mimic its language and tone. I was easily and unnoticeably transported to pre-war Berlin, but not just any Berlin, but its underbelly: its hot spots, its seedy bars, its jazz-crooning, smooth-wiling ways. Its nightlife—no, the potency of its life—its jazz as a tangible, organic thing.

While reading, I wished I could literally “hear” the music being played, the essence of it reverberating off the pages. As the band of brothers, these soulful jazz creators, worshipped Louis Armstrong, jazz, and the life of jazz itself, I, too, became infatuated with its dinginess, its raw energy, its powerful hypnosis on the band, their listeners, and on the readers of the novel.

The heart of “real” jazz seemed to be expressed as an impromptu blending, a magic that cannot be duplicated, or created by imitation, perfection, or musical scores—but could be invoked by the players themselves in their individual talent, their feel and unit as a group, and their own layers of interpretation and surprise.

Jazz, the music, a fundamental thread in the book, by that definition, spoke of the players’ unstructured, chaotic, and unexpected lives.

Like the band of men, Paul, Fritz, Sid, Chip, Hiero Falk—the joy, melancholy, suffering, pain, and redemption they experience in the life force of the music they play and vice versa.

What is achingly beautiful about this book is how interconnected the characters are to jazz, the music, jazz, the life, their compulsion for it, their gifts in creating it, their arduous love and respect towards it—and to each other.

But, it’s not just about jazz. It’s also a book about territory, war, “racial cleansing.” The music, too, is an ostracized, rebellious sibling to its classical counterparts that goes under attack. The very freedom of creativity, art, music, and brotherhood is under fire.

But, even through distinct and separate fates, the men are bonded by their love and passion for the music they create. It’s alive in them.

The book is self-prophetic in saying,

“Blues…blues wasn’t ever bout the cords.” p. 275

Half-Blood Blues will croon you into empathy for a group of men who has had to survive their haunted pasts, the cruelty of a mad-made war, the betrayal and endurance of their friends, and the weaknesses and strengths of their own natural talent.


Zara’s Rating