Gift Guide Week: Taslim Burkowicz
Author of Chocolate Cherry Chai and Ruby Red Skies (both Roseway Publishing) Taslim Burkowicz kicks off 2022's Gift Guide Week with four stellar fiction picks and one memoir for the flapper wannabe, dystopia watcher, or productive grandparent (plus two more!) on your list.See more details below
Filthy Sugar by Heather Babcock (Inanna Publications)
For that person in your life who counts The Great Gatsby as one of their favourites, is always down for a Roaring Twenties party, and can do the Charleston at the drop of a hat.
Set in the dirty thirties, with a sexually charged burlesque dancer as its lead, Filthy Sugar does not shy away from bold scenes or scandal, tying up the goods in pretty bowtie of jazzy slang. A romp of a read, the book exposes the limited income opportunities women faced in the thirties which made them vulnerable to abuse, how capitalist bigwigs exploited the workforce by crushing unions and outing the Reds, and how sexuality was constantly under surveillance. The protagonist, Wanda Wiggles, is as sultry as she is out of control, and her refusal to follow all laws makes this novel a page turner. The book also features a list of old-time pop culture trivia, slang, and a movie guide in the back, allowing the true vintage fan to look up some classics of the silver screen. Filthy Sugar is best paired with a swing playlist, a gin martini, ruby red lipstick, some glad rags, and a (faux) fur jacket.
Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century, Kim Fu (Coach House Books)
For the person who enjoys Black Mirror, references 1984, and claims they read The Handmaid’s Tale long before it was trendy.
Printed on stunning paper stock, this Kafkaesque compilation of short stories presents readers with a new world order after climate change has wreaked havoc. It isn’t hard to imagine people living in a supermall and becoming increasingly alienated from one another; to picture sea monsters made of trash increasing in size and danger, or even to hear of rich people printing off new bodies on a 3-D printer. Each dystopian fiction piece, whether is it about virtual reality meetings with someone you lost or a young girl sprouting wings, makes the far fetched believable. Due to the world’s pending climate disaster, one of Fu’s characters believes normal activities like weddings on a sunset beach are an undeserved absurdity she doesn’t want “because they kept their windows closed all summer to keep out the wildfire, the sun a defined red disk in the haze that gave everything a Martian glow” (154). Dark, poetic, and thought provoking, this book might even coax someone out of their Stranger Things binge session.
Ezra’s Ghosts, Darcy Tamayose (NeWest Press)
For that grandparent who taught us to make cabbage soup, speak Japanese, or garden.
Covering immigration, alienation, abuse, and death, the short stories in Tamayose’s science fiction/ghost story/murder mystery novel compliment one another, with the first and last coming full circle. Told in part from the perspectives of ghosts, Tamayose addresses the mysterious places people go when they have died a wrongful death, while also spilling the outrage of an abused Mother Earth. As the Earth takes out its vengeance on the Prairies in the form of windstorms, Tamayose weaves the art of Japanese culture and spirituality into her stories, presenting a world where magic, love, and justice bring balance to life. Tamayose’s seamless integration of Japanese phrases in her writing reminds one of Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being and Chinese-American author Amy Tan’s 100 Secret Senses. One of Tamayose’s characters analyses the end of the world as being “[a]pocalyptic. Yup, it truly was the end of the world, he thought as he proceeded parenthetically to assess the historiography of dystopian books he had read, games he had played, and movies he had caught on Netflix over the years – bleak endings all” (126).
Nothing Will Be Different, Tara McGowan-Ross (Dundurn Press)
For the person in your life that needs to forgive themselves for making mistakes.
Reminiscent of the Sinéad O’Connor song “Nothing Compares 2 U”, this memoir gives a raw account of an Indigenous woman finding herself and sobriety after years of being on auto pilot, all because she finds a lump in her breast. We see McGowan-Ross’s coming of age as she transitions into many roles: hardcore punk, barista, student, tree planter, nanny, bookseller, poet, performer, and polyamorist. McGowan-Ross does not shy away from sharing unhealthy obsessions for people who didn’t deserve her love and her body image insecurities. Her lowest points include getting wasted and having to sludge through hours of snow to find her wallet, as well as coaxing another person out of sobriety. McGowan-Ross aptly summarizes the feeling of regret when one fails at making changes: “When I woke up, I felt like such an idiot. I felt like an idiot the way I always did after doing something I was hyping myself up specifically not to do. I can make such a compelling argument. Then it’s over, and I’m just sitting in my life, and nothing is different” (269).
Dominoes at the Crossroads: Stories, Kaie Kellough (Véhicule Press)
For the theorist and nonfiction reader in your life; for that person who wants to contextualize their African ancestry within Canadian culture; and for someone who the needs proof that we have yet to achieve a post-racial society.
Kellough’s collection of short stories looks at how colonialism runs through us in every fibre of our beings, from the person of colour raised in Canada and now distrusted by the people of their native country to a Black busker looking at colonial statues in wonder. Kellough sees the world through the eyes of the slave history of Canada, exposing slave wanted ads, the story of Marie Joseph Angélique who was tortured for burning slave owner’s homes in Montreal, and the forced evacuation of a Black neighbourhood in Nova Scotia, all while navigating contemporary forms of racism in a supposedly changed Canada. His stories thus superimpose the past upon the future, and in some cases, the future upon the past, proving that who we are is “informed by the city’s Black history” (22) and that we carry the imprint and burden of Black ancestors. This book pairs well with Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks.
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Taslim Burkowicz’s work is inspired both by her Indo-Canadian heritage and her global travels and experiences. She has published two previous novels, The Desirable Sister and Chocolate Cherry Chai, which was listed on CBC Books’ 2017 Fall Preview. She has a bachelor’s degree in political science and education from Simon Fraser University. Taslim resides with her husband and three boys in Surrey, B.C., where she focuses on writing, running and dancing.
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Many, many thanks to Taslim Burkowicz for her astute and carefully-considered holiday recs! Stay tuned all week for more picks from book experts across the country.
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