Honor roll: Governor General's Literary Award for Nonfiction

Each of these books has been nominated for a Governor General's Literary Award for Nonfiction. They are ranked by honors received.

Book:The Golden Spruce

The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed

John Vaillant

As vividly as Jon Krakauer put readers on Everest, John Vaillant takes us into the heart of North America’s last great forest, where trees grow to eighteen feet in diameter, sunlight never touches the ground, and the chainsaws are always at work.

When a shattered kayak and camping gear are found on an uninhabited island, they reignite a mystery surrounding a shocking act of protest. Five months earlier, logger-turned-activist Grant Hadwin had plunged naked into a river in British Columbia’s Queen Charlotte Islands, towing a chainsaw. When his night’s work was done, a unique Sitka spruce, 165 feet tall and covered with luminous golden needles, teetered on its stump. Two days later it fell.

The tree, a fascinating puzzle to scientists, was sacred to the Haida, a fierce seafaring tribe based in the Queen Charlottes. Vaillant recounts the bloody history of the Haida and the early fur trade, and provides harrowing details of the logging industry, whose omnivorous violence would claim both Hadwin and the golden spruce.

Book:Journey with No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page

Journey with No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page

Sandra Djwa

Journey with No Maps is the first biography of P.K. Page, a brilliant twentieth-century poet and a fine artist. The product of over a decade’s research and writing, the book follows Page as she becomes one of Canada’s best-loved and most influential writers. “A borderline being,” as she called herself, she recognized the new choices offered to women by modern life but followed only those related to her quest for self-discovery. Tracing Page’s life through two wars, world travels, the rise of modernist and Canadian cultures, and later Sufi study, biographer Sandra Djwa details the people and events that inspired her work. Page’s independent spirit propelled her from Canada to England, from work as a radio actress to a scriptwriter for the National Film Board, from an affair with poet F.R. Scott to an enduring marriage with diplomat Arthur Irwin. Page wrote her story in poems, fiction, diaries, librettos, and her visual art. …[more]

Book:Leonardo and the Last Supper

Leonardo and the Last Supper

Ross King

Milan, 1496 and forty-four-year-old Leonardo da Vinci has a reputation for taking on commissions and failing to complete them. He is in a state of professional uncertainty and financial difficulty. For eighteen months he has been painting murals in both the Sforza Castle in Milan and the refectory of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. The latter project will become the Last Supper, a complex mural that took a full three years to complete on a surface fifteen feet high by twenty feet wide. Not only had he never attempted a painting of such size, but he had no experience whatsoever in painting in the physically demanding medium of fresco.

For more than five centuries the Last Supper has been an artistic, religious and cultural icon. The art historian Kenneth Clark has called it ’the keystone of European art’, and for a century after its creation it was regarded as nothing less than…[more]

Book:Mordecai:The Life & Times

Mordecai: The Life & Times

Charles Foran

Foran’s book is IT: the definitive, detailed, intimate portrait of Mordecai Richler, the lion of Canadian literature, and the turbulent, changing times that nurtured him. It is also an extraordinary love story that lasted half a century.

The first major biography with access to family letters and archives. Mordecai Richler was an outsized and outrageous novelist whose life reads like fiction.

Mordecai Richler won multiple Governor General’s Literary Awards, the Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, among others, as well as many awards for his children’s books. He also wrote Oscar-nominated screenplays. His influence was larger than life in Canada and abroad. In Mordecai, award-winning novelist and journalist Charlie Foran brings to the page the richness of Mordecai’s life as young bohemian, irreverent writer, passionate and controversial Canadian, loyal friend and deeply romantic lover. He explores Mordecai’s distraught childhood, and gives us the “portrait of a marriage” — the lifelong love affair with Florence, with Mordecai as beloved father of five. The portrait is alive and intimate — warts and all.

Book:Lakeland: Journeys into the Soul of Canada

Lakeland: Journeys into the Soul of Canada

Allan Casey

Lakes define not only Canada’s landscape but the national imagination. Blending writing on nature, travel, and science, award-winning journalist Allan Casey systematically explores how the country’s history and culture originates at the lakeshore. Lakeland describes a series of interconnected journeys by the author, punctuated by the seasons and the personalities he meets along the way including aboriginal fishery managers, fruit growers, boat captains, cottagers, and scientists. Together they form an evocative portrait of these beloved bodies of water and what they mean, from sapphire tarns above the Rocky Mountain tree line to the ponds of western Newfoundland.

Book:A Place Within: Rediscovering India

A Place Within: Rediscovering India

M.G. Vassanji

It would take many lifetimes, it was said to me during my first visit, to see all of India. The desperation must have shown on my face to absorb and digest all I possibly could. This was not something I had articulated or resolved; and yet I recall an anxiety as I travelled the length and breadth of the country, senses raw to every new experience, that even in the distraction of a blink I might miss something profoundly significant.

I was not born in India, nor were my parents; that might explain much in my expectation of that visit. Yet how many people go to the homeland of their grandparents with such a heartload of expectation and momentousness; such a desire to find themselves in everything they see? Is it only India that clings thus, to those who’ve forsaken it; is this why Indians in a foreign land seem always so desperate to seek each other out? What was India to me? …[more]

Book:Fifteen Days: Stories of Bravery

Fifteen Days: Stories of Bravery, Friendship, Life and Death from Inside the New Canadian Army

Christie Blatchford

Long before she made her first trip to Afghanistan as an embedded reporter for The Globe and Mail, Christie Blatchford was already one of Canada’s most respected and eagerly read journalists. Her vivid prose, her unmistakable voice, her ability to connect emotionally with her subjects and readers, her hard-won and hard-nosed skills as a reporter–these had already established her as a household name. But with her many reports from Afghanistan, and in dozens of interviews with the returned members of the 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and others back at home, she found the subject she was born to tackle. Her reporting of the conflict and her deeply empathetic observations of the men and women who wear the maple leaf are words for the ages, fit to stand alongside the nation’s best writing on war.

It is a testament to Christie Blatchford’s skills and integrity that along with the admiration of her readers, she won…[more]

Book:I've Got a Home in Glory Land

I've Got a Home in Glory Land: A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad

Karolyn Smardz Frost

It was the day before Independence Day, 1833. As his bride, Lucie, was about to be sold down the river, Thornton Blackburn planned a daring—and successful—daylight escape from their Louisville masters. Pursued to Michigan, the couple was captured and sentenced to return to Kentucky in chains. But Detroit’s black community rallied to their cause in the Blackburn Riots of 1833, the first racial uprising in the city’s history. Thornton and Lucie were spirited across the river to Canada, but their safety proved illusory when Michigan’s governor demanded their extradition. Canada’s defense of the Blackburns set the tone for all future diplomatic relations with the United States over the thorny issue of the fugitive slave, and confirmed the British colony as the main terminus of the Underground Railroad.

The Blackburns settled in Toronto, where they founded the city’s first taxi business, but they never forgot the millions…[more]

Book:The Judgment of Paris

The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism

Ross King

While the Civil war raged in America, another revolution was beginning to take shape across the Atlantic, in the studios of Paris. The artists who would make Impressionism the most popular art form in history were showing their first paintings amid scorn and derision from the French artistic establishment. Indeed, no artistic movement has ever been, at its inception, quite so controversial. The drama of its birth, played out on canvas, would at times resemble a battlefield; and, as Ross King reveals, Impressionism would reorder both history and culture as it resonated around the world.

The Judgment of Paris chronicles the dramatic decade between two famous exhibitions—the scandalous Salon des Refusés in 1863 and the first Impressionist showing in 1874—set against the splendor of Napoleon III’s Second Empire, and its dramatic fall after the Franco-Prussian War. A tale of many artists, it revolves around the lives of two, described as “the two…[more]

Book:Shake Hands with the Devil

Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda

Roméo Dallaire

The tragic and profoundly important story of the legendary Canadian general who “watched as the devil took control of paradise on earth and fed on the blood of the people we were supposed to protect.”

When Roméo Dallaire was called on to serve as force commander of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda, he believed that his assignment was to help two warring parties achieve the peace they both wanted. Instead, he was exposed to the most barbarous and chaotic display of civil war and genocide in the past decade, observing in just one hundred days the killings of more than eight hundred thousand Rwandans. With only a few troops, his own ingenuity and courage to direct his efforts, Dallaire rescued thousands, but his call for more support from the world body fell on deaf ears. In Shake Hands with the Devil, General Dallaire recreates the awful history the world community chose to ignore. He also chronicles his own progression from confident Cold Warrior to devastated UN commander, and finally to retired general struggling painfully, and publicly, to overcome posttraumatic stress disorder—the highest-ranking officer ever to share such experiences with readers.

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