Bringing a Voice To The Forgotten-Seven Fallen Feathers

KJ Mullins-Toronto Toronto Star investigative reporter Tanya Talaga's investigation into the 2011 death of teenager Jordan Wabasse opened the door for a horror show of questions. Why is there inequality in the standards of First Nations schools? Why was there negligence on the part of the Canadian Government into the disappearance and death of 7 First Nations' students?

A journalist's job is to dig and Tanya is one of Canada’s best. She began delving into a student death in Thunder Bay and found the broken trail of six more student deaths. The result of that research is her first book, the current #1 non-fiction book in Canada, Seven Fallen Feathers. The explosive expose is shortlisted for the 2018 RBC Charles Taylor Prize.

Racism and discrimination from the government level to the street is an everyday occurrence for Native People in Thunder Bay. In her award-winning book, Seven Fallen Feathers journalist Tanya Talaga examines the deaths of seven young people who moved from reservations in Northern Ontario to Thunder Bay to attend high school.

Talaga's journey to uncover their stories shows how Canada is guilty of neglecting First Nations children and until now getting away with it. The last death took place in 2011; unfortunately, the story is as current today as it was seven years ago. One need look no further than this month’s trial concerning the death of Colten Boushie hammers home the injustices that still befall First Nations people.

Jordan Wabasse. Kyle Morrisseau. Reggie Bushie. Jethro Anderson. Paul Panacheese. Curran Strang. Robyn Harper.

Each of these young people is connected to each other by death. They are all victims of an educational system that is sub-par in a nation that prides itself on its higher learning. They were Canadian children, living in third world conditions on reservations. The how and the why of how they died remains a mystery. The cases were plagued by police bias and racial profiling. City authorities closed their eyes and stood still instead of conducting investigations that would have taken place if the victims hadn’t died in Thunder Bay and were not from First Nations communities.

Author Tanya Talaga's Seven Fallen Feathers brings to light the continuing injustices that First Nations people face every single day, from the broken treaties to governmental promises, she tells the stories of the seven young lives that were lost. Each one of the dead attended Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School(DFC), a private school in Thunder Bay that hosts students from several Sioux Lookout District First Nations reserves.

The stories in Talaga's book “echoes the tragedies that are mirrored across Canada.” The educational issues that children face in Northern Ontario reservations are the same throughout most of Canada. Student funding is in some cases as much as $6,000(per student) less for Native schools than for other schools in the same area. Often First Nations children attend school in classrooms filled with mould, dirty water and a lack of resources. Many youths who want a proper high school education must leave home and family in order to attend Grade 9 and beyond. In Northern Ontario, most students attend DFC.

In each of the seven deaths, the Thunder Bay Police Department failed to notify parents in a timely matter that their children were missing. When the bodies were recovered sub-par forensic investigations took place giving no real detail in how the children died. Considering that several of the boys who died in water were strong swimmers and their bodies were recovered with signs of trauma, it is shocking to read that only a basic autopsies were performed on a number of the dead. Currently, Thunder Bay Police are under review for 40 investigations dating back to the 1990s by Ontario's Office of the Independent Police Review. Almost all of these new cases deal with Indigenous deaths.

According to Talaga DFC tries to do right by their students. There is an on-site Elder for spiritual guidance and dedicated teachers whose jobs don't end when the final bell rings. Teachers struggle mightily to fit the needs of students whose prior education at the primary level has left them years behind the educational curve.

During the hours between classes many of the young people (most who have never lived away from their families) are on their own. Drugs and alcohol become a part of their lives as they try to fit into a culture that is rife with prejudice.

While the current federal government administration is working to make improvements for First Nations people Talaga says that “I am hopeful for the future but this will take generations to correct. The education problem is nation-wide, only when First Nations children are treated fairly with equality will this be solved.”

Talaga said that she had no idea how her book would be perceived when she started writing it. She has found that educators are her biggest champions giving praise to her research that shows a shameful side of modern Canada. She asks w how it is that children have been cast aside and made to endure substandard living and educational conditions.

This is a story that every Canadian should be aware of but Talaga has found, “unless you are living the story you don't know the story.” With Seven Fallen Feathers the truth has been brought to life, and the voices of Jordan, Kyle, Reggie, Jethro, Paul, Curran and Robyn are heard long and clear.

The RBC Taylor Prize winner will be revealed at a gala luncheon on Monday, February 26, 2018.


Yardworks By Daniel Coleman Celebrates Urban Nature

KJ Mullins-Toronto:  Daniel Coleman paints a thoughtfully worded urban nature canvas with his book Yardwork. Set in his backyard and surrounding areas of Hamilton, Ontario the author weaves history, Aboriginal teachings and the simple pleasures of nature into a literary gem celebrating the act of “building trust from the ground up.”

Coleman took time from his busy schedule as a Professor of English Studies at McMaster University to discuss his book, Yardworks, growing up in Ethiopia and the world as he knows it during a phone interview recently.

Writing has been part of Coleman's life since he first learned how to read and keep diaries. His first academic articles were written in the early 1990s. In 2003 he published his first non-fiction book, The Scent of Eucalyptus: A Missionary Childhood in Ethiopia. In 2017 his acclaimed book Yardwork was published, quickly getting rave reviews from the Canadian media. The book has been shortlisted for the 2018 RBC Charles Taylor Prize.

Daniel Coleman has seen his work nominated and awarded prizes in the past but The RBC Taylor Prize is the largest prize and has so much more reach than previous awards. Coleman is impressed at the thoughtfulness that The RBC Taylor Prize has for promoting non-fiction literature and their mentoring approach for new writers. The prize nomination has already made an impact on his own book with Yardwork published by Hamilton publisher Wolsak & Wynn. Yardworks has already had another edition run since Coleman was named on the Shortlist for the prize because of brisk sales.

The author was born and grew up in Ethiopia with his Canadian missionary parents. During his earliest years, he lived in rural settings. Looking back he says that the people had indigenous ways of living with land in the African nation much like the First Nations people in Canada did. As a teenager, Coleman lived in a large city where nature was looked at from a very cosmopolitan viewpoint just like in Canadian urban settings.

When told his book read like poetry Coleman was pleased. “I wanted the words to roll off the tongue.” Considering the subject matter, the urban nature of the city of Hamilton this could be a hard feat to accomplish but the author achieved a beautiful tribute to the land.

The city of Hamilton is not known for its natural beauty. Most people think of pollution and steel when Hamilton is mentioned. The nicknames that outsiders have for the urban setting like “armpit of Ontario” do not conjure up thoughts of beautiful landscapes. But when you look closer the city is a compelling maze of nature springing up in the “midst of a polluted environment” says Coleman. He spoke about a recent walk with a friend along the city's Niagara escarpment that illustrates this. “My friend was amazed that when you look out the city is mostly trees.”

The author arrived in Hamilton after the collapse of the steel industry to teach at McMaster. He found that the city was a blessed place leading him to question the natural world in regards as to how do we live in cities. Coleman says that the “huge gift of Hamilton is the Aboriginal element of the area. The land has been our teacher.”

A professional reader and writer in the academic world Coleman says he likes to “read” the land around him so he can understand it better. Even as buildings and cement have replaced the soil the author has discovered how much nature is still with us. “Nature takes the city back,” Coleman pointing to Hamilton's building over creeks and rivers as an example. They are areas in the steel city that were once built up have been abandoned are now filled with wildness in very compromised environments.

During his time in Hamilton Coleman has seen the impact of local efforts to improve the city's environment. There have been impressive gains with the waterways resulting in more fish being born. Coleman explained how this is important to the region. “About half of the fish spawned in Lake Ontario start in the Hamilton region.” Another impact from these improvements is the return of certain birds to the landscape after years of absence. “The eagles are back,” Coleman said happily. The return of these mighty birds is a step in the right direction for the land.

Coleman loves Hamilton. “That love of my city makes me want to address our issues.” In Yardwork, many of the environmental issues that are facing his city have been thoroughly researched giving readers a true understanding of our own impact on nature and more importantly the impact of nature on our daily lives.

The RBC Taylor Prize winner will be revealed at a gala luncheon on Monday, February 26, 2018.


Max Wallace Specializes in Documenting the Horrors of the Holocaust

KJ Mullins-Toronto: There are some history books that show parallels to happenings in the modern world that need to be read in real time to understand what could happen today. That is why Max Wallace's In the Name of Humanity needs to be read.

Wallace tells the previously untold story of the secret deals that helped to end the horror of the Holocaust. At the core of this story was an ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman, Recha Sternbuch, a true superhero who saved thousands of Jews throughout the war.

Meticulously researched, this book tells of the backroom dealings Recha and her group were part of during the last days of the Holocaust when the time was running for those still alive in the camps, including dealing with one of the most brutal Nazis, Heinrich Himmler. Those dealings had Himmler changing orders that Hilter had put out saving countless prisoners in the remaining camps. One of the facts In the Name of Humanity that shocked me the most was if North America had provided to the European allied forces a little more gasoline during the last month of WWII Anne Frank would have survived the War.

In the Name of Humanity, published by Allen Lane Canada, was recently shortlisted for this year’s RBC Taylor Prize. Author Max Wallace took time to talk about his book, being published here in Canada first rather than in the US as was the case of his book about Kurt Cobain. We also discussed the parallels of the Holocaust in terms of what is going on in the world right now.

For almost 20 years Max Wallace has been researching and writing about the Holocaust with the Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation and as a former Executive Director of the Anne and Max Bailey Centre for Holocaust studies in Montreal. During this time he has talked to survivors who shared with him horrific stories about their time in concentration camps. “Listening to all of their stories almost scared me off,” Wallace admits when it came to writing his latest book. But this story is one that he knew had to be told.

The fact that a woman was one of the most influential people in saving Jews during the last days of the Holocaust was extremely unusual. For Recha Sternbuch, an ultra-Orthodox woman, to have been the lead of so many important ultra-Orthodox Jewish men during these dealings is a miracle in itself as women were not often listened to. North America had turned it's back on the plight of Jews dying in the camps as the end of the war approached. Canada and the US felt the only way to save them was by stopping Hitler and defeating Germany. Sternbuch refused to stop working to save as many as she could using any means possible to do so. “Recha had no patience for all the talking going on. She lived by a different set of laws, saving lives was her ultimate goal.”

As one reads Wallace's book it becomes very clear that “Canada was the worst for abandoning the Jews.” The author's research showed that it was the most educated who were the most anti-semantic stating that even the Jews living in Canada were “not real Canadians”. These were the people that Prime Minister King did not want to anger, fearing they would riot in the streets if he were to have this country do more for the Jewish people in Nazi Germany.

When it comes to the general public's knowledge of the time period Wallace is surprised at how little people know about what happened and how it could have happened. The lack of our collective knowledge is very worrisome considering current issues in the world concerning Muslims. Wallace pointed to the passing of Quebec's Law 62 that forbids face covering is very much like what happened just prior to WWII. This law claims it is for religious neutrality but it targets Muslim women. “It's eerily familiar,” Wallace said sadly, “Much like the dehumanizing of the Jews. When you dehumanize it is easy to justify actions. (In the case of Law 62) This is against our own citizens and no one is doing anything about it. The same arguments are being waged today about Muslims that were used to dehumanize Jews back then.” While the news may be focused on the US when it comes to anti-Muslim ideals Wallace says, “We have to look in our own backyard when it comes to Islamophobia.”

Before Wallace was writing about the Holocaust he was known for his first book, Who Killed Kurt Cobain? It may surprise people that in the beginning, Wallace was not interested in Cobain at all. His writing partner at the time met with Cobain's drug dealer who said he thought the singer had been murdered. At first, Wallace believed the story was the ravings of a  lunatic but then was surprised to find that the private investigator for Courtney Love, Cobain's wife, also believed her husband had been killed. What started out as research for a magazine article turned into his first book and a best-seller. That book opened up the doors for the young writer in the U.S. publishing world.

Although Wallace is Canadian In the Name of Humanity is his first book brought to market by a Canadian publisher. Wallace has written four other books, all published in the United States. He has nothing but praise for Penguin Random House Canada. “In the US I was a little fish in a big pond and I had made it was an author. But in Canada most had no clue who I was,” Wallace said as we talked about the differences between publishing a book between the two countries. “It's nice to be a big fish in a little pond.” He says it has been a very different experience with his latest book. While in the US there may be more money spent by publishing house than in Canada he has been surprised by the amount of positive attention his Canadian editors gave him.

He is very humbled to have been named to the shortlist for the RBC Taylor Prize, an award he as a non-fiction writer he treasures. The RBC Taylor Prize winner will be announced at a gala luncheon on Monday, February 26, 2018, in downtown Toronto. 


'Life on The Ground Floor' Is All About Caring

KJ Mullins-Toronto: The very first thing you notice about author James Maskalyk is his comforting voice. That voice is what people hear during their hardest hours. When not writing award-winning books Maskalyk is an Emergency Room doctor here in Toronto. He can also be found at the Black Lion Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where he has helped train 25 emergency doctors who are now treating people throughout the entire country.

Maskalyk's latest, Life on The Ground Floor was just shortlisted for this year’s RBC Taylor Prize. The doctor takes readers through the A, B, Cs of emergency medicine in both a modern Canadian hospital and one where doctors have to deal with broken equipment while repairing hearts and limbs.

During the brief moments of Canadian downtime, Maskalyk is with his beloved grandfather, a true Canadian man's man. Living in a trapper's cabin in Alberta the older man's last years are thoughtfully archived by his grandson. Like a literary canvas, family times bring the reader a full picture of how even a seasoned emerg doctor has to deal with the emotional pain of a loved one as their health fails. In each location, there is a deep spiritual journey being taken, along with the understanding of the overall importance of the role that emergency medicine plays in saving lives within two different public health system.

Don't expect a detailed timeline when reading Maskalyk's book. Just like the hectic pace of a busy ER 'Life on The Ground Floor' goes all over the world in double-double time. It makes for a fascinating read, one that will have you cheering for the good doctor time and again.

As we talked during a phone interview it's clear that the passion for medicine that leaps from the pages of Maskalyk's book is his own truth. He is the doctor who you want treating a loved one when, as the expression goes, “the shit hits the fan” He believes that the most important aspect of training doctors whether it be in Ethiopia or Canada is "showing that true caring of our patients is welcoming." Being welcoming is not always easy and let's be clear Maskalyk is a good man but he's not a saint.

Working the ER can be frustrating, there are patients who test every boundary known to men and even the kindest person among us will snap at times. Perhaps that is the most important lesson from his book, that the doctors that treat us are human beings, who have hidden emotions. The Toronto hospital that Maskalyk works at is a mecca for the homeless. Some will enter to find a brief moment of warmth from the harsh life they are dealing with. While some are satisfied to get a sandwich or drink before heading back to the street some are not on their best behaviour. Maskalyk likens some of the people who are violent or aggressive in the hospital as “hurt children in a grown person's body...like all of us. ” For the doctor that means being firm yet forgiving. “They just want a measure of their true worth reflected back.”

Maskalyk's wish for Ethiopia's and the surrounding regions is that it needs to "remain peaceful." As a doctor, Maskalyk hopes that the nation continues to "hold the ER as a treasure and to continue to support the graduates so that they can have lifelong careers in the field. So they will be able to inform medical innovations around the world." In this modern world, Maskalyk knows that those that are challenged to work with the bare minimum can bring new ideas that can help doctors even in the most advanced hospital settings.

Here in Canada Maskalyk believes that people are appreciative of our health care system although he joked that he doesn't like mentioned his job at dinner parties. "I always hear the horror stories of health care and how long they had to wait to be seen. Most people don't know how much they appreciate what we have here until a crisis comes."

As the interviews ends Maskalyk confided that “my only job is to care for my patients as if they were a family member, with understanding and compassion.” It's a job that the good doctor does at the highest level.

The RBC Taylor Prize winner will be revealed at a gala luncheon on Monday, February 26, 2018.


Stephen R. Bown Writes Extreme Adventures

KJ Mullins-Toronto:  Canadian author Stephen R. Bown sees and writes about dead people. Long deceased explorers to be precise. Bown is fascinated by brave men who are knowingly sailed out of their comfort field as they explore the unseen world of two centuries ago.

Communing the dead has been good for Bown. His latest nonfiction book 'Island of the Blue Foxes: Disaster and Triumph of the World's Greatest Scientific Expedition' are receiving rave reviews across Canada and was recently shortlisted for this year’s RBC Taylor Prize.

Don’t let the title fool you. While blue foxes do have a place in Bown’s book, it is really about the failure of Danish mapmaker Vitus Jonassen Bering to overcome the harsh climate of what is now the Bering Straits, and the bungling of the Russian government who commisioned him to sail from Russia to North America. Bering did reach what is now Alaska but was shipwrecked for almost a year on his return to Russia. Bering and many of his crew died and was buried on an island (now called Bering Island) near the Kamchatka Peninsula.

Bown is a devoted writer who is constantly working on his next book. He explores his small town of Canmore in the Canadian Rockies on his mountain bike while structuring his work internally. Those rides with very dramatic scenery all around him leads Bown to question what's beyond the next bend in the mounting trail. Pedalling along a deserted forest path he often reflects on what it is like to be exposed to the elements and what an explorer like Bering from the past may have thought about when faced with nature’s adversities. Bown’s pedalling meditations result in a number of great literary non-fiction titles written from a very human perspective.

Bown spoke about his nominated book and his writing process during a recent phone interview recently saying that he “has a passion for writing about the adventure of past explorations! I keep my eye on the social dynamics and the human predicament when you remove people from their safe harbours the comfort of their warm happy homes.”

Bown’s latest book is not an urban story. Rather the story doesn’t kick in until Bering’s two grand artic adventures begin. Bown explores the psychological mindset of people willing to sail into the great unknowns as they venture onward and away from a structured and protected existence.

Bown said, “I am interested in the psychological mindset of how these men acted when they were away from social norms, cut-off from anyone else, all alone forced to solve the problems that arise or die trying,” Bown likens this to young adult fiction where the parents are often too removed from the plotline, “Once the ship leaves port it is very much like a kid without Mom and Dad. You have to strip it back and look at people as individuals and what makes them tick.”

Georg Wilhelm Steller is a name you will never forget after reading Blue Foxes. It is 1740 and he is the physician aboard St Peter, Bering's wooden sailing ship. During the voyage through the near-freezing waters of the most northern reaches of the Pacific Ocean Steller was considered a boorish know nothing by the Russian crew. But when the ship was grounded onto the rocky shores of Bering Island the doctor rose to the challenge and became ta savour and hero.

Steller understood that in order to survive he and the others had to set aside the social hierarchy of the day and pull together to overcome the physical challenges of the Arctic. Regardless of rank, the survivors worked together to stay warm, find food and escape the barren frozen island. For almost a year they braved the elements, diseases, and pesky feral blue foxes. Once the crew was able to sail from the island the social hierarchy returned very quickly.

Bown's ability to delve into the historical accounts of the key men from the Bering mission forms a captivating book that reads more like fiction than a history lesson. The reader is able to understand how men like Bering and Steller were driven to do what they did. The author's curious nature to get to the root of the men in this story results in a telling that includes both the thoughts and deeds of the men.

Considering the focus of Bown's 10 books are about the daring dos of adventurous men I asked him if he would have wanted to have been an explorer had he lived during that time. Laughing Bown said that he doesn't think he would have signed on to go on a voyage to the Arctic in the 18th century himself just as he wouldn't sign on to explore Mars today.

While he loves exploring the hows and whys of these great adventures he is not into taking on extreme adventures himself. Instead, as a man who loves reading the personal accounts of these men he much prefers to be a Dr. Watson rather than a death-defying Sherlock! That said he does admit that for the average sailor from Siberia who made up the crew on the St. Peter the voyage wasn't really about going on an adventure. “It was more about having a job that had the promise of an easier life with plenty of food rather than a leap of faith into the unknown.”

Bown is now exploring several ideas for his next book. He has yet to pin down exactly where he will be taking us but rest assured it will be an adventure that will have his world readers quickly turning the pages to find out about history with relish.

The RBC Taylor Prize winner will be revealed at a gala luncheon on Monday, February 26, 2018.


Short List Announced for the 2018 RBC Taylor Prize

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KJ Mullins-Toronto (10/01/2018):  Reading good books is how we learn about our world. For 17 years the RBC Taylor Prize has been bringing the best of Canadian non-fiction literature to the public. Since it's beginnings Canadian authors of literary non-fiction have been celebrated and encouraged to bring their best to the Canadian reading public. This year an impressive number of books were submitted to be considered for the prize. This speaks volumes about how the prize has elevated Canadian books for almost two decades.

Noreen Taylor started the prize after the devastating death of her husband, renowned author Charles Taylor in 1997. In its inception, Taylor and the founding trustees knew that they could expect 35 book submissions. Because of this, the first instalments were every two years. Today, as part of the legacy of the RBC Taylor Prize, Canadian non-fiction books are on fire.

Now an annual prize, the RBC Taylor Prize's jurors,  composed of Christine Elliott, Anne Giardini, and James Polk, read through a record-breaking 153 submitted books to the prize.

Taylor thanked all of those who are behind the scenes in Canadian book publishing for bringing remarkable works to the Canadian reading public. “The Canadian reading public is reading stories about their neighbours and they want to read them. They are reading about people who are not their neighbours. And it is so important that we read about people who are not our neighbours so we can develop compassion and make good decisions. Canadians are reading about their history and about the history of other countries and the challenges they face.”

Public events already confirmed for the finalists include a free 90-minute Round Table Discussion with the shortlisted authors in the Lillian Smith Library on February 22, 2018 at 7pm presented by the Toronto Public Library and the IFOA; and the Ben McNally Authors Brunch on Sunday February 25, at the Omni King Edward Hotel in downtown Toronto (for tickets, please contact Ben McNally Books at (416) 361-0032 or visit benmcnallybooks.com).

The RBC Taylor Prize winner will be revealed at a gala luncheon on Monday, February 26, 2018. The Prize luncheon will once again be held at the Omni King Edward Hotel in downtown Toronto.

The shortlist and jury citations for the 2018 RBC Taylor Prize are:

Island of the Blue Foxes: Disaster and Triumph on Bering's Great Voyage to Alaska by Stephen R. Bown (Canmore, AB), published by Douglas & McIntyre

Yardwork: A Biography of an Urban Place by Daniel Coleman (Hamilton, ON), published by Wolsak and Wynn

Life on the Ground Floor: Letters from the Edge of Emergency Medicine by James Maskalyk (Toronto, ON; Addis Ababa, ETHIOPIA), published by Doubleday Canada

Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City, by Tanya Talaga (Toronto, ON), published by House of Anansi Press

In the Name of Humanity by Max Wallace (Toronto, ON) published by Allen Lane Canada.

 "On behalf of RBC Wealth Management, congratulations to each of the authors who have been named on this year's shortlist. As finalists, they join an impressive list of talented writers. We are very proud to sponsor the RBC Taylor Prize as it continues to celebrate and inspire exceptional talent from across the country. The Prize plays a very important role in promoting literary excellence in Canadian non-fiction on a global scale, as well as developing the careers of the authors it celebrates."

Look for in-depth coverage of the books and authors in the coming weeks.

RBC Taylor Prize 2018 Longlist Revealed

  The 2018 RBC Taylor Prize jury announces ten essential titles that should be on every Canadian's reading list this year

06/12/2017: RBC Taylor Prize 2018 Jurors Christine Elliott, Anne Giardini, and James Polk today announced the longlist for the seventeenth awarding of Canada's most prestigious non-fiction prize.

Having read a record breaking 153 non-fiction books submitted by 110 Canadian and international publishers, the Jury noted that: "As veteran readers and jury members, we unanimously agree that we have never seen such overall excellence as in the one hundred and fifty-three RBC Taylor Prize submissions read this year. We have delighted in the range of topics, the depth of enquiry, the quality of the writing, and the many new voices and perspectives. Canada is very well served by its non-fiction writers."

The longlist Books for the 2018 RBC Taylor Prize are:

Island of the Blue Foxes: Disaster and Triumph on Bering's Great Voyage to Alaska by Stephen R. Bown (Canmore, AB), published by Douglas & McIntyre

How to Fall in Love with Anyone by Mandy Len Catron (Vancouver, BC), published by Simon & Schuster

Yardwork: A Biography of an Urban Place by Daniel Coleman (Hamilton, ON), published by Wolsak and Wynn Publishers

The Marriott Cell: An Epic Journey from Cairo's Scorpion Prison to Freedom by Mohamed Fahmy (Vancouver, BC) and Carol Shaben (Vancouver, BC), published by Random House Canada

Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World by Michael Harris (Vancouver, BC), published by Doubleday Canada

Life on the Ground Floor: Letters From the Edge of Emergency Medicine by James Maskalyk (Toronto, ON), published by Doubleday Canada

A History of Canada in Ten Maps: Epic Stories of Charting a Mysterious Land by Adam Shoalts (Hamilton, ON), published by Allen Lane Canada / Penguin Random House Canada

Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City, by Tanya Talaga (Toronto, ON), published by House of Anansi Press

In the Name of Humanity by Max Wallace (Toronto, ON), published by Allen Lane Canada / Penguin Random House Canada

Apron Strings: Navigating Food and Family in France, Italy, and China by Jan Wong (Fredericton, NB), published by Goose Lane Edition

Noreen Taylor, chair of the Charles Taylor Foundation and founder of the Prize, commented: "The joy of this incredible list lies in the breadth of experience and expertise reflected in these ten titles. Canadian readers are definitely living in a Golden Age of non-fiction writing. We are all so fortunate to have this opportunity to explore so many different and diverse aspects of our national character as well as delve into the unique Canadian perspective on the world outside our borders.

"Bravo to the publishers and their many distinct imprints for submitting a record number of titles and bravo to our jurors who performed the Herculean task of selecting this remarkable longlist from amongst 153 titles!"

Vijay Parmar, president of RBC PH&N Investment Counsel, added: "This year's longlist represents our collective Canadian identity and illustrates the rich diversity and vibrancy of Canada's non-fiction literary landscape. Congratulations to the 2018 longlisted authors and sincere thanks to our distinguished jury for their careful deliberations."

Key Dates:
The RBC Taylor Prize Shortlist will be announced at a news conference on Wednesday, January 10, 2018, and the winner revealed at a gala luncheon on Monday February 26, 2018.

About The RBC Taylor Prize
Established in 1998 by the trustees of the Charles Taylor Foundation and first awarded in 2000, 2018 marks the seventeenth awarding of the RBC Taylor Prize, which commemorates Charles Taylor's pursuit of excellence in the field of literary non-fiction. Awarded to the author whose book best combines a superb command of the English language, an elegance of style, and a subtlety of thought and perception, the Prize consists of $30,000 for the winner and $5,000 for each of the remaining finalists. All authors are presented with a custom leather bound version of their shortlisted book at the awards ceremony. All finalists receive promotional support for their nominated titles.

The trustees of the Charles Taylor Foundation are: Vijay Parmar, David Staines, Edward Taylor, Nadina Taylor, and Noreen Taylor. The Executive Director is Su Hutchinson.

The presenting sponsor of the RBC Taylor Prize is RBC Wealth Management. Its media sponsors are The Globe and Mail, Cision, The Huffington Post Canada, Maclean's magazine, Quill & Quire magazine; its in-kind sponsors are Ben McNally Books, Event Source, IFOA, The Omni King Edward Hotel, and the Toronto Public Library Board.

To download high-resolution images of the longlisted authors and their book covers please go to: www.rbctaylorprize.ca/2018/rbctp_2018_longlist_covers_and_authors.zip
To download high-resolution images of the trustees and the jury please go to: www.rbctaylorprize.ca/2018/2018_trustees_and_jury.zip

For general information about the Prize please go to: www.rbctaylorprize.ca.
Follow the RBC Taylor Prize on Twitter at www.twitter.com/taylorprize
Like the RBC Taylor Prize on Facebook At www.facebook.com/RBCTaylorPrize

RBCTP 2018 – Longlist
In order of author last name

1. Stephen R. Bown, Island of the Blue Foxes: Disaster and Triumph on Bering's Great Voyage to Alaska
Douglas & McIntyre
Cartographer and explorer Vitus Bering ended his life on a barren Aleutian island while his shipwrecked crewmates fought off vicious blue foxes, the elements and scurvy. The hardships and privations of the explorers, scientists, labourers and horses sent across Russia by Peter the Great to seek a route to North America beggar the imagination. They built their own roads, ships and a new kind of social order, and made enduring discoveries, all in the teeth of monstrous winds, seas, storms, bureaucracy - and hungry little foxes.


2. Mandy Len Catron, How to Fall in Love with Anyone
Simon & Schuster
This is a book about our fundamental drive to love and be loved. Catron set out to write a book about the mysterious art of making love last, but her objective shifted in the writing to something deeper, richer and more enduring – like the best kind of marriage. This is a deft, light story about the many forms that love takes, about how to live a full and happy life albeit with fewer expectations about love, and about the ways in which love "is continually warped and renewed".


3. Daniel Coleman, Yard Work: A Biography of an Urban Place
Wolsak & Wynn Publishers
Daniel Coleman explores the world from a small patch of land at the back of his house, a mini-empire between Coote's Paradise Marsh and Hamilton Harbour. In vivid, exacting prose, Coleman tells us of the moods and beauty of the Niagara Escarpment, the paths of local animals, the wayward tricks of the water table, the rich indigenous history of the area, and of our modern inroads into the environment – highways, houses, slag and built culture. This is a masterpiece of nature writing, reimagining civics and possibilities as Coleman surveys what he understands is "a holy land right here" behind his house and beneath his feet.


4. Mohammed Fahmy with Carol Shaben, The Marriott Cell: An Epic Journey From Cairo's Scorpion Prison to Freedom
Random House Canada
In December 2013, Egyptian security raided the Marriott Hotel and tossed journalist Mohammed Fahmy and his colleagues into Cairo's dreaded Scorpion Prison. The trumped-up charge was terrorism. Courageous efforts to free Fahmy were led by his wife and friends (including legal counsel Amal Clooney) in an account that reads like a John le Carré novel, but Fahmy and Shaben go further, delving into the causes of Egypt's political upheaval, the wishes and needs of everyday citizens, and the harsh reality of threats to journalists, activists and others. In the midst of terror and pain, Fahmy never fails to notice the humanity of his jailers, cellmates, police and others. This book sheds light on tyranny everywhere.


5. Michael Harris, Solitude
Doubleday Canada
In this beautifully wrought and engrossing meditation, Michael Harris observes how hard it is to find solitude in our buzzing, interconnected world. Silence can nourish mind and soul. Solitude is the provenance of seers and saints, and stillness a requirement for creative achievement. Harris cuts himself off for a week at a remote cabin and after a period of fear and boredom sees anew how truly we are shackled by "all that clicking and sharing and liking and posting." His return to the noisy world is softened by wisdom and love.


6. James Maskalyk, Life on the Ground Floor: Letters from the Edge of Emergency Medicine
Doubleday Canada
Starting with A is for Airway, physician and humanitarian James Maskalyk leads us through the many ways in which our bodies sustain and fail us, and how we become better able to tend – and attend – to each other. This book is a study in contrasts. Medicine as practiced in a world-class Toronto hospital – and at bare bones clinics in Sudan and Ethiopia. Maskalyk's busy life as a healer in a Canadian city and in Africa – and his grandfather's quiet work on a farm and trapline. For Maskalyk, "Medicine is life caring for itself" and is "the greatest story."


7. Adam Shoalts, A History in Canada in Ten Maps: Epic Stories of Charting A Mysterious Land
Allen Lane
This book helps us answer Northrop Frye's famous question about Canada: "Where is here?" From a 16th Century Viking chart of Canada's East Coast; to Champlain's detailed drawings of New France including peaceful indigenous villages; to wishful visions of yet-to-be-discovered lakes, mountains and the elusive northern passage, this is a fresh approach to some of the many ways in which the brave, foolish, reckless and hopeful have tried to place Canada on the map.


8. Tanya Talaga, Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, And Hard Truths in A Northern City
House of Anansi Press
Talaga has written Canada's J'Accuse, an open letter to the rest of us about the many ways we contribute – through act or inaction – to suicides and damaged existences in Canada's indigenous communities. Tanya Talaga's account of teen lives and deaths in and near Thunder Bay is detailed, balanced and heart-rending. Talaga describes gaps in the system large enough for beloved children and adults to fall through, endemic indifference, casual racism and a persistent lack of resources. It is impossible to read this book and come away unchanged.


9. Max Wallace, In the Name of Humanity: The Secret Deal to End the Holocaust
Allen Lane
As World War II drew to an end, Hitler intended further mass slaughter while other Nazi leaders scrambled to cover up evidence of genocide. Max Wallace's gripping account of the tense endgame of the Nazi nightmare is told in meticulous detail and with great compassion, culminating in the astonishing story of a Jewish freedom fighter bargaining for the salvation of the survivors with the devil himself, the architect of the killing camps, Heinrich Himmler.


10. Jan Wong, Apron Strings: Navigating Food and Family in France, Italy and China
Goose Lane
Jan Wong proves in this book that the old adage "you are what you eat" needs expanding. We are
what we eat, and who we make it with, and who we eat it with, and what ingredients we use, and what recipes we follow, and where in the world our table is located. In this book Jan Wong focuses her laser beam scrutiny on domestic life and comestibles in three different countries, and delivers shrewd home truths on how we sustain and nourish ourselves.


RBC Taylor Prize – jury statement

As veteran readers and jury members, this year's jury is in agreement that we have never seen such overall excellence as in the one hundred and fifty-three RBC Taylor Prize submissions that we read this year. We have delighted in the range of topics, the depth of enquiry, the quality of the writing, and the many new voices and perspectives. Canada is very well served by its non-fiction writers.

The high quality of the submissions made for a crowded field for recognition. We read, savoured, debated, re-read, conferred and anguished over this longlist. Some favourites had to be left out as the list was pared and pared again, from thirty, to twenty, to fourteen, and now ten.

Along the way we were delighted to find many important books by indigenous writers and about the indigenous experience of Canada. Also notable are the many fine books that came to us about exploration and discovery, including several about the arctic in which the expertise and support of the Inuit made the difference between life and death, success and failure. We greatly enjoyed work by Canadians whose origins and subjects span the globe –Russia, Egypt, India, China, the Middle East, Ethiopia and many other countries – reflecting a rapidly changing, richer and more dynamic Canada. We are delighted also to see publishers, large and small, taking a chance on new voices, ensuring we see and hear and experience more of Canada.

The short-list is yet to be decided. Meanwhile, the jury members hope that as many readers as possible get and read every book on this longlist and come up with your own favourites. These books are exceptional. They have style. They are thoughtful. They will move you. They will make you better informed. Read them alone or with your book club. Loan them out or give them as gifts. Talk about them with your friends. Argue about them with your adversaries.

What an honour it is to help to celebrate the best of this nation's non-fiction literary achievement.

RBC Taylor Prize Announces New Jury for 2018

TORONTO, Oct. 3, 2017-Stephen Weir - The Trustees of the Charles Taylor Foundation are pleased to announce that the jurors for the 2018 RBC Taylor Prize are: Christine Elliott, Anne Giardini, and James Polk.

Christine Elliott is Ontario's first-ever Patient Ombudsman and has been an advocate for vulnerable people for many years. Ms. Elliott has served as a volunteer with numerous community organizations, including the Grandview Children's Centre and Durham Mental Health Services. A lawyer by profession, she was also a longtime Progressive Conservative MPP (2006 to 2015) representing her home riding of Whitby-Oshawa.

Anne Giardini, O.C., Q.C., is an author, board director and the 11th Chancellor of Simon Fraser University. She has published two novels, The Sad Truth About Happiness and Advice for Italian Boys. In 2016, together with her son Nicholas, Anne Giardini published Startle and Illuminate, a book of writing advice from her mother, the late Canadian author Carol Shields. Giardini has been Chair of the Vancouver International Writers Festival, and a board member of the Writers' Trust of Canada and PEN Canada.

James Polk was the long time editorial director of House of Anansi Press and edited two books by Charles Taylor, as well as work by Margaret Atwood, George Grant, Northrop Frye, and many others. With a literature PhD he has taught at Harvard, Idaho, Ryerson and Alberta, and has written a comic novel, a stage comedy about Canadian publishing, articles, short stories, and criticism about Canadian writers and writing. As an advisor at the Ontario Ministry of Culture, he worked on grants for theatre and books, developed a tax credit for publishers and remodelled the Trillium Book Prize to include Franco Ontarian writing. He lives in Toronto and, trained as a pianist, still practices daily, playing classics and show-tunes in seclusion.

Noreen Taylor, Prize Founder and Chair of the Charles Taylor Foundation, remarked: "Literary non-fiction is the best medium for our nation's top authors to examine the world beyond the recording of facts and a parade of data. Our esteemed jury will read through 150+ entries and rigorously debate titles to be included on the prize longlist announced in December. Readers across the country look forward with great anticipation to the jury's selections for the 2018 RBC Taylor Prize."

Key Dates: The Longlist will be shared on Wednesday, December 6, 2017; the Shortlist will be announced at a news conference on Wednesday, January 10, 2018; and the winner revealed at a gala luncheon on Monday, February 26, 2018.

The RBC Taylor Prize recognizes excellence in Canadian non-fiction writing and emphasizes the development of the careers of the authors it celebrates.

About The RBC Taylor Prize:

Established in 1998 by the trustees of the Charles Taylor Foundation and first awarded in 2000, 2018 marks the seventeenth awarding of the RBC Taylor Prize, which commemorates Charles Taylor's pursuit of excellence in the field of literary non-fiction. Awarded to the author whose book best combines a superb command of the English language, an elegance of style, and a subtlety of thought and perception, the Prize consists of $30,000 for the winner and $5,000 for each of the remaining finalists. All authors are presented with a custom leather bound version of their shortlisted book at the awards ceremony.

The Prize provides all of the finalists with promotional support to help all of the nominated books to stand out in the media, bookstores, and libraries.

Earlier this year, Ross King won the 2017 RBC Taylor Prize for his book Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies published by Bond Street Books.

Mr. King selected Cassi Smith as the 2017 recipient of the RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Writer Award. This award featuring a $10,000 cash award, and mentorship from the naming author was established in 2013 to provide recognition and assistance to a Canadian published author who is working on a significant writing project in literary non-fiction. Ms. Smith, a Saskatchewan based graduate student, is working on a collection of non-fiction short stories based on her interviews with Saskatchewan's First Nations Elders.

The trustees of the Charles Taylor Foundation are: Michael Bradley, Vijay Parmar, David Staines, Edward Taylor, Nadina Taylor, and Noreen Taylor. The Executive Director is Su Hutchinson.

The presenting sponsor of the RBC Taylor Prize is RBC Wealth Management. Its media sponsors are The Globe and Mail, Cision, The Huffington Post Canada, Maclean's magazine, Quill & Quire magazine; its in-kind sponsors are Ben McNally Books, Event Source, IFOA, The Omni King Edward Hotel, and the Toronto Public Library Board.

Ross King Wins the 2017 RBC Taylor Prize for Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of Water Lilies

Established as a biennial prize in 1998 by the trustees of the Charles Taylor Foundation, 2017 marks the sixteenth awarding of the RBC Taylor Prize, which commemorates Charles Taylor's pursuit of excellence in the field of literary non-fiction. Awarded to the author whose book best combines a superb command of the English language, an elegance of style, and a subtlety of thought and perception, the Prize consists of $25,000 for the winner and $2,000 for each of the remaining finalists, as well as promotional support to help all of the nominated books to stand out in the media, bookstores, and libraries.

Sharing a commitment to emerging Canadian talent, the Charles Taylor Foundation and RBC will also grant the fourth annual RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Writers Award. Shortly after the announcement of the 2017 Prize, its winner will name their choice of emerging author to receive this $10,000 award.

The trustees of the Charles Taylor Foundation are: Michael Bradley, Vijay Parmar, David Staines, Edward Taylor, Nadina Taylor, and Noreen Taylor.

The presenting sponsor of the RBC Taylor Prize is RBC Wealth Management. Its media sponsors are The Globe and Mail, CBC Books, CNW Group, The Huffington Post Canada, Maclean's magazine, and Quill & Quiremagazine; its in-kind sponsors are Ben McNally Books, Event Source, IFOA, The Omni King Edward Hotel, and the Toronto Public Library Board.
The Winner of the 2017 RBC Taylor Prize is Ross King (Oxford, England) for his book Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of Water Lilies by Ross King (Oxford, England), published by Bond Street Books. The $25,000 award was announced today by Prize founder and Chair Noreen Taylor during a gala luncheon celebrating this year's finalists at The Omni King Edward Hotel in downtown Toronto. In addition to the cash prize, Mr. King received a crystal trophy and a leather-bound version of his book.

Noreen Taylor, prize founder and chair of the Charles Taylor Foundation expressed her delight, stating: "Well-crafted prose assumes even greater prestige and authority as we face a near-daily barrage of 'alternative facts' and things that read 'as if' they are true. The RBC Taylor Prize is proud to continue our tradition of support for this essential branch of our national literature. Of course, the task of championing the best in non-fiction reading is a whole lot easier when you have such fine writers as the 2017 finalists."

Vijay Parmar, president of RBC PH&N Investment Counsel, added: "On behalf of RBC Wealth Management, congratulations to Ross King on this remarkable achievement. He joins an impressive list of authors who have played a part in shaping our country's literary non-fiction landscape. We are proud to partner with the Charles Taylor Foundation in recognizing the amazing talent of Canadian non-fiction writers as Presenting Sponsor of the RBC Taylor Prize."

In its citation of the winning book, the jury notes: "Claude Monet's Water Lilies paintings in the Musée de l'Orangerie at the Jardin Tuileries rank among the greatest masterpieces of world art. Their creation came late in Monet's life when cataracts marred his sight, death struck his wife and son, and war raged close to his lily ponds at Giverny. Ross King brilliantly captures the furies of Monet and the enormous challenges he overcame in painting the twenty-two panels of lilies that surround l'Orangerie. An exceptional art historian, King grasps the political tempests of wartime France, and his portrait of Monet's close friend, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, will be essential reading for all who want to understand the intersection of politics, nationalism, and culture in France during the First World War. In this elegantly written and superbly researched book, Ross King illuminates Water Lilies and Monet as no one has before."

About the winner: Ross King is the author of The Judgment of Paris, Brunelleschi's Dome, Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven and Leonardo and the Last Supper. His work has twice won the Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction and has been shortlisted for the RBC Taylor Prize. Born and raised in Canada, he holds degrees from the University of Regina, York University in Toronto and University College, London. He now lives near Oxford, England.

The four remaining finalists — Max Eisen (Toronto, ON) for By Chance Alone: A Remarkable True Story of Courage and Survival at Auschwitz, published by HarperCollins Publishers; Matti Friedman (Jerusalem) for Pumpkinflowers: An Israeli Soldier's Story, published by Signal/McClelland & Stewart; Marc Raboy (Montreal, QC) for Marconi: The Man Who Networked the World, published by Oxford University Press; and Diane Schoemperlen (Kingston, ON) for This Is Not My Life: A Memoir of Love, Prison, and Other Complications, published by HarperCollins Canada — each received a $2000 honorarium, a leather-bound version of their book, and extensive publicity.

The jurors for the 2017 RBC Taylor Prize are John English, Ann MacMillan, and Colin McAdam. They read and evaluated 101 books written by Canadian authors and submitted by 29 Canadian and international publishers to determine the winner for this, the sixteenth awarding of the prestigious prize.

2017 RBC Taylor Prize winner Ross King  with founder Noreen Taylor(Photo KJ Mullins) (newz4u publications)

2017 RBC Taylor Prize winner Ross King (Photo Tom Sandler) (CNW Group/RBC Taylor Prize)


   The 2017 shortlist is as follows: 

By Chance Alone: A Remarkable True Story of Courage and Survival at Auschwitz by Max Eisen (Toronto, ON), published by HarperCollins Canada; 
Pumpkinflowers: An Israeli Soldier’s Story by Matti Friedman (Jerusalem), published by Signal / McClelland & Stewart;
Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of Water Lilies by Ross King (Oxford, England), published by Bond Street Books;
Marconi: The Man Who Networked the World by Marc Raboy (Montreal, QC), published by Oxford University Press; This Is Not My Life: A Memoir of Love, Prison, and Other Complications by Diane Schoemperlen (Kingston, ON), published by HarperCollins Canada. 
The winner will be announced at a gala luncheon on Monday, March 6th, also at the Omni King Edward Hotel. 
    Max Eisen speaks about his book on surviving the Holocaust
    Diane Schoemperlen speaks about the events in her life behind This Is Not My Life
    Marc Raboy speaks about his biography of inventor Guglielmo Marconi
  4. Pumpkinflowers: An Israeli Soldier’s Story
    Matti Friedman talks about writing Pumpkinflowers: An Israeli Soldier’s Story
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There Is No Shame In Surviving Abuse: A Conversation with Diane Schoemperlen

Author of This Is Not My Life: A Memoir of Love, Prison, and Other Complications discusses abuse, the prison system and love

By Chance Alone: A Miracle In The Face of Horror

It's a miracle that Max Eisen is sitting beside me talking about his book shortlisted for the 2017 RBC Taylor Prize “By Chance Alone”. At the age of 15 Eisen entered into one of the most harrowing human nightmare of our time, Auschwitz-Birkenau. During the next year of his life he lost his family, was thrown into inhumane conditions and saw the worst of human nature. He survived by miracles and his inner spirit. Now nearing his 90th year Max, a love of life evident, is keeping his promise to his father to make sure the story of his people is told so that the souls that were lost during the Holocaust are ever forgotten.

“By Chance Alone” tells Eisen's story with raw emotion. Describing himself as a farm boy, Eisen's childhood was spent in Moldava, Czechoslovakia. During the early days of WWII Moldava was still peaceful, villagers were friendly with everyone. That changed after the Munich Agreement on September 30, 1938 when France, the UK and Italy signed annexed a portion of Czechoslovakia to Hungary. The area coined Sudetenland was quickly taken over and the lives of Czech Jews were placed in peril. Max's eyes glared as he spoke of the betrayal that took place on that day. “In France champagne flowed,” Eisen said angrily, “The UK said that the Agreement was breaking 'Peace in our time', they opened the flood gate for Hitler.”

As the ink dried the lives of Max's family changed forever. Gone were visits to his maternal grandparents' farm, where he and his cousins had spent peaceful summers. Now his family's belongings and livelihood were stripped away slowly for five years. His father and uncle were forced into labour camps far away. The family would be separated most of their remaining time together.

Max remembers the propaganda during his childhood left even himself questioning the evils of the Jewish people. The vile images on pamphlets increased the hate within Sudetenland so much so that when deportations came streets lined with people who believed that the Jews were evil.

Max lived through two deportations. The first was in 1942 with his aunt, mother and two younger brothers. It was the first time in his life that Max experienced hunger. Lasting just over two weeks the family was allowed to return home. Life was harder but they were home. A sister was born after the return. Looking back Max wishes his family had fled their home then but his grandfather was sure the war would end and they would be safe.

Two years later when his entire family was rounded up young Max knew that this deportation was different. The family was first sent to a ghetto in Kassa then to Auschwitz in cramped cattle cars. Max, his father and uncle were separated from his grandparents, mother and three siblings as soon as they arrived at the camp for the first selection process. One line meant life, the other death. By the time Max and the two older men arrived at the barracks they knew that the rest of his family had been killed. A bowl of watery soup, filthy clothes and flea infested mattresses was his new way of life. Max was just 15.

During the first weeks Max' father and uncle protected him as best they could. They worked side by side in their labour details. Max remembers how his father's advice and encouraging words gave him the strength to go on. When his father saw that their closeness was becoming to threaten his son during work details the older men were able to get other details to protect Max. Able now to only spend brief moments with the older men Max was on his own. Still his father did what he could. Once he smuggled Max a chunk of bacon that provided the extra protein needed. For days Max would eat a tiny piece of the meat in his bunk at night when no one was watching. His father and uncle were killed in July after one of the daily selections.

Shortly after their deaths, a guard hit Max in the back of the head with his rifle during a work detail. That should have been the last day of his life but the other prisons helped save him. He was taken to the camp hospital where he was tended to. The rules of the death camp were if a patient couldn't walk out of the hospital in three days they were killed. The doctor in charge however intervened giving Max a job within the surgery. For the next several months Max worked from morning until late at night in the hospital. That time saved his life. He had access to a little more food and clean bedding.

On January 18, 1945 Max and the surviving prisoners started the Death March from Auschwitz to Ebensee. In the bitter cold hundreds of men who had survived the horrors with the camp died as the Nazis marched their prisoners between the camps as the war was ending. Had it not been for his time working in the hospital it is very likely Max would have been one of the dead. Finally at Ebensee the war ended.

That's not the end of the story. Hatred and bigotry did not end with the war. Being allowed to come to Canada, where a new life would bring Max true happiness was not an easy process. “By Chance Alone' tells his story in gutting detail. Max' courage and power to survive springs forth with each word.

Today, nearing his 88th birthday Max shines with life. He is thankful for every day and the simple pleasures. “After what I have gone through everything is a blessing,” Max said with passion remembering a time when even a potato skin would have been an amazing find. It saddens him that there is still so much negative ideas about the Jewish people and that even today in Canada university students are being discriminated against.

After years as a successful business man Max started talking about his time in the camps. For the past 22 years he has educated thousands and takes part in the annual March of the Living events in Europe. He is a devoted husband, father and grandfather basking in the joy of his large second family. When he has some down time he enjoys reading, tinkering around the home he shares with his wife and travelling. But there is little down time. Max is keeping the last promise he made to his father, to keep the story alive.

His father would be proud.
There's always that one burning question asked of author Diane Schoemperlen; How could she fall in love with a killer! The answer is simple: She fell in love with the man, not the crime.

In her latest book “This Is Not My Life: A Memoir of Love, Prison, and Other Complications” Schoemperlen delves into the very serious issues of the Canadian prison system, emotional abuse in a relationship and the recovery of oneself after a 'bad' relationship ends. Heartfelt and written with love the book slams into these issues with honestly, breaking the taboos that society can place on such topics. The reader travels Schoemperlen's journey to what for most is never witnessed, prison life for those who didn't commit a crime-the loved ones on the other side of the bars. Her words are raw, emotional and real. At times the reader questions how she could put up with her lover's behaviour while cheering her on as she comes to terms with the relationship and its end.

Schoemperlen spoke about that relationship at a Toronto coffee house in January after her book had been shortlisted for the RBC Taylor Prize. It is clear that she loved Shane and still does love him even though the relationship was toxic. “Just because it was a bad relationship doesn't mean I didn't love him,” Schoemperlen said with a smile. She knows that this sentiment is not something that is well received by some members of the public, after all there was the emotional abuse and this man was a murderer, but it's a truth that abused women deal with everyday. Love is the main reason women remain for so long in bad relationships and denying that love took place is taking away from a person's being. It's part of our cultural system of shaming the victim of abuse.

The main focus of Schoemperlen's memoir is the love relationship she and convicted killer Shane experienced. It was not a case of love of first sight. They met while at a food bank that both were volunteering at. While Diane knew that Shane was an inmate fairly early she had no idea that he was a convicted killer. Like most of the public Schoemperlen was unaware that in Canada prisoners, even those convicted of murder, can be working unguarded as they progress through the system.

Shane came along at a time in her life where he fit, but that fit came after a long internal debate within as Schoemperlen discovered that she was indeed in love with this man.

While in his 60s Shane had spent most of his adult life in the prison system, a world that does not relate to a normal life. In a very real sense inmates are treated like children, their every action is regulated from start to finish each day. This can result in a stalled maturity for those whose adult formative years are spent in the system. Schoemperlen saw this first hand with the frequent temper tantrums and emotional abuse that peppered her and Shane's relationship. In the end the abusive nature of their relationship ended it but it was not easy or quick.

The recovery process is not easy for those leaving abusive relationships. For Schoemperlen. counselling helped her deal with the issues within the relationship and rebuild her personal strength, that she was able to overcome and emerge stronger understanding how her own past paid a part in the relationship.

Schoemperlen wants to be clear she is not ashamed that she is a survivor of emotional abuse. She wants it to be known “that if you have been in an abusive relationship- in any sense of the word- you have nothing to be ashamed of. Shame hurts you by hiding the pain and the strength you have as a survivor. I will not be ashamed that I loved this man.”

During Schoemperlen's relationship with Shane she realized how little the average Canadian understands about the nation's prison system. Much of our common knowledge is incorrect, coloured by images from the media on television and movies. Those filmed versions of the criminal world are mostly from the United States, a completely different entity than the Canadian one. Shane educated Schoemperlen early to the differences of murder in the Canadian system. “Life really does mean life in Canada,” Schoemperlen stated. While an inmate sentenced to life in Canada may not spend their entire life in maximum security they are forever an inmate with serious restrictions placed upon them. First degree murder (on offence that was planned out and deliberate) carries a mandatory life sentence with eligibility for parole over 25 years. There are no early releases in Canada and parole is not a sure thing. In fact, the first parole hearings are rarely granted in favour of the inmate. Each progression in the system, from the security level of the prison to being granted day passes or release comes after a review and hearing has taken place.

Schoemperlen saw many changes within the prison system during the years that she was with Shane.

When Diane and Shane started dating Paul Martin was Prime Minister. At the time Shane was housed in minimum security at Frontenac (now known as Collins Bay Institution) in Kingston, Ontario. It was the largest urban farm in Canada with dairy, chicken, cattle, fruit and vegetable production. The farm provided jobs for inmates with skills that provided an increased likelihood for future employment. Shane was able to volunteer at Vinnie's, a soup kitchen run by the St. Vincent DE Paul Society and attend Sunday services at a Catholic church in the city. Visiting Shane at Frontenac was a pleasant experience, with friendly guards who joked with the inmates and their loved ones.

Just months later Martin was replaced by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Harper put in place much stricter regulation for Canada's prison system. Those changes have greatly impacted inmates with some negatives that make for a more violent atmosphere within the system.

Prisons in the Harper era became overcrowded and harsher. Schoemperlen saw first hand the stricter rules for visitors. While her son had visited Shane at one prison prior to Harper she advised him not to go along with other visits after Shane was sent back to prison following his release during their time together.

Gone are farm camps. Although the farms reduced the cost of running prison institutions by providing food and provided marketable skills for inmates when they left the system the programming was erased.

University level courses, something that Shane had taken prior to Harper's time in office, are no longer offered. Schoemperlen said the reasoning behind this rule is because inmates are not allowed Internet access which is how off campus courses are currently offered. While inmates can finish high school they can't take part in courses that would help them to achieve future employment.

As we were finishing our talk Diane shared that Shane has shared with her about his feelings of her book. “He loved the book,” Diane said with a bright smile, sharing that he had told her during a short phone conservation that he saw the love and the pain within her words.
“This Is Not My Life: A Memoir of Love, Prison, and Other Complications” is an important book on many levels, from understanding the impact of emotional abuse in a relationship to the realities of prison life in Canada. Well written with a raw truth “This Is Not My Life” deserves a place in your home library.

Cultural Shock Is An Understatement: Conversation With Pumpkin Flowers Author Matti Friedman

When Matti Friedman moved from Toronto to Israel he thought he had landed on another planet.  He was 17 and he was leaving the world’s most diversity friendly city for a place that  was “so beyond the mindset of life in Toronto.”

“I was young enough to roll with the punches,” Friedman said of the move from his safe North York childhood home to the Middle East as we started to talk about the differences between North American and Middle Eastern culture and his current book Pumpkinflowers which has been shortlisted for the RBC Taylor Prize for literary non-fiction. “I liked the cultural shock. Israel is chaotic with its Middle Eastern culture.”

One of the most jarring differences between Canada and Israel is in the military draft. All young people in Israel serve in the military (3 years for males and 2 for females).  While Matti could have returned to Toronto after high school to avoid serving he wanted to become a full citizen of Israeli. 

His turn came up quickly. He received his call-up at the age of 19. “I did it voluntarily thinking that I would join the navy. I had visions of a Baywatch life in front of me.” That daydream was just that, a dream. He was put into the army where he was in for the shock of his life. “Toronto did not prepare me for life in the Army,” Matti laughed, “ It's very hard, both physically and emotionally. I was not ready. Today I am very proud of my service to my country.”

Sending his son off to battle was not easy for Matti's father, who grew up in the United States but did not serve during the Vietnam Era. “Of course my parents were worried about me being in the Army,” Matti explained but it is an integral of Israeli life.

The Toronto native wrote of his time in the Israeli military in Pumpkinflowers: An Israeli Soldier's Story. The book gives his and other soldiers' view army life in the military outpost called the Pumpkin.  It was built into the top of  a small hilltop in Lebanon — it had been the scene of bitter conflicts for decades. The fields around Pumpkin weren’t filled with the orange melons, Flowers is the code word  for military deaths in Israel and the Pumpkin was the hill where many young men became flowers -  dying in nameless battles barely remembered even though they took place just 20-years ago.  The area has been at war zone between Israel and Lebanon since the last century. There are no easy solutions and Matti doesn't believe the conflicts within the Middle East will be solved within his lifetime. 

After his time in the Army Matti travelled into Lebanon using his Canadian passport. It was a journey that his friends in Israel would not consider but Friedman was then and is still very much a Canadian. He writes about the emotional trip in his book bringing some of the most moving passages that stay with the reader.

The road trip was “a very Canadian thing to do” Matti said. He has fond memories of the adventure that without his unique upbringing could not have taken place. Because of his Canadian papers Matti was able to tread where fellow Israelis dare not go. There is tension between the cultures that vibrates with every step he took in a country whose soldiers had tried to kill a few short years before.

Friedman says the Israel that he knows is very diverse. While 20% of the population is Muslim there is no doubt that its a Jewish state. “Canada's diversity is completely different. The culture here is very complicated,” Friedman says adding that the differences are “not better or worse, they are just different.”

Matti says that Canadians are blessed with the way they approach diversity within their culture making it very hard for those in North America to “wrap their heads around some parts of the world, like the Middle East.” The conflicts of the Middle East have gone on for centuries, much longer than the entire culture of North America. The conflicts are not simple misunderstandings between the people that are worked out with a few sit down meetings. “It just doesn't work like that.” There is a breakdown between the States of the Middle East with extremist religions. Matti likens it to the ongoing battles in North America over the gun problems. Two sides each have very clear ideals and they are not going to sway from their point of view.

Today Matti is the father of four young children. I asked if he has fears of their lives being in danger because of terrorism. He pointed out that Jerusalem, where his family resides, is actually very safe. Roughly the same size and population as Indianapolis his city had a total of 18 violent deaths last year compared to 118 in the US city. Stating that there is very little gun violence or drug concern in Israel Matti does say that of course he is a little “worried about terrorism.” That worry though does not bleed over in teaching his children about diversity. One of his older children is studying Arabic in school and Muslim culture is all around the city. “I don't think the kids have hostilities towards Islam, they just live very separate lives.”

The winner of this year's RBC Taylor Prize will be announced at a gala luncheon and awards ceremony at the historic Omni King Edward Hotel in downtown Toronto on Monday, March 6th. 

Marc Raboy Talks Marconi

The rapid rise and steady growth of inventions and patents from Marconi forged the communication world that we live in today. One of the youngest of the early innovators to use sound waves in order to achieve wireless communication Marconi was just in his early 20s when he first blazed on the scene. Marconi's achievements are a marvel and yet the man himself has always been a mystery. In Marc Raboy's book 'Marconi' each aspect of the man's life is examined. Extremely well written this massive tome brings to life the legend of a great man of his time and shows the reader how his insights of wireless communication came to be.

The man that author Marc Raboy started to write about when he started the research for his RBC Taylor Prize shortlisted book Marconi is not the same man at all, he found. “I learnt a tremendous amount about the man and surprisingly about myself,” Raboy shared during a conversation late January at a coffee house in Toronto,“Marconi is important and the story of his life was worth doing.”

Many do not know who Marconi is. I was one, unable of the importance of the man who revolutionized long and short waves into a working model for communication. Some feel that he was a thief who stole the ideas and inventions of others. Raboy nodded as we discussed this, saying that there are many that are anti-Marconi and pro-Tesla. “Tesla himself though did not feel he was a thief,” Raboy said. Marconi never took sole credit for the original ideas, even acknowledging the inventors whose ideas he elaborated on. Marconi used those ideas for one process, to use the waves in the air as a means of communication. Communication by wireless means was his main focus throughout his life.

Much of Marconi's early success was due to being in the right place at the right time. He was able to parlay his place in society to several firsts including wireless communication when the Crown Prince of England was in a skiing accident. Marconi set up his system so that the prince was able to keep in touch with his mother the Queen during his recovery. Not only was it a score in achieving a media first it helped to cement a place for his company within the British government.

As a businessman Marconi was very wise in listening and following the advice of those around him. His father's sage wisdom lead him to keep his patents by leasing equipment instead of direct sales. He was able to obtain government contracts that allowed him to develop his vision even further.

Although Marconi was a devout Fascist he left nothing to the government in his will. All of his estate was split between his four children by marriage. Raboy has no doubt that he was devout to the cause but he believes that part of the reasoning behind this was Marconi's age and wanting to be settled down at that time in his life.

Discussing the many photographs that he had looked at that didn't make it into the book Raboy said Marconi always looked a bit sad and alone. That was not an image that his subject would have wanted to be in the public eye. Marconi guarded his image, making sure that who the public saw was exactly what he wanted. That has carried on even in his death. His youngest daughter Elettra, just seven-years-old when Marconi died, has devoted her life to keep a certain aura concerning her father. But honestly how much can a child of that young age truly remember of the man?

As Raboy dove into his research what he found was a man who lived a very interesting life. What makes him interesting according to Raboy it wasn't the social advantages that he had but the level of being “a common man. It's that level that I focused on. Things like why did his first romantic relationship disintegrate?” As Raboy discovered who Marconi was behind closed doors by researching those who knew him, letters and documents and conversations with his family members he found a man who was very complex and sadly, very lonely. “Honestly right now I know Marconi better than anyone else,” Raboy smiled.

What Raboy found was a complex man who never really fit into one box. He was Italian but also Irish. He was was an inventor of technology but used others' research to formulate his discoveries. He was of a high society class but felt most at him with his workers. He loved being in love but once he found love he had a hard time settling down and staying in one place. The public followed his every move but never really knew the man they were following.
Rage Infused Master
A Review of Ross King's Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the painting of The Water Lilies

By KJ Mullins

Growing older can be hard for everyone but for an artist aging can add to their challenges for creating art. That was the case for Monet. Author Ross King explored this in his recent book Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the painting of The Water Lilies, shortlisted for the 2017 RBC Charles Taylor Prize.

King took a break prior to the weekend of the RBC Charles Taylor Prize announcement to discuss Monet at Toronto's historic King Edward Hotel. Asked if Monet continued past his prime King said, “I don't think so. If we rewound back 90 years ago people would say yes, that he was a great painter, very important, his work through the 1890s and early 20th century was very good work but then he lost it. (Some would say) He stayed to long at his home staring in the abyss of his pond letting his eyes gradually deteriorate from cataracts and perhaps his mind as well, as he ceased to be part of Parisian life and living the life of a countryman digging in his garden and painting, that his last works were artistic failures, artistic mistakes.” Ross went on to say, “It's funny how the pendulum swings back and forth. After WWII people saw that his last works were much more adventurousness and than in 1927, a year after his death.”

Modern artists like Jackson Pollock who were doing huge canvases, coloured all over, brought a new light to Monet's final work bringing it back into the public eye.

King said that Monet painted his final paintings at a very different point in his life than he had been during his earlier work. Overcoming mental and physical challenges, losing both of his wives and one of his sons and many of his friends. He was the only one left of the Impressionist painters. “I think he was trying to make a statement about Impressionist-ism, that it was still relevant to the contemporary world and that he could still paint in his style.”

Monet was known for his temper during this period. Saying that he was a grouchy old man is putting it mildly. “You would think painting under a parasol in a garden painting a landscape that you, yourself had constructed, breaking for a lavish lunch, going back doing back to your work. Having friends come over. It seems like a perfect life.” His friends saw this as well, telling him that he had the best life a man could have. “He did have his sorrows but he was acclaimed. He was fabulously wealthy in his later life.” Despite his successes Monet did not always behave as a man satisfied with his successes because he was so demanding of himself. “He was bad tempered at the best of times, a bit of a Prima Donna; but at the worst of times, when painting wasn't going so well he would fly into terrible rages and physically attack his canvases. All writers, all artists have to edit their work but in the case of Monet he violently attacked his canvases.” Monet did know that he was not behaving well during these times. He would move out of his house staying in a hotel to spare his family the miseries of putting up with him. He was aware of his actions and would apologize for his behaviour but that didn't stop him from acting out.

The raw emotion is what makes an artist. Monet's friend Georges Clemenceau would tell him that he was a great artist because of these rages and to keep working himself up into a frenzy, keep having his tantrums. “I think there is some truth in that,” King reflected, “If he was happy just to do things that would just mediocre he could produce a lot of paintings to sell to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. He could have done so. But he wanted to do something more than that. The aiming of something more drove him crazy. It gnawed at his soul making him fly into these tremendous rages.”

Ross said that “in some ways you can almost feel guilty about appreciating the work of artists, someone you know that has suffered so much in their creating that has lead to your enjoyment. Reaping the benefits of someone else's suffering but on the other hand by enjoying it you are rewarding them because that is what they are doing it for. Not just to express themselves but to give humanity something else to contemplate.”

King has the germ of an idea for his next project but hasn't fully explored it due to work. He isn't sure if he's going to go modern or go back into the 14th century like DiVinci. Who ever he decides on will be a treat for his readers. Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the painting of The Water Lilies is a must for all art lovers to see the process of Monet's last work.

The winner of this year's RBC Taylor Prize will be announced at a gala luncheon and awards ceremony at the historic Omni King Edward Hotel in downtown Toronto on Monday, March 6th.