As I continue my month of reading Canadian authors, Certainty came from the CBC List of Novels that Make You Proud to be Canadian. Madeleine Thien first published a book of short stories and Certainty was her first and award wining novel. She is originally from Vancouver, British Columbia but the back cover notes that she currently lives in Quebec City.
Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character beginning in Vancouver, where Ansel is grieving the loss of his partner Gail who did freelance radio work for the CBC. He is preparing to visit with her parents and friends as they share their grief over Gail’s sudden death while she was on a trip. Ansel is coming to terms with her death and guilt of not being with her and for their troubled relationship. Her parents are struggling with secrets from their own pasts.
Much of the story relates to Gail’s father, Matthew who had grown up in war torn Borneo, experiencing much loss and terror at the hands of the Japanese soldiers. After he witnesses his father being killed at the end of the war, he and his mother fled their country leaving behind his best friend, Ani. The reader learns about his return to Borneo at the age of 18 when he shares time with Ani but realizes that his life in this country was over.
The story unfolds with the lives of Matthew and Ani being slowly revealed as Gail’s family and partner come to terms with her untimely death. It is a poignant novel of loss, regret and grieving. The writer understands how much the past impacts a lifetime as the reader travels through time and across continents through the pages. Thien is able to help the reader visualize the photos she describes though her prose and leaves a lasting impression. I am thankful to have read this book thanks to the CBC list!!