Summer Reads 2019: Ten books for the globally minded vacationer

Jessica Rose compiles a wide range for this year’s summer holiday reading guide, from short stories set in Iran to a deep dive into global food production.

By: /
July 2, 2019
A woman reads a book on the lake in Central Park, New York. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich

With the constant buzz of 24-hour news cycles and uninterrupted social media feeds, truly getting away from it all can be difficult. Thankfully, carving out some much-needed time to relax doesn’t mean you can’t immerse yourself in some globally minded reading that will keep your mind stimulated. In fact, it’s the perfect opportunity to choose a book that allows you to look more deeply into some of the world’s most pressing issues.

For our annual recommended reading list, we’ve selected 10 recently released books that we think you’d like this summer. Here they are:

1. Divided Loyalties. By Nilofar Shidmehr

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The short stories in poet, essayist and scholar Nilofar Shidmehr’s powerful collection, Divided Loyalties, begin in 1978, around the beginning of the Iranian Revolution. Each centering on the lives of women, both in post-revolutionary Iran and diasporic communities in Canada, they progress into the early twenty-first century. A skillful storyteller, Shidmehr brings the nuanced experiences of Iranian women and girls to the forefront, exploring Iran’s complex history and women’s lived experiences with great care and empathy.

Divided Loyalties might be Shidmehr’s debut collection of short stories; however, she’s the author of six other books in English and Farsi, including Between Lives and Shirin and Salt Man. The latter was a finalist for a BC Book Prize. Her lyrical prose and close attention to detail help create characters with great depth and resilience, among them women who, in the mid-1980s, help their male relatives survive war and political upheaval, and a Canadian woman who, in 2003, is dispatched as an international aid organization worker to her hometown of Bam in the Kerman Province of Iran. An important book about place, revolution, migration and community, Divided Loyalties is deeply rooted in the power and tenacity of women.

2. Claws of the Panda. By Jonathan Manthorpe

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As a foreign correspondent, veteran journalist Jonathan Manthorpe’s work has asked him to be attentive to politics in all corners of the world; however, one story (or series of many stories) that has continuously followed him is “the efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to infiltrate and influence Canadian politics, academia, and media, and to exert control over Canadians of Chinese heritage.” This is the premise of his most-recent book, Claws of the Panda, which brings together Manthorpe’s thorough research and impressive political commentary skills to trace Canada-China relationships spanning nearly a century and a half. Claws of the Panda is an important read for anyone with an interest in Chinese foreign policy, but also those who want to learn about how the Chinese Communist Party has “benefited from Canadian naivete.”

3. Immigrant, Montana. By Amitava Kumar

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You might expect a novel about a young immigrant arriving in post-Reagan America to be a number of things but laugh-out-loud funny might not be at the top of your list. Immigrant, Montana is the story of Kailash, nicknamed AK, an idealistic young man from India who is in search of not only a new life in America, but also love. Sexually inexperienced, he is governed by his own desire, finding himself in New York City in pursuit of “well-read” American women. With an admirable ability to write nuanced, intricate characters, Kumar uses his skills as a journalist and non-fiction writer to create a personal narrative that feels immediately universal as AK stumbles in and out of love with youthful buoyancy.

4. Out of the Shadows: A Memoir. By Timea Nagy and Shannon Moroney

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Timea Nagy, a survivor of human trafficking turned social advocate, was 20 when she answered a newspaper ad in Budapest. Calling for young women to work as babysitters and housekeepers in Canada, Nagy saw the ad as an opportunity to earn money to support her family. Instead, she found herself lured to Toronto by a ring of international human traffickers who forced her into sex labour, manipulating every aspect of her life.

Written in collaboration with Shannon Moroney, a bestselling author and internationally recognized advocate for those overcoming trauma, Out of the Shadows is a distressing and revealing look at the sex trade centred on the resiliency of just one of the millions of women, men and children who become victims of human trafficking around the world each year. Heartbreaking yet hopeful, Out of the Shadows refuses to let voices like Nagy’s go ignored.

5. City of Omens: A Search for the Missing Women of the Borderlands. By Dan Werb

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In City of Omens: A Search for the Missing Women of the Borderlands, a disturbing look at femicide in Tijuana, epidemiologist Dan Werb investigates the staggering number of women found dead annually in Mexico’s third-largest city and along the Baja coast. The result is a book that is so unsettling it’s difficult to remember it’s non-fiction. Painstakingly researched, City of Omens takes readers “from factory slums to drug dens to the corridors of police corruption,” where Werb uses his investigation skills to weave together tales of poverty, environmental toxins, drug overdoses, immigration, addiction and human trafficking. It’s an essential read for anyone interested in how American policies are destroying lives south of the border.

6. Civilization Critical: Energy, Food, Nature, and the Future. By Darrin Qualman

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A former director of research for Canada’s National Farmers Union, Darrin Qualman knows a thing or two about farming and sustainability. In Civilization Critical: Energy, Food, Nature, and the Future, his book released by Fernwood Publishing, he takes readers on a tour of the wonders of the twenty-first century, beginning with food production, a topic he knows well. His ambitious book looks at how “our immense powers to turn resources and nature into products and waste imperil our future,” exploring topics through chapters including “Energies, Engines and Power” and “Progress as Foundational Myth.” Yet despite the immensity of such topics, Civilization Critical offers something unexpected — hope. Qualman believes that by making different choices, civilization might be saved. By offering sustainability solutions, he even provides readers with the tools they need to help change the future.

7. Mostarghia. By Maya Ombasic. Translated by Donald Winkler

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Mostarghia by Maya Ombasic begins with a moving farewell between a daughter and her father, whose determination is evident even when faced with death, when he refuses to be put on a stretcher to carry him to the “floor for the dying.” It’s a fitting beginning to a memoir that’s one part a story of exile, but most prominently, one of a daughter’s complicated, often tense relationship with her father. Part of Biblioasis’s International Translation Series, Mostarghia has been translated from French by Donald Winkler.

Set partly in Mostar, a medieval town in the south of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mostarghia follows Ombasic’s life when her family is exiled to Switzerland when civil war breaks out, eventually coming to Canada. With great candor, Ombasic shares how her experience as a refugee differed from her father’s, who “never recovers from the trauma, refusing even to learn the language of his new country.” Through beautiful prose and impressive attention to detail, Ombasic paints a loving yet honest portrait of her father in all his complexity.

8. My Seditious Heart: Collected Nonfiction. By Arundhati Roy

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Arundhati Roy might be best known for her Man Booker Prize winning novel, The God of Small Things, but she is also a remarkable essayist whose commitment to social justice, especially in modern India, has led her to write countless political essays on myriad topics. In My Seditious Heart, a collection of two decades of previously published essays and speeches, Roy brings together a sampling of her writing on topics including corporate greed, the caste system, the misuse of natural resources, and government corruption. Whether you’re a seasoned reader of her work, or awaiting an introduction, My Seditious Heart is Roy at her best, capturing her passion and fury in one stunning book.

9. The Time Has Come: Why Men Must Join the Gender Equality Revolution. By Michael Kaufman

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Dismantling the patriarchy and fighting for gender equality has long been considered women’s work. Michael Kaufman, founder of the White Ribbon Campaign — the world’s largest organized effort of men working to end violence against women — argues that it’s time for men to mobilize. The Time Has Come: Why Men Must Join the Gender Equality Revolution is his rousing look at how communities around the world could benefit from changes in our workplace and homes that challenge patriarchal expectations.

Exploring timely topics including violence against women, parental leave and toxic masculinity, The Time Has Come relies heavily on Kaufman’s own experiences promoting gender equality at both the governmental and NGO levels. Offering Kaufman’s valuable insight and knowledge to the conversation, this refreshing book is an excellent first step toward allyship.

10. From Turtle Island to Gaza by David Groulx

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From Turtle Island to Gaza by David Groulx might stand out among our other summer reads; however, this “expression of the solidarity between Indigenous peoples within settler Canada and the people of Palestine” proves that poetry can tackle shared experiences across cultures and continents with great depth and poignancy. It’s part of Mingling Voices, a series from Athabasca University Press that publishes writers who challenge boundaries, both literary and cultural. In From Turtle Island to Gaza’s preface, Groulx, an Anishinaabe writer, says that he believes “that sharing stories is a power more powerful than bombs, bullets, or religion.” The thought-provoking poems that follow are a testament to this, telling stories of shared sorrows and fears that Groulx hopes show “that we, colonized peoples, are not alone.”