Thursday, April 14, 2016


Room on the Mountain, ARoom on the Mountain, A by Anne Cimon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this beautifully written, deeply felt exploration of a woman coping with the loss of her husband and her own mortality. The narration pulls you in, laying bare all the little details that we use to distract ourselves from pain and grief. Anne Cimon is an impressive writer with a gift for revealing characters caught in vulnerable, awkward moments in ordinary settings: hospital corridors and waiting rooms, restaurants and public washrooms, empty apartments inhabited by missing loved ones. It's a sensitive page-turner, driven by a sense of relentless searching for answers: how to live in the aftermath of illness, how to face loneliness and fear of death, how to rebuild a broken life and find reasons to go on? Her heroine, Catherine Sauve, is a compelling mixture of practicality and eccentricity, as she fantasizes about the surgeon who saved her life. Cimon achieves the delicate balance between hope, kindness, synchronicity and the near-magical romantic feelings that they stir up. Although I felt it ended too quickly, I found this novel very touching and cinematic in its close-ups and also in the way it sustained dramatic tension to the end. Highly recommended!

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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Seen and Not Seen: Confessions of a Movie AutistSeen and Not Seen: Confessions of a Movie Autist by Jasun Horsley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm nearly finished this now. I took a break after the chapter which is really a brilliant review of The Counsellor, another film I haven't seen (directed by Ridley Scott) that did badly at the box office. Now I want to see it, if only to find out if I can sit through it. Evidently it ends horrifically with the suggested torture-murder of Penelope Cruz, just another victim of Mexican drug wars and the cross-border snuff film trade. I stopped reading because all the violence was beginning to seem too 'personal' -- it seems Jasun Horsley has no other subject or obsession, and I'm grateful in way, that he has made it his mission to view and write about films which depict extreme violence, often sexualized and directed against women. I thank him for that because it means I can go on skipping those films, or just read about them through Horsley's eyes.

I took a breather from SEEN & NOT SEEN to read The Story of O. over Valentine's Day -- the timing was unintentional. The Story of O. also shocked me, in a different way (I wrote a brief review of it at Goodreads but I've since had afterthoughts that I'd like to explore some other time). Usually I don't like to be shocked, but I'm deciding i could get used to it. I thought Story of O. would allow me to consider the subject of sexualized violence against women from a female perspective, and it did but I wasn't prepared for Pauline Reage's detached, poetic style -- so much the opposite of Horsley's. I've nearly concluded Story of O. is a feminist novel -- at least, in a backhanded way it is, as it depicts men as monsters and women as utter dupes and victims, and cold-bloodedly moves toward some inevitable climax that never really arrives. Same subject, but a totally opposite approach since Reage leaves herself out of the narrative whereas Horsley inserts himself everywhere.

For example in SEEN & NOT SEEN we learn that while watching The Texas Chain Saw Massacre he sustained an erection throughout. That's amazing -- I mean, it's a detail but it tends to stick in your mind. You wonder why, and you read on to find out. That little detail comes up again in the penultimate chapters about Jasun's brother, the famous English suicide-artist Sebastian Horsley who died of an overdose in 2010. I had never heard of Sebastian although he was famous enough to be interviewed on Q by Jian Gomeshi. I watched five minutes of that interview before I had to shut it down -- it reminded me of things I can't quite name or put my finger on, and five minutes was all I could take of that video.

The same is not true of Jasun's writing which is fluid, self-aware, and revealing of nuances that usually get left out of film criticism. I don't know why, but I keep thinking of Pico Iyer -- whom I can't seem to bring myself to read -- as the possible antithesis of Jasun Horsley -- I'll have to get back to you on that.

Horsley is smooth, but he's not slick. He's cool, but not cold. His prose is weirdly naked, and that could be why it's hard to put down. You think "this boy really needs an editor" but you don't have time to care, since he keeps dragging you down a path that always circles back to some personal trauma. I think that's the hook. You want to know what happened to him, back in childhood, that made him like this. And also, what was it that destroyed his whole family, the nuclear one, the father-mother-brother trio with Jasun the sole survivor who ran away and lived to tell the tale. That's the crazy subtext to all this, I think, but I'm having trouble being objective because for the last six months I've got immersed in Jasun's online world.

Come to think of it, it's unlike any other world I've ever been immersed in. I don't often get immersed in anything because deep down I don't like getting lost -- but in this case, it's like reading Alice in Wonderland at age 8 all over again. It's so farflung. Obviously, Jasun Horsley has had nothing better to do for most of his life than explore. Near as I can figure, he grew up rich and neglected. First he explored comic books and movies, the more violent the better. Then he ran away and explored America through the lens of Clint Eastwood, Pauline Kael and spaghetti westerns. Then he nearly died of love and ran to Morocco where he met Paul Bowles. After that, he tried to reconnect with his famous-notorious brother, friend of criminals, darling of the London degenerate art scene,, before leaving for Guatemala to become a shaman. I'm sure I'm leaving out a lot -- at some point he even tries to make in Hollywood as he's writing scripts along with film criticism. He goes into all this in SEEN & NOT SEEN -- obviously he can't get away from it -- it's his life story and it's fascinating -- not in the way that old Hollywood movies are, with a causal structure that unfolds inevitably like an old-fashioned sentence -- but more like a Batman movie with special effects, or like BRAZIL (which I found hard to sit through) --

And yet, you can't help feeling he's searching for an ending, almost in the classical sense of a finale that will tie all this together for better or worse or a bit of both.

Which reminds me, I still need to read the final chapter. Maybe it really will end.

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Thursday, January 7, 2016

MURDER OF TIME - Manufacturing Terror

For deeper insights into how the War on Terror really works –and how governments fake terrorist threats to justify repressive anti-terrorist laws and technology-- I highly recommend Matthew Pauly's disturbing (and quirky) memoir THE MURDER OF TIME.

An unforgettable account of an unwitting Canadian's forced recruitment into the bizarre world of cross-border black ops -- first as a victim, targeted by a team of rogue intelligence agents operating in his own neighbourhood, and later as a helplessly drugged, programmed assassin forced to kill a stranger on the streets of an American city.

Matthew, a software designer, has just started a new job at Toronto's Pearson Airport when two freak events at work - a plane crash and a tornado – trigger his untreated PTSD and put him on stress leave. Memories flood back of being kidnapped and programmed in a van on the streets of Toronto by a shadowy agency using military mind control technology to manufacture "domestic terror' suspects.

Tortured to make him scream phony terror threats in Arabic, Matthew (who knows no Arabic) confesses on video to a non-existent plot to blow up the CN tower in downtown Toronto.

Sound familiar?

I met Matthew Pauly last winter while passing through Toronto. I'd got in touch with him after reading a comment he posted at the McGill Daily website, in response to an article detailing McGill's involvement in CIA research to create Manchurian candidates or mind-controlled assassins. He had written a book for which he needed editorial assistance. I'm the author of a memoir describing my childhood growing up in (and out of) the MKULTRA program based at McGill. I've also researched and written extensively on how several generations have been impacted by trauma-based mind control.

When we met for the first time in the Toronto bus terminal, Matthew was wearing a bullet proof vest. He took me across the street to Starbucks where we talked for an hour and he gave me a print copy of his book, MURDER OF TIME. I read the first half after reboarding my bus heading west on the 403. I have no doubt that Matthew is what he claims to be: the victim of a secretive program that has been operating in Canada (and across North America) since the 1950s. How he was selected to be part of this strange universe and a pawn of powerful forces, is a story worth rereading (and sharing). MURDER OF TIME reads like an action movie, which is likely why it caught the attention of Sean Stone who interviewed him before the book was finished.

Matthew is quintessentially Canadian - polite to a fault, ever conscious of the niceties, constantly trying to play by the rules even when he's face to face with the hair-raising evil of a cross-border "Joint Task Force" that kidnaps and tortures him one night inside a white van parked on a bland Toronto street.

Do read MURDER OF TIME, recommend it to everyone you know - not just because it's the strangest and most terrifying book to come out in Canada this year -- but most of all because it's true. Then, prepare yourself for the sequel.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Common GroundCommon Ground by Justin Trudeau
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Someone recently compared Justin Trudeau's mind to a teenager's bedroom. This autobiography shows he's been busy lately cleaning it up. Almost believable in its persistent tone of sincerity, it made me forget for a while that the Trudeau era was a time of massive deception.

First there was Trudeau-mania. After It subsided came a wave of national depression and cynicism. In its aftermath, COMMON GROUND – which Trudeau ends with a long, boring blast of Liberal feel-good rhetoric -- left me depressed, cynical and in need of a good stiff drink or dose of lithium.

Definitely the boy, or his publicist, can tell a story. There's no denying Justin's life has been marked by tragedy: his parents' very public divorce, his mother's descent into mental illness, the death of his younger brother in an avalanche. These candid moments are genuinely moving and the book's greatest strength. Justin has lived through many of the challenges of his generation and his team understands he can draw on the youth vote in the next election if he can just get them off their cell phones and drugs.

Judging by how many people seem to like it, Team Trudeau has scored a coup with this book, remaking Justin's image from pampered Golden Boy into a roll-up-your-sleeves, school-of-hard-knocks underdog, ready to bare his chest and rebound from every overhand punch in the televised charity bout of Canadian politics.

Maybe that’s why in this pre-election scrum, the son treats his late father with kid gloves, never implying Pierre was anything but a kind, involved parent. It's the best we can expect but it does make me wonder how much the writer has repressed.

The opening lines to his eulogy at Pierre Trudeau's funeral were more ambivalent and ironic: "Friends, Romans, Countrymen --" and a pause just long enough for the audience to fill in the unspoken: "I have come to bury Caesar, not to praise him." Canadians have got used to saying that Justin is "not Pierre" or even a close second. In COMMON GROUND, he almost manages to turn this lifelong failure into an asset. Throughout, he never stops praising the father he could never please when he was alive.

Notwithstanding the roses, pirouettes and wide-ranging sexual appetite, Pierre was deeply committed to bringing up his three sons. Still, many found him distant, cold, and detached from the lives of ordinary people -- whereas Justin, an average student, supposedly has the popular touch. Closer to his jet-setting mother, he occasionally flirted with politics. At McGill, he loyally campaigned against the Meech Lake Accord and, perhaps more tellingly, volunteered with the Sexual Assault Centre. Gravitating to youth work, he kept a low profile as a teacher in British Columbia, rooming for a while with a now-convicted pedophile and also sitting on the board of the Katimavik Centre founded by his father's friend Senator Jacques Hebert.

His eulogy at Pierre's funeral in September 2000 catapulted him into the public eye at 30. The Trudeaus are used to displaying emotion in public, from "Just watch me" during the October Crisis to the one-finger salute in Salmon Arm, but even by their standards Justin's performance by his father's coffin was an embarrassing cliff-hanger: a rambling 9-minute speech that began, almost surreally, with a trip to the North Pole and ended with "Papa, je t'aime" and a handkerchief moment.

There is a lot in the family history to suggest their charisma is rehearsed in secret to distract from those old rumours that Pierre and Margaret came together in the 1960s under the auspices of the Air Force and programmed with LSD at a farm out in BC. During her recent breakdown, Margaret was hospitalized at McGill's notorious Allan Memorial Institute under the care of Dr. Dimitri Pivnicky, father of Mila Mulroney.

Canada's elite is so small, perhaps it was inevitable that Justin would end up as Liberal leader. This book goes far in dispelling any notions that his ascent was automatic or effortless. On the way up, Justin spent time pounding the pavement of his Papineau riding, the poorest in Canada, standing around grocery store parking lots handing out leaflets and introducing himself to locals, many of whom were still hostile to the memory of Pierre. Justin -- or his staff of writers -- would have us believe that he sweated his way up slowly up from the bottom of the political heap to become our Future Prime Minister, the only leader capable of coaxing alienated and apathetic youth back to the ballot boxes and bring in a whole new era of tolerance, prosperity and national unity.

I was touched and impressed to read of Justin's struggles in a down-and-out Montreal neighbourhood I know well, until I realized his handlers have found a perfect way to repackage his image. Much as the Katimavik kids he once mentored spend time in community service en route to high-paying careers elsewhere, Justin emerged from his short season in Hell to grab the leadership, champion pipelines and more Draconian surveillance laws. Pierre, who gave us the War Measures Act, would be proud to welcome his prodigal son back to the club.

Maybe Justin plans to harness the energies of his own generation that has lived through lots of divorce, psychiatry, drugs, and sexual experimentation. Maybe the secret violence that marked Pierre’s career has kept Justin out of politics until now.

So what draws him into the political mainstream at this time? Could it be a sense of civic responsibility? The obligations in which children of the elite so often find themselves entangled? The Trudeau family curse?

The strong undertow of tragedy makes COMMON GROUND a compelling read. The younger Trudeau navigates dark waters with some of the same aplomb his dad displayed shooting the Canadian rapids, while lesser men opted to portage.

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Man Next DoorThe Man Next Door by Ann Diamond

Ann Diamond's The Man Next Door (Bootleg edition)

"A wonderful memoir of life with Leonard Cohen in Montreal and Greece through the heady 60s, spiritual 70s and cynical 80s - the music - the lyrics - the drugs - the government's mind control experiments - brilliant table talk by a woman who knew him well. Cover art by Tigana."

"I'm still recovering! And I mean that in the best way possible…All my favourite texts knock the ground out from beneath my feet. Not only did it topple me, it might be the most engaging memoir I've read. You make subtle gestures towards the devil in the details with a very sharp labrys…pure artistry.>> -- Andrew Roberts

That was one great read. More gentle on our hero and maybe less paranoid than stuff written in the past. The story really does hang together and connects with my own memories of Montreal. But what I really want to know is, where can I see a picture of the Chinese man flipping through the air?-- Tom Hochmann

"It is a most unique book , from a most unique perspective , and shines a light in the dark - there is nothing like it. I found it all compelling, never bored, no urge to skip, held by the words on every page. Things I have wondered about LC, from the things dropped in his songs, things he has said fell into place ." -- JIM FRIESON, Japan

"Well done. And timely. "Manufacturing the Dead Head" over at Gnostic Media and Dave McGowan's work and now your work are all meshing like a perfectly synchronized Rolex Submariner wrist watch. --- Agent Rooster Cogburn

"Fascinating insight from that period from Ann Diamond, as usual." --- Kitty Hundal

“Never touch your idols: the gilding will stick to your fingers." --- Anonymous .......

"The ending will shock you." -- Ellen Atkin

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Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Man Next Door by Ann Diamond

The Man Next Door

by Ann Diamond

Giveaway ends January 21, 2015.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Thursday, April 4, 2013

I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard CohenI'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard CohenI'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This biography, like the earlier one by Ira Nadel, is the next instalment in the fairytale of Leonard Cohen's "life," and repeats some of the same errors, omissions and obfuscations. I hate to be unfan-like, but some of us read biographies to find out, err, the "truth" about famous people, not to wallow in their personal myth or worship in their cult of personality.

Leonard Cohen is one of those 20th century singers who made it to idol status after a long, sometimes bitter struggle.  It would be nice if someone, someday, actually peeked behind the curtain of stardom and exposed some of the more transparent fables.

Let's begin with his McGill undergraduate days, when he came close to flunking out with a 56.4 grade average at graduation. "He did much better in math" though, -- yes, perhaps because Leonard was infinitely more calculating than his naive schoolmates who actually studied. At age 17, he began supplementing his income by volunteering for Donald Hebb's notorious, CIA-funded, sensory isolation experiments, for which he got paid a lucrative $20/day. These led to days and weeks spent in flotation tanks on LSD. It's a miracle he managed to remain sane enough to write poetry -- but then, the CIA has long had a soft spot for poets and writers. They often make great spies.

Even in high school, Leonard had shown a tendency to embrace violence. His first short story, published in the Westmount HS yearbook, was titled "Kill or Be Killed."

At least Simmons asks the obvious question -- "How did Leonard get away with it?" -- while glossing over the answers. How does a 21-year-old McGill Law School dropout with barely passing grades get into graduate school at Columbia? Simmons admits "Enrolling at Columbia had really been a cover, something to keep Leonard's family happy."

Cohen friend Mort Rosengarten told Simmons that wealthy Montreal Jewish families did not want their sons becoming artists and intellectuals -- rather they were expected to enter the family business and churn out elegant suits and ties for the elite. Nevertheless, while rebelliously "floundering" in New York, Leonard founded a literary magazine called The Phoenix -- a perfect way to get close to the Greenwich Village poetry scene and its beatniks who ignored his formal, McGill-influenced verse.

Anyone who knows Leonard knows he's a sharp and disciplined thinker, not the kind of unfocussed dreamer who would imagine he could make a living off poetry. How did he survive in New York as he moved from failure to failure? That's the question that never seems to get answered.

We do know that in 1959 he moved to London to work on a novel. During that time, he met Jacob Rothschild -- heir to a banking empire -- who suggested Leonard visit his mother, Barbara Hutchison, on Hydra. Barbara Hutchison had divorced Jacob's father, and was planning to marry the painter Nikos Ghikas, who had a mansion overlooking the village of Kamini. Simmons doesn't say more about that visit, which found its way into Hydra legend. Following in Henry Miller's footsteps, Leonard knocked on Ghikas' door but, unlike Miller, who was welcomed, he was told to go away. As Leonard told it later to friends on Hydra, he shook his fist and shouted "Curse this house!" Soon after, the mansion burned to the ground and remains a spooky ruin to this day.

Maybe the Rothschilds had a bone to pick with Ghikas over Barbara's desertion? Maybe Leonard was their messenger? Simmons does not go there. She repeats the official story of how Leonard met Marianne and settled down on Hydra, in an ex-patriate community of artists that included Marianne's husband, Norwegian novelist Axel Jensen and Australian writers George and Charmian Johnston. (Late in 1959, Hydra's artists somehow figured in a photo-spread in LIFE magazine -- which Simmons doesn't mention, perhaps because the article was not only precious and tacky, it raises the question of why an obscure Canadian folksinger would appear in so many painfully posed photos depicting Bohemian life on a Greek island.)

LIFE magazine was a flagship of the CIA "MOCKINGBIRD" program -- but that's a conspiracy theory so let's move on. Next we come to the famous Cuban Missile Crisis adventure. This story gets more absurd with each repetition. Simmons delivers the standard version of how Leonard returned to Montreal in the fall of 1960, broke and separated from the woman and child he planned to support with the proceeds of his talent. After co-writing two unsuccessful TV scripts with Irving Layton, he learned his first novel had been rejected by McClelland and Stewart. On March 30, when he would normally have been going over the galleys for The Spicebox of Earth, and looking for paying work, the cash-strapped Leonard suddenly boarded a plane in Miami and flew to Cuba, just days ahead of the Bay of Pigs invasion.

"It is no great surprise that Leonard should have wanted to see Cuba," Simmons explains. "Lorca, his favourite poet, spent three months there when the country was America's playground, calling it a 'paradise' and extolling its virtues and vices."

Sure. Of course. She delivers a repeat of Leonard's carefully-honed account of days spent stumbling in and out of bars and hotels, and how he almost gets arrested as a CIA agent by Castro's over-zealous militia. But wait -- what if he really was a CIA agent? What if, in a desperate moment, he volunteered for the notorious failed mission, organized by CIA director Allen Dulles, the evil genius behind the MKULTRA program at McGill?

After all, the young Cohen and spymaster Dulles were only a degree or two of separation from each other. Dulles even employed some of Cohen's mentors and professors -- like Donald Hebb -- albeit covertly. Some of their secret LSD research involved the creation of Manchurian Candidates -- mind controlled agents and couriers who could be sent around the world on various missions in the name of anti-communism.

It stands to reason, in a way, doesn't it? That a hungry young poet with a "fascination for violence" might have signed up to go to Havana ahead of the military invasion with the group of spies who assigned to the hotels and bars. Exactly the kind of operation the MKULTRA program is now famous for.

Ten years later, on New Skin for the Old Ceremony, Cohen decided to spill the beans in a song: "Field Commander Cohen" -- "our most important spy/ wounded in the line of duty/ parachuting acid into diplomatic cocktail parties." However, Simmons dismisses this joking confession as having "no justification whatsoever."

Readers who are not totally brainwashed will gag on this nonsense, but in a way, it's just so interesting -- and there's more.

Like Nadel before her, Simmons doesn't seem to know Leonard was on Hydra from December 1980 through September 1981. How could she, if he didn't tell her? Others -- like me, for example -- could have filled her in on the aftermath of his dismal 1980 European tour, which ended in Tel Aviv on late November. I met Leonard and his musicians as they landed in Tel Aviv airport. I heard the complaints and arguments in the hotel over the next two days. Simmons says Leonard took them all on a jaunt to the Dead Sea -- I think someone is pulling our leg here. I recall Leonard, holed up at the hotel in a string of meetings with Israeli journalists and mysterious officials, ending with a painful meeting where he threatened to fire the band and replace them with "$300-a-week Armenian oud-players." Except for Sharon Robinson, who was cowriting a song with Leonard, Passenger band members seemed angry and demoralized as they boarded the plane back to Texas.

Simmons has him flying straight to New York from Tel Aviv, staying at the Algonquin Hotel, and buying Hannukah candles in preparation for celebrating the holiday with his children -- although Hannukah ended on December 10. (Nadel says he attended a religious ceremony on December 11). Neither biographer mentions John Lennon's assassination, two kilometers away on Central Park, which happened on the night of December 8, 1980. Leonard would have seen the streams of people in the streets, many holding candles and heading for the wake outside the Dakota where Lennon was shot.

In fact, though, Leonard flew Tel Avid -Athens on November 26. I arrived a day or two later and saw him at his house which he was preparing for his children's arrival, and several times over the following week. His Spanish translator, Alberto Manzano, also visited at Christmas for two weeks and took photos of Leonard in his kitchen, with Adam and Lorca, and around the port of Hydra. Those photos are displayed on Leonard's website.

If he was in New York on December 11, it had to have been a quick trip. He never mentioned it to me or anyone else. That's why when I reviewed Nadel's biography in 1995, I said the New York trip was one of many errors.

I have doubts about how biographies are constructed, especially when the subject is still alive and able to alter the facts of his own life. Both Simmons and Nadel shove the events of 1981 -- like Cohen's first meeting with Dominique Isserman -- to 1982. According to their account, which really sounds like Cohen's own summary, he spent 1981 somewhere in a state of creative limbo, penning "If It Be Thy Will" as a sort of prayer to his management.

I wonder why the year on Hydra, where he was ensconced from November 1980 to December, gets vaporized by these biographers? I think i know why. But if I told you, I'd have to kill you.

All right, I'll tell you. But you'll have to buy my memoir first, tentatively titled THE MAN NEXT DOOR, which is bound to get me in trouble but I don't really care anymore. And no, I'm not "objective" -- but neither are Simmons' sources.

I knew Leonard quite well from 1977 to 1983, when a strange coincidence brought me to his neighbourhood where I lived for the next 12 years. I studied with his Roshi during what I think was a decisive period for Cohen at least in terms of his relationship to Zen in America. I witnessed enough to notice the whitewashing (or should I say "chemtrailing"?) of Leonard's past that seems to be intensifying as he nears his 80s and near-sainthood.

I think the truth is way more interesting than the hagiographic PR we have been hearing for the past 30 years. Let's just say there has been more than one holocaust in Leonard's lifetime. There is much more to Leonard Cohen than his fans suspect, and therein lies a tale on the theme of "responsibility."

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

NIKO -- by Dimitri Nasrallah

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This award-winning novel opens very powerfully in Lebanon during the civil war years when Niko is a small boy and his mother is expecting a second child. The first two chapters are beautifully written in their drama and shock effect, and raise expectations for the rest of the book that seem almost impossible to meet. The tension and sense of tragedy are nearly unbearable as father and son travel the Greek islands seen through the eyes of these traumatized refugees desperately trying to rebuild their lives after unimaginable loss. Once Niko arrives in Canada, out of harm's way but also severely shaken by the loss of his father who has remained behind in Athens, he is adopted by immigrant relatives and forced to begin his life over in a strange country devoid of warmth, where survival is guaranteed but life has little meaning. With that transition to a safer, greyer world devoid of family values, the story of Niko loses much of its energy and focus as it becomes a tale of adaptation to a strange new environment. You could argue that this is inevitable, given that Montreal and Beirut are as far apart as tragedy and irony -- but I think some of the responsibility for the relative weakness of the final chapters (and particularly the climax, when Niko robs the till at Zeller's to go searching for his father, now a shipwrecked sailor with amnesia who has ended up in Chile after being found at sea, the sole survivor of a vessel that sank off the coast of Brazil...) belongs to the author, for failing to deepen and develop the character of Niko. In fact, from the shipwreck on, I stopped believing in a story that had seemed overwhelmingly real, and incredibly riveting up to that point. The geographic distance between father and son also becomes a distancing from reality, or maybe a literary nod to Gabriel Garcia Marquez rather than an authentic exploration of the refugee experience. The magic begins to feel contrived, as Niko suffers through adolescent exile marooned on Montreal's suburban south shore with an aunt and adoptive uncle who are pursuing their own materialistic dreams as immigrants and 'new Canadians." Both Niko and his father seem detached, in different ways, from their own inner truth. Maybe this is the theme, reflecting the psychic condition of post traumatic stress -- but I couldn't help feeling the novel failed to find a path to a conclusion worthy of its astonishing and unforgettable beginning.

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