(The 2018 winner of CBC Canada Reads is revealed below!)
Today in front of a studio audience in Toronto, CBC Canada Reads panelist Mozhdah Jamalzadah, host of The Mozhdah Show, hesitated before revealing her tie-breaking vote. She was the last of the five panelists to announce her choice, meaning whichever book she named would be removed from the competition and the remaining title would be crowned the victor.
"American War," she said. "I'm sorry."
"And that means that the winner is Forgiveness [by Mark Sakamoto]," announced host Ali Hassan. And with that, Sakamoto's memoir joined a list of winners that includes works by Michael Ondaatje, Miriam Toews, Lawrence Hill, and many other CanLit heavy hitters.
Fashion icon Jeanne Beker, who defended Forgiveness, was moved nearly to tears at the conclusion. She immediately credited Sakamoto. "I didn't win," she said, "Mark Sakamoto and his brilliant book won." She spoke of the emotional toll of the debates wryly saying "What a ride" it had been, but encouraged listeners to take on projects that intimidate them, saying that although the debates have been difficult, she was thrilled to have been a part of the competition.
It was a spirited debate for the final day, coming in after Cherie Dimaline's The Marrow Thieves, which had proved to be a fan favourite, was voted off on Wednesday. Much of the discussion focused on the fact that some of the panelists found Omar El Akkad's American War, a novel which follows a second American Civil War and is set 60 years in the future, was too dark in tone, a criticism that had also been levelled at Dimaline's dystopian young adult novel. Juno Award winning singer Jully Black, who defended The Marrow Thieves, noted that books with darker themes can be powerful educational and empathy-building tools. "[It shows] we don't have to be our pasts and we have the power to re-write our futures," she said.
Battlestar Galactica actor Tahmoh Penikett, who was defending American War, agreed with the necessity and power of books that go to dark places to emphasize their themes. He referenced the many issues facing communities both in Canada and abroad, including the shameful lack of universal access to clean drinking water for Indigenous people in Canada. "Life isn't so beautiful sometimes, here or abroad," he said, noting that literature can start conversations and highlighting the importance of storytelling. "People need to know their stories have been heard in order to move forward," he added.
While Forgiveness also deals with difficult subject matter, including the experiences of Sakamoto's grandfathers as an interned Japanese-Canadian and a prisoner of war in Hong Kong (respectively), some of the panelists found themselves more inspired by the memoir's tone, which storm chaser and weather expert Greg Johnson (who had previously defended Precious Cargo by Craig Davidson) described as more "hopeful."
There was also praise all around the table for the skill and style on display in both remaining books. Johnson praised American War as gripping, calling it a "page flipper," while Black noted that although the book is a serious story, it even had moments of humour and was grounded in loving human relationships.
Jamalzadah, who defended Journey Prize winner Sharon Bala's The Boat People, spoke of her fondness for Forgiveness, responding to the question of what she liked about it with "Everything... it was so powerful, so magical." Even Penikett graciously praised the opposition, saying "I commend Mark for having written [Forgiveness]." Beker too had kind words for her opponent's choice, praising American War effusively. She noted in particular how "cinematic" she found the novel. She even called in to question the idea of comparing two strong, and very different books, by such talented writers, calling the idea "ridiculous".
Despite her reservations about the competitive aspect of Canada Reads, however, Beker was ultimately successful in convincing the panelists the Sakamoto's Forgiveness best met the 2018 theme of "one book to open Canadians' eyes."
Day Four Canada Reads Elimination Votes:
Jeanne Beker voted to eliminate American War
Jully Black voted to eliminate Forgiveness
Mozhdah Jamalzadah voted to eliminate American War
Greg Johnson voted to eliminate American War
Tahmoh Penikett voted to eliminate Forgiveness
Canada Reads will return next year with a new theme, books, and panelists.
Our congratulations to all the authors and panelists and particularly Jeanne Beker and Mark Sakamoto!