To whom do we offer refuge — and why?
After a life that rubbed up against the century’s great events in New York City, Mexico, and Montreal, 96-year-old Cassandra MacCallum is surviving well enough, alone on her island, when a young Burmese woman contacts her, claiming to be kin. Curiosity, loneliness, and a slender filament of hope prompts the old woman to accept a visit. But Nang’s story of torture and flight provokes memories in Cass that peel back, layer by layer, the events that brought her to this moment — and forces her, against her will, to confront the tragedy she has refused for half a century. Could her son really be Nang’s grandfather? What does she owe this girl, who claims to be stateless because of her MacCallum blood? Drawn, despite herself, into Nang’s search for refuge, Cass struggles to accept the past and find a way into whatever future remains to her.
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Merilyn Simonds is the author of 17 books, including Gutenberg’s Fingerprint, a 2017 Globe Best Book, The Holding, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, and the Canadian classic work of creative nonfiction, The Convict Lover, a finalist for the Governor General’s Award. Her work has been anthologized and published internationally. In 2017, Project Bookmark Canada unveiled a plaque to honor the place of The Convict Lover in Canada’s literary landscape. She grew up in South America and now divides her time between Kingston, Ontario, and Mexico.
Published: September 2018
Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.5 in.
“Do you believe what you see with your eyes or what you see with your heart? That question, raised by Simonds’ layered and nuanced account of an extraordinary life, will provoke thought in skeptics and believers alike.” — Kirkus Reviews
“Real people and events are woven into this work of fiction, enhancing its intrigue and authenticity without removing the spotlight from Cass. Cass’s obsession with scientific experimentation and examination … infuses the story with detail, insight, and depth.” — Foreword Reviews
“A silk scarf of a novel, which catches on far-flung places and deep heartaches, and gathers them into an old woman’s gnarled and feisty memory. Merilyn Simonds shows how mysterious we remain to ourselves and to each other after even a century of living.” — Elizabeth Hay, author of Giller Prize-winning Late Nights on Air
“Revolving around a single unlikely hub — the restless and irascible Cass McCallum (whose motto might be: living is hard, but loving is harder) — this journey through the 20th century is energized by fateful encounters with people, places, history, and nature, all of which invite us to reconsider the world we think we know, and the kinships we think we share, even with those we hold most dear.” — John Vaillant, Governor General's Award–winning author of The Jaguar’s Children
“Simonds paints a portrait of two intriguing women who have more in common than is at first obvious. Without being overly sentimental, it's a moving and deeply satisfying tale.” — NY Journal of Books
“This book is full of life and the struggle to stay alive, which I always find profoundly moving.” — A Bookish Type blog
“In terms of structure and imagery, this is a marvel . . . The novel is itself a treasure trove, presided over by the grand dame who tells lies right to the very end . . . Refuge is bejewelled by fine writing.” — Canadian Writers Abroad
“Refuge offers an integrated tableau of dramatic snapshots of a century in which one woman’s unusual life interconnects with war, culture, scientific discovery, the plight of the refugee, and the fragility of love. Real-life characters — among them artist Frida Kahlo and forgotten Canadian polio researcher Maurice Brodie — blend seamlessly into the fictional narrative. And the formidable linkage is provided by the presence of Cass, from childhood to old age, in all her stubbornness, resilience, vulnerability, and fallibility.” — Calgary Herald
“Simonds’ skill really shines as she brings Mexico in the early 20th century to life.” — Karissa Reads Books blog
“Against the backdrop of almost a century of Canadian, Mexican, and American history, Simonds explores the sometimes unknown, astonishing, and enduring-against-all-odds connections between siblings, parents, and children that span generations and the globe.” — Booklist
“Artful and allusive.” — Quill & Quire
“This page-turner of a novel vividly captures some of the great historical moments of the 20th century through the intimate gaze of its vibrant heroine, Cass MacCallum. Merilyn Simonds is equally at home whether writing about 1930’s Mexico or New York in the war years or Montreal or the Canadian countryside. Her beautiful, lucid prose brings to life these worlds and the unforgettable characters she peoples them with. Refuge reminds us of how the gift of sanctuary shapes both those who offer it and those who receive it. A landmark achievement in Simonds’s already illustrious career.” — Shyam Selvadurai, author of Books in Canada First Novel Award–winning Funny Boy
“This novel patiently accrues richness and layered resonance in the manner of a long life — in fact, like the almost century-long life of its stubborn, vital heroine. It also explores in personal and intimate terms the most important issues of our time: the nature of borders and belonging, and the plight of the refugee.” —Steven Heighton, author of the Governor General's Award–winning The Waking Comes Late
"A novel that went by so fast I had to stop and start over again. Simonds is one of those (few) writers who can pull off fiction and fact." — Owen Sound Sun Times
“Refuge is the type of book that you never want to put down, never want it to end . . . With richly descriptive passages and a photographic element that I was happy to find inside this gem of a novel you will not be disappointed.” — Chill Mom blog
“Simonds’s attention to detail — her descriptive, poetic writing — connects the dots between all the major events of the 20th century through Cass’s eyes. She pulls readers in and builds emotional tension, turning the fantastical into believable moments in her characters’ lives.” — Shelf Awareness for Readers
“Bracing and beautiful.” — Toronto Star
“Simonds builds convincing portraits of Cassie and her times, especially the 1930s and 1940s. Indeed, it’s the aesthetic patterning, the structural and metaphoric echoing, that reveals Simonds’s skill.” — University of Toronto Quarterly