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The Break by Katherena Vermette


The Break by Katherena Vermette is set in Winnipeg's North End. One fateful night a crime occurs witnessed by a young Métis mother. The Break is narrated from several viewpoints, adding to the complexity and interest of the storyline. 


"I choose to live in hope," Katherena Vermette said at a Canada Reads event at Indigo Chapters last month. And when you read The Break, you see that this theme lingers in the background, despite the gut-wrenching narrative. The protagonist, perseveres. 


The story revolves around the crime committed but the reader is forced to piece together the journey captured from various viewpoints and make sense of the differing frames. Shifting narratives, by people connected with the violence, narrate the story leading up to the night of the crime, making the pacing and suspense thoroughly satisfying. All in all, there are ten perspectives that act as the magnifying glass to the solving of the mystery. One of these, is the girl at the centre of the crime, but with Katherena Vermette's brilliant aptitude to keep us in suspense, the reader is never quite sure about the choices that the girl will gravitate towards and how it lead to that fateful night. 


One of the strengths of the book is how intricately and profoundly each character has been developed. Too often, when there are multiple character stories in a book, some get to be overlooked and rushed. Katherena Vermette has the uncanny ability to make us feel the aching pain of moments that touch the characters. And they all have been broken in some way or another. 


Cheryl, is an artist, who has lost her sister prematurely. 



"Cheryl breathes out and tries to give her granddaughter strength. Wolves teach humility -- they trench us that we are in this together, all part of the same whole. If something happens to one of them, they all feel it. Cheryl breathes out deep and warm, breathes in Emily's pain and gives her back all the strength she has." 

I've read a lot of period pieces of indigenous origin providing snapshots life from a bygone era.  The Break is set in the modern age, making the characters and situations relatable. What Katherena Vermette is able to capture, is the essence of indigenous culture in the writing; it is embedded in characters' soulfulness, the decisions they make, and their connections to the land.



" My body is only a memory. But sometimes, memories are the most real of all. And even though I am gone, you remember and love me. So really, there is nothing to envy the living. 
The dead don't hang on, the living do." 

The writing is beautiful. While pain and sadness prevail in The Break, the themes of hope, love and relationships, are the glue that make this book absolutely engaging. Trauma is shared, and pain of this lingers long after the incident has occurred. The Break, highlighting  the strong sense of community and family, is juxtaposed against a sense of loneliness and isolation. 


Stella is a new mom, and the woman who is the key witness in this horrific crime. But as she grapples with her memory and wondering if she could have done more, her husband Adam, questions whether she is in the right state of mind and perhaps is blowing it all out of proportion. 


And in the end, we have to confront our demons, and then we have to go on. The sadness and pain remain, but with it comes hope. The hope of the next day. The hope of possibility. It's the only thing that remains and the only thing that can heal. 


With honest characters and a strength to believe that the one thing that matters is now, Katherena Vermette's The Break, is a beautiful story that defines the strength of a woman, and the importance of community. A literary masterpiece, powerful in its prose, it's no wonder that this book is shortlisted on the 2017 Canada Reads. This heartbreaking profound novel is defended by comedian Candy Palmater.


Tune in to the #CanadaReads debates from March 27-30, 2017 and find out which novel wins. 


Have you read these Canada Reads books?

M.G. Vassanji's Nostalgia is set in the indeterminate future in an unnamed city. Defended by Canadian Armed Forces veteran Jody Mitic
Company Town by Madeline Ashby features a mystery surrounding a family that owns an city-sized oil rig, and an elite bodyguard at the centre of it all. Defended by actress Tamara Taylor.
André Alexis won the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction for his book Fifteen Dogs in 2015. In the debates it will be defended by author and rapper Humble The Poet. It follows a group of dogs who are given human consciousness by the gods Hermes and Apollo. 
And finally, The Right to Be Cold: One Woman's Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic and the Whole Planet by acclaimed Inuk activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier will be defended by singer-songwriter, Chantal Kreviazuk
Looking forward to getting up to speed on all these books, and watching the debates March 27-30, 2017. 

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