Jun 012021

This does my heart good. Just announced today — Madhur Anand has won the 2021 Governor-General’s Award for non-fiction for her memoir This Red Line Goes Straight to Your Heart: A Memoir in Halves. 

Here’s what the judges said: “An innovative, moving account of three generations of a South Asian Canadian family as they negotiate time, history, memory and loss, this book of constant, fleeting juxtapositions is a confluence of the intimate and the objective that blends science, personal narrative and fictional elements to push the non-fiction form into bold new territory. In This Red Line Goes Straight to Your Heart, Anand challenges the ways we think about memoir and family history.”

And here is the GG book description:

An experimental memoir about the Partition, immigration and generational storytelling, This Red Line Goes Straight to Your Heart weaves together the poetry of memory with the science of embodied trauma using the imagined voices of the past and the vital authority of the present.

We begin before the red line is drawn across Punjab, with a man off balance: one in one thousand, the only child in town whose polio leads to partial paralysis. We meet his future wife, on the wrong side of the line, chanting Hai Rams for Gandhiji and choosing education over marriage. On one side of the line that divides this book, we follow them as their homeland splits in two and they come together, moving to Canada and raising their children in mining towns and in crowded city apartments. And when we turn the book over, we find the daughter’s tale: how the rupture of Partition, the asymmetry of a father’s leg, and the virus of a mother’s rage made their way to the next generation. Told through the lenses of biology, physics, history and poetry, this is a memoir that defies form and convention to immerse the reader in the feeling of what remains when we’ve heard as much of the truth as our families will allow, and we’re left to search for ourselves among the pieces they’ve carried with them.

Madhur is a scientist and a poet, as well as being a remarkable and risk-taking prose writer. It is truly wonderful to see work like this recognized.

As you may recall from my earlier post, Madhur was a student in that never-to-be-forgotten non-fiction workshop I taught in Banff four years ago. Apparently, that workshop was an amazing success, moreso than we all realized at the time. At the time, it seemed for most of us a sweet personal experience, convivial and jolly, with many hours spent working together but also in extra-curricular mountain explorations and visits to a gin bar in town. But the sense of success and accomplishment burgeons as the years go by. Besides Madhur, the Toronto journalist Katie Daubs published her book The Missing Millionaire in 2020 and Heather McCalden only last month won the Fitzcarraldo Editions/Mahler & Lewitt Studios Essay Prize, which includes cash, a long sojourn at at studio in Italy, and book publication. It was a truly gilded, gifted group of writers.




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