Since 2004, the Canadian publishing company Biblioasis has remained committed to publishing intimate and creative works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry from authors across the world. As the fall semester comes to a close and students finally get the opportunity to read and decompress during winter break, The McGill Tribune highlights two of Biblioasis’ best offerings released this year.
Ordinary Wonder Tales by Emily Urquhart – Ella Buckingham
In this essay collection, Emily Urquhart draws from her experience as a folklore scholar to relate historical “wonder tales,” as she calls them, to experiences in her own life. Pulling from legends ranging in origin from Japanese to Irish, this collection is engaging, innovative, and thoughtful. Characters appearing throughout these folktales such as the Amabie, a half-fish, half-duck Japanese prophetess, are described in vivid detail. The Amabie warned the village people to whom it appeared that a plague would occur unless her image was spread amongst the people.
Urquhart then applies these folktales to situations of our time, demonstrating how adaptable and powerful these stories are to contemporary life. In “The Plague Tales,” she explains how during the pandemic, her family and children sketched out the Amabie and placed it on the front door as a protective talisman. She also explores how ancient motifs can resonate in present-day stories. In “Years Thought Days,” she compares her father’s battle with dementia to a genre of folktale with the same name that references the supernatural flow of time occurring when a mortal visits the underworld.
At points, discord emerges between the stories’ lyrical quality and the crash course on the technical side of folklore scattered throughout. This can distract readers from the calming lull of the tales. However, the end result is a literal blending of fact and fiction that informs readers about the complexity of storytelling while also satisfying their imaginations. In Urquhart’s collection, she dispels the notion that fairy tales are irrelevant in this fast-paced, modern environment, and recreates the magic of childhood in day-to-day life.
This Time, That Place by Clark Blaise – Adrienne Roy
Peeling off layers and simultaneously figuring out which ones to put back on epitomizes the never-ending process of growing up. Clark Blaise’s latest memoir This Time, That Place, a compilation of 24 essays spanning 40 years, is a bittersweet work that authentically captures this transformation.
The structure of This Time, That Place gifts the reader with more agency than a typical autobiography. By first illustrating his nomadic childhood, Blaise contextualizes the disjointedness he feels in adulthood without explicitly addressing it, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions. While the stories are uniquely his, he expresses his growing pains in a universal way. The reader feels they’ve known someone like his uncle Étienne: Once the mayor of a war-torn town in France, he immigrated to the United States and opened a French restaurant in Gainesville, Florida. Perhaps they aspire to be like his wife Bharati Mukherjee, who balances her writing and teaching career, including a stint at McGill while navigating two worlds as an Indian immigrant to North America. The readers don’t feel as though they’re merely a fly on the wall: They’re sitting in the back of a stolen car in the middle of the night, inheriting a new identity as they watch a past life fade in the rearview.
Margaret Atwood writes a graceful foreword to This Time, That Place and emphasizes Blaise’s underappreciated and lasting impact on Canadian literature. When other Canadian authors looked to publish abroad, exchanging their Canadian identity for the opportunity of a larger audience, Blaise did the opposite, dedicating his time to the Montreal Story Tellers rather than publishing in the New Yorker. In outlining his devotion, the reader trusts Blaise from the first page. Though sublimely written, This Time, That Place stands out because of that early connection with the reader and Blaise’s vulnerability. His dedication to poignant storytelling instead of commercial success fosters an unparalleled reading experience, and ensures that This Time, That Place finds its audience only for the right reasons.