And then there was one: The Handmaid’s Tale and Kim’s Convenience actress Amanda Brugel is the winner of Canada Reads 2020. In a suspenseful finale, the book she defended, memoir We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib, survived the final elimination vote on July 23, 2020.
Brugel successfully presented her case about why 2019 memoir We Have Always Been Here — in which Canadian journalist, photographer and activist Habib chronicles her childhood in Pakistan, her experience with religious persecution, her arrival to Canada as a child refugee and her journey of coming out as a proud queer Muslim woman — is the one book that will bring Canada into focus.
The runner-up was Eden Robinson‘s acclaimed 2017 novel Son of a Trickster, a coming-of-age story about an impoverished teenage boy who discovers he has a connection to the Haisla trickster Wee’jit. Son of a Trickster was defended by Letterkenny star Kaniehtiio “Tiio” Horn.
Brugel won in a 4-1 vote on the final day.
“Samra‘s writing is intelligent, raw and ultimately life-affirming. She bravely tackles her own experience with sexual assault, homophobia, religious persecution and Islamophobia in such a compassionate, accessible way that it compels us to tackle our own hardships with similar grace,” Brugel said during the Canada Reads 2020 finale.
Brugel was steadfast in her passionate defence of the book during Canada Reads 2020. She noted how, while all five of the contending books dealt with important issues, she felt We Have Always Been Here is the one book that best fits Canada Reads 2020 theme of “one book to bring Canada into focus.”
“With the recent global conversations about the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as every other marginalized group that has been forced to live in the shadows, Canadians have very quickly realized that we’re not all that inclusive,” said Brugel on Day One of the debates.
“We Have Always Been Here …will bring Canada into focus right now because it finally acknowledges so many of our own communities that, up until now we have been just too complacent to investigate. LGBTQ lives, refugee lives, Muslim lives: in one fell swoop it gently educates its reader about the complexities of our differences all the while guiding us to the triumphant conclusion that, at our core, we are all the same.”
As Brugel said during the event, the memoir is a powerful reminder of the everyday struggles that all Canadians face in finding their own identity and place in the world.
“What makes this memoir great is the sheer amount of individuals it speaks to, particularly the individuals that aren’t used to being acknowledged. For me, We Have Always Been Here was like reading the private diary of a soulmate that I had yet to meet. Samra‘s prose is both lyrical and smart without being too overly written. Every sentence is carefully constructed to be beautiful even when describing ugly situations. Her displays of vulnerability and honesty become contagious because she encourages herself as well as our audience to come out of hiding — to forgive yourself for not conforming — in order to find inner peace,” Brugel said on Day Two of the debates.
The other three books were eliminated earlier in the week. Novella collection Radicalized by Cory Doctorow and defended by Akil Augustine was eliminated on Day One, followed by Metis-Cree author Jesse Thistle‘s memoir From the Ashes defended by George Canyon on Day Two, and Newfoundland playwright and author Megan Gail Coles‘s novel Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club defended by Alayna Fender on Day Three.
It was a week full of agreement for the literary merit of all the contending books, but also featured some reasoned exchanges and criticisms.
This year’s show was hosted by Ali Hassan.
The Canada Reads 2020 contenders and their chosen books are: