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Source: University of New Brunswick - Saint John


November 9, 2006

November 9, 2006 UNB Saint John News Release: 06-194 Patty O'Brien, Information Officer (506) 648-5707

Author Madeleine Thien will read from her novel Certainty on Monday, November 20 at 7 pm at the Faculty-Staff Club, Ward Chipman Library Building as part of the Lorenzo Reading Series at the University of New Brunswick Saint John.

Madeleine Thien’s short story collection, Simple Recipes (2002), which is about the immigration experience and the deep bond between family members, won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and the City of Vancouver Book Award. It was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best First Book (Caribbean and Canada region). Thien is also the author of a children’s book, The Chinese Violin. Certainty is her first novel. Thien lives in Quebec City.

Certainty is a subtle and sombre narrative told expertly and quietly. The narrative moves from past to present, from present-day Vancouver to 1940s Sandakan, British North Borneo, and from grief to hope. The concepts of past, present, and future are presented as malleable, concepts that cannot remain rigid in the face of traumatic loss. Time is in a constant state of flux; relationships are unfathomable: "Most of the time, to each other, all we are is light on the surface." Dr. Ansel Ressing is stalled in the pain of physical separation – the death of his partner, Gail. He keeps their "solid, unremarkable house" just as it was when Gail was alive. He listens to her voice on the tape recordings and the reel-to-reels she’s made as a radio journalist, and he searches her medical records for any clue as to what he might have done to save her. Ansel, like so many of Thien's characters in this novel, inhabits the past like a second skin. As his neighbour Ed tells him, "‘Grief is the time when you ask all the questions….’" In her last project, Gail had been trying to break the code of a war-time diary, hoping to find the thread of narrative in another's life. Doing so, she had stumbled across the secret of her own father's tragic youth in Sandakan, British North Borneo. She wonders how we can ever really know another person, certainty disappearing like words on an unravelling tape. In Vancouver, Gail’s elderly father, Matthew Lim, spends his days in memory: "the past had become like a book submerged in the water, the ink running across the lines…." Matthew remembers spending time in bomb craters with his childhood friend Ani, waiting for the madness to end. He remembers the shame of loving his collaborating father. Through Matthew’s memories, Sandakan comes alive for us – the trees along the edge of the forbidden Leila Road, a box of food falling suddenly from the sky, a pistol in a Japanese soldier’s hand. The hut of Matthew's childhood is juxtaposed against his present-day, comfortable two-storey in Vancouver, memory making it possible to "pass between the days." Thien takes us on a journey through what is knowable and what must be taken on faith: The story swings "like a pendulum" between settings and relationships, between certainty and "the indefinite, the uncertain, hereafter."

The reading is hosted by The Lorenzo Society and the UNB Saint John Bookstore, and supported by The Canada Council for the Arts. Admission is free and all are welcome to attend. For more information contact The University Bookstore at (506) 648-5540 or e-mail

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