As well as being passionate writers, we at Helium Scribe are, first and foremost, avid readers. Although much of our reading is technical, we don’t forget to take the time to read for pleasure. We also support the Writer’s Trust, which supports Canadian writers. That’s why our team thought we should share our favourite Canadian book of the year with you! 

How to Pronounce Knife – Souvankham Thammavongsa

O. Henry award winner and Laotian-Canadian author Souvankham Thammavongsa’s debut book of fiction, How to Pronounce Knife, won this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize award. Born in a Lao refugee camp in Nong Khai, Thailand, and raised in Toronto, Thammavongsa provides a unique voice and perspective in diasporic literature. 

How to Pronounce Knife is a collection of short stories that deal with profound loss in their own way. Thammavongsa’s book primarily focuses on Lao families who escaped the Laotian Civil War and what they left behind. Whether told from the perspective of a daughter, mother, father, or young adult, each story brilliantly captures the emotional and sometimes physical toll that displacement has on their sense of belonging. 

Full of wit and subtle strength, Thammavongsa’s enthralling narrative flow pulls the reader into the lives, hopes, and dreams of migrant families. Each short story illuminates a varying aspect of migrant life that is often overlooked or underappreciated by those who lack similar experiences. Like those who are unsettled in the book through loss or exclusion, we as readers become unsettled by what we take for granted. It is mesmerizing and thought-provoking. 

Of all the books we’ve read this year, How to Pronounce Knife elicited the most genuine emotions from us. From hopelessness to melancholy to joy, each story delivers a punch both delicate and titanic. Some of our favourite stories include “How to Pronounce Knife,” “Chick-A-Chee,” and “Picking Worms.” This book is perfect for those who want a riveting read but don’t have a lot of spare time, as each story is short and the chapters are non-sequential. 

2020 saw a lot of amazing books published by Canadian authors and, as supporters of Canadian writers, we are thrilled. For more reading recommendations, check out our charitable partner’s 2020 Best Books of the Year.