This season’s shelf features international reads, including a beautifully lyrical memoir translated from French, the work of a recently deceased Canadian poet, and an investigation into the poisoning of U.S. soldiers and civilians abroad during the “War on Terror.”


By Lise Marzouk

“If: A Mother’s Memoir” opens with an especially poignant scene of discovery—a mother, examining her son’s mouth, finds a swelling: “What I’m looking at is putrefying, with the color and smell of death.” A recount of one mother’s journey caring for her son while he receives treatment for cancer, “If” keeps you captive and, at times, alarmed.

In free-wheeling prose, Marzouk perfectly captures the torture and tumult of this uniquely horrifying position. Though “If” was originally written in French, Marzouk’s wizardry with the written word shines through the English translation. Her voice is strong and true, her pain almost tangible. Despite almost daily nightmares, she carries on, as any mother would: “I’m an athlete exquisitely trained for impending catastrophe,” she writes.

“If” is the story of mother-as-superhero—what can she withstand, so that her son may live as comfortably as he is able? But it is also offers an almost maddening glimpse at the French healthcare system. From an American perspective, it seems almost heartless for Marzouk to fail to recognize the family’s undoubtedly mounting debt, but this isn’t much of an issue in social-ized France, who provide low-cost health care for all its citizens. Equal parts heartbreaking, astute, and lyrical, “If” beautifully tells the story of a loving family navigating the horrific landscape of childhood cancer.

October 2019, Other Press, $16.99

By Teva Harrison

Teva Harrison was a Toronto-based artist, writer, and cartoon-ist known for documenting her life living with metastatic breast cancer. Harrison passed away in April 2019, and her latest book of poetry follows the progres-sion of her illness, charting the highs and lows in intimate and revealing poetry that will both stun and soothe you. Visceral and gut-wrenching, Harrison holds nothing back— “In bulbous orbs and creeping tendrils, my cancer bloomed. My cancer/ grew faster, faster, and my liver could not stretch to accommodate,” she writes. In pages intermixed with delicate illustrations, “Not One of These Poems Is About You” introduces a sensitive, insightful, and charming artist who was taken from this world too soon.

January 2020, House of Anansi Press Inc., $19.95


By Joseph Hickman

“If you find these stories disturbing, I have done my job,” writes Hickman in “The Burn Pits.” Considered “this generation’s Agent Orange,” the open-air burn pits that raged all day, every day during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have had dev-astating health effects on soldiers and civilians abroad. Originally identified as “temporary” means to remove trash on U.S. military bases, many burn pits operated as late as 2015, incinerating all kinds of toxic substances—from plastics to medical waste to asbestos insulation—and cloaking the air around the base in toxic smoke and ash for years. While there is little investigation into the affected Afghani and Iraqi civilians, many U.S. soldiers who served in areas that operated burn pits are now experiencing devastating chronic illnesses—almost exclusively brain cancer and leukemia.

PPB: January 2020, Hot Books, $16.99


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