Merilyn Simonds
Book cover - Refuge: a novel

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.   Stories Behind the Story   .

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Frida Kahlo

Flying the Hump

Infantile Paralysis


.   Book Club Questions   .

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Zuflught (German cover of Refuge)

.   Refuge: a novel   .

Published by: ECW Press
Publish Date: September 4, 2018
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.   To whom do we offer refuge – and why?   .

After a life that rubbed up against the century’s great events in New York City, Mexico, and Montreal, 96-year-old Cassandra MacCallum is surviving well enough, alone on her island, when a young Burmese woman contacts her, claiming to be kin. Curiosity, loneliness, and a slender filament of hope prompts the old woman to accept a visit. But Nang’s story of torture and flight provokes memories in Cass that peel back, layer by layer, the events that brought her to this moment – and forces her, against her will, to confront the tragedy she has refused for half a century. What does she owe this girl, who claims to be stateless because of her MacCallum blood? Drawn, despite herself, into Nang’s search for refuge, Cass struggles to accept the past and find a way into whatever future remains to her.

.   Interview with Hal Wake   .

Hal Wake, esteemed Canadian literary maven (former CBC book producer and artistic director of Vancouver International Writers Festival), interviews Merilyn Simonds about the inspiration for and process of writing her new novel, Refuge.

Listen to the interview (MP3) »

.   Praise for Refuge   .

“A page-turner of a novel, Refuge reminds us how the gift of sanctuary shapes both those who offer it and those who receive it.”
Shyam Selvadouri, twice winner of the Lambda Literary Award, author of Cinnamon Gardens and The Hungry Ghosts

“This novel patiently accrues richness and layered resonance in the manner of a long life—in fact, like the almost century-long life of its stubborn, vital heroine. It also explores in personal and intimate terms the most important issues of our time: the nature of borders and belonging and the plight of the refugee.”
Steven Heighton, author of the Governor General’s Award–winning The Waking Comes Late.

“A silk scarf of a novel, which catches on far-flung places and deep heartaches and gathers them into an old woman’s gnarled and feisty memory. Merilyn Simonds shows how mysterious we remain to ourselves and to each other after even a century of living.”
Elizabeth Hay, author of Giller Prize–winning Late Nights on Air

“Revolving around a single unlikely hub—the restless and irascible Cass McCallum (whose motto might be: Living is hard, but Loving is harder)—this whirling journey through the 20th century is energized by fateful encounters with people, places, history and Nature, all of which invite us to reconsider with freshly invigorated senses the world we think we know, and the kinships we think we share, even with those we hold most dear.”
John Vaillant, author of The Jaguar’s Children and winner of the Governor General’s Award, the BC Book Prize, and the Windham Campbell Literature Prize.

.   Readers’ Comments   .

“This is truly Historical Fiction at its finest. Yes, there is romance, but written without the sappy icing. The story is fascinating, and reaches deep into the spirit of family, heritage, and community.”

“a beautifully crafted literary novel, both historic and contemporary — a masterpiece of a work — and also a deeply compelling mystery, a novel that will haunt me for some time to come.”

“Rare is the novel I must read, from beginning to end, in one sitting. Merilyn Simonds’s Refuge is one of those few gems.”
–Laurie Mackie

“The tapestry of a life is what Refuge holds. From Cassandra’s first musing, I was drawn into her narrative. It is beautiful. It is heart wrenching. It is representative of a woman’s strength and desire to both persevere and disappear. Thank you Net Galley for allowing me to be one of the first to hear what it means to both seek and offer Refuge.”

“I can’t tell you how many times in the last two or three years that I have started reading a book only to put it aside, unfinished. Refuge held my interest from the first page until the last. I cared about the characters, found them all to be interesting people living in interesting times. Cassandra MacCallum is unforgettable.”
–David Sweet, bookseller
Books & Company, Picton, ON

.   Reviews   .

“…bracing and beautiful.”
– Sarah Murdoch, Toronto Star

“an integrated tableau of dramatic snapshots of a century in which one woman’s unusual life interconnects with war, culture, scientific discovery, the plight of the refugee and the fragility of love.”
– Jamie Portman, The Windsor Star

Refuge is bejewelled by fine writing. In terms of structure and imagery, it is a marvel. Names of insects, insect lore, some science, some history, diseases, weird musical instruments, musicians, artists, photographers, costumes, and a treasure that ruins everything as treasure is wont to do—the novel is itself a treasure trove, presided over by the grand dame who tells lies right to the very end.”
– Debra Martens, Canadian Writers Abroad

“Cass’s need to confront her past honestly and Nang’s search for refuge coalesce in a tense and emotionally wrought narrative.”
– Nancy Powell, Shelf Awareness

“You don’t make it to ninety-six without accumulating a few stories, and Cassandra MacCallum is no different, although she didn’t expect, at that age, to learn something new about her past. Merilyn Simonds moves back and forth between present in past, gently revealing all of the things that made Cassandra who she is: kind of cantankerous, definitely skeptical, but also, undeniably curious about what she might have missed.”
– Alexandra Donaldson, Edit Seven

“Simonds is one of those (few) writers who can pull off both fiction and fact. Elizabeth Hay (herself no slouch was a writer) called Refuge “a silk scraf of a novel,” It is far more than that. [I’m] placing Refuge onto my “keep forever” shelf of fine Canadian fiction.”
– Andrew Armitage, Owen Sound Sun-Times

“Simonds paints a portrait of two intriguing women who have more in common than is at first obvious. Without being overly sentimental, it’s a moving and deeply satisfying tale.”
New York Journal of Books

“Is Merilyn Simonds’s Refuge a fictional memoir, a historical novel, or an exploration of the causes and results of seeking refuge? It’s all three, as it turns out, and a mystery besides.”
Foreword Reviews

“Do you believe what you see with your eyes or what you see with your heart? That question, raised by Simond’s layered and nuanced account of an extraordinary life, will provoke thought in skeptics and believers alike.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Against the backdrop of almost a century of Canadian, Mexican, and American history, Simonds explores the sometimes unknown, astonishing, and enduring-against-all-odds connections between siblings, parents, and children that span generations—and the globe.”
Booklist (US)

Refuge interweaves Cass MacCallum’s painful reckoning with her family history and her developing relationship with Nang Aung Myaing. Simonds depicts the varied settings and incidents with adept and vivid specificity, but it’s Cass herself—sharp, determined, cantankerous—who provides unity to the narration. Cass must ultimately consider whether human connections, whatever their pretext, are more meaningful than blood ties…a moving conclusion to her fitful and often unhappy story.”
–Rohan Maitzen, Quill & Quire, July/August issue