Book Review: Fugue States by Pasha Malla


By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis / @zaralibrary

bk - fugue states


Category: General Fiction (Adult)

Author: Pasha Malla

Format: E-book via NetGalley, 352 pages

Publisher: Knopf Canada

ISBN: 978-0-3458-1133-2

Pub Date: May 30, 2017


Summary from Publisher:

Pasha Malla burst onto the literary scene in 2009 with his first book, a collection of stories called The Withdrawal Method that won the Trillium Book Award, was a Globe Top 100 pick, and was nominated for the Giller Prize and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. In 2012, he published his first novel, People Park, which was shortlisted for the First Novel Award. Now, with the extraordinary Fugue States, he gives us a layered, mature work—equal parts funny and poignant, thought-provoking and compulsively, effortlessly readable.

   Fugue States opens with the eulogy at a funeral: a eulogy delivered by Ash, a radio host, upon the death of his father, Brij, a Kashmir-born doctor and would-be writer. Later, while sorting through his father’s belongings, Ash comes across a mysterious document: a half-completed and utterly baffling work of fiction set (possibly) in Kashmir. Ash begins to wonder about his Indian heritage and the ancestral home he knows only through his father’s stories—as a place of brutality and stunning natural beauty. And yet he resists going to visit, skeptical of being another Westerner visiting a war-torn homeland; instead, Ash’s best friend Matt—a drifter, pot-head, career bartender, massage therapy student, and self-described “maker of memories” (in other words, a “fool” in the best sense, in the spirit of Shakespeare and Cervantes and Nabokov’s Pnin)—takes it upon himself to go in Ash’s place…with strange, unexpected, hilarious and excruciating results.

     Fugue States is a spectacular novel, at once a parody of clueless tourism and western meddling in world affairs and a subtle, immensely affecting book about homesickness and the deep melancholy that abides in people who, like Ash and his father, and even like the foolish Matt, have never felt completely at home in the world.

  • From NetGalley

Book Review:

The book begins with the definition of fugue:

A fugue is a composition founded upon one subject, announced at first in one part alone, and subsequently imitated by all the other parts in turn… The name is derived from the Latin word, fuga, a flight, from the idea that one part starts on its course alone, and that those which enter later are pursuing it.

To understand the meaning of fugue is to look at the novel, Fugue States, by Pasha Malla, in its entirety.

From its inception, the reader is given its lead character, Ash, a successful author and radio host who must navigate the recent loss of his father and what that means to him as a son, a man, a writer.

And as the reader moves further into the book, the surrounding characters, too, in their individualism are not only affected by Ash’s loss and grief, but must also navigate their own pursuits in understanding who they are, how loss and pain has afflicted their own circumstances, and what they must do to survive and move through it themselves.

What’s wonderful about this novel is the realism of its narrative dialogue in bringing these characters to life through a genuine voice that depicts them vividly from:

Ash’s sombre and keen observation of others that almost feel lightly pessimistic and sad, yet witty, sarcastic, articulate, intelligent, yet insecure and self-critical—almost nostalgic with a deference to sentimentality or nostalgia; to Mona, his sister, who by career, is a successful lawyer, but openly emotional and sentimental; to _______ and Rick, his creative and hippie-living mother and stepfather; to Sherene, his intellectual and cultural equal, potentially his love-interest, but platonic co-worker and friend; to Chip, a zealously affectionate father to his son with special needs; to Matt, his polar opposite, a nomadic hedonist adventurer and long-time friend; to his late father, Brij, a latent writer-turned-doctor whose nostalgia for Kashmir and home haunted him and his son’s conversations and connection with one another.

The novel is as surprising as its non-traditional, non-linear plot, which include in its narrative both unexpected, almost absurd events, which seem surreal, if not adapted for film.

But, these events both pose as entertainment as they do emotional trauma and weariness, a sense of making memories as a way to cope and revitalize feeling, invigorate bravery, and an almost desperate attempt to make something happen—out of pain, disconnect, and loss.

The book is both dizzying in its ever-changing plot as it is in its open-ended questions, those literally unasked, yet assumed, by the lack of definitive conclusions and outcomes in the book. Yet, it’s a thoughtful narrative in the way the main character, Ash, shows through his actions and often times, his repressed actions, his emotional landscape, his ambition towards understanding the relationship he had with his father, what it means in understanding his own loss, and his own self-realization.

While the events in the book may at times seem far-fetched, the tender and serious tone of the unspoken and unsaid, resonates a story of the deep complexity of uncertain relationship and love—and the question of home, culture, and memory.


Characters: 4 stars

Plot: 4 stars

Language/Narrative: 4 stars

Dialogue: 4.5 stars

Pacing: 3.5 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars


Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Penguin Random House on behalf of Knopf Canada for providing me with an e-copy of the book, Fugue States by Pasha Malla through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and timely review.


About the Author:

author - pasha malla

Pasha Malla was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland and raised in London, Ontario. He attended Concordia University in Montreal as a graduate student.

His debut book, The Withdrawal Method, a collection of short stories, won the Trillium Book Award and the Danuta Gleed Literary Award, as well as being shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize and longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. One of his short stories, “Filmsong”, won an Arthur Ellis Award while another was published on Joyland, a hub for short fiction.

Snare Books released All Our Grandfathers Are Ghosts, a collection of poetry. His first novel, People Park, was published in 2012.

Malla is a frequent contributor to The Walrus.

  • From Goodreads


You can connect with Pasha Malla on: Facebook, and Goodreads.



zara - kai lan frame


Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden


By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis / @zaralibrary



Category: Literary Fiction Fantasy

Author: Katherine Arden

Format: Hardcover, 336 pages

Publisher: Del Rey, division of Penguin Random House

ISBN: 978-0-3995-9328-4

Pub Date: January 10, 2017


Summary of Publisher:

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

I was unaware of this book before it arrived to me, not only as a pleasant surprise but also as a curiosity. In reading its title, The Bear and the Nightingale, I had first thought the book was meant to be a children’s story targeted to middle-school children and that perhaps I had received the book in error.

But, gladly after having read it, the book became much more like a refreshing blessing, a way for me to return to my natural love of reading as I did when I was a child who had first learned how to read. I came to a fresh love of reading again—a reading with new eyes.

The gift of oral stories is that they are passed down from one generation to the next, and here, the novel is an entire, oratory gift; a written narrative of legend and Russian folklore, beautifully and masterfully written by a young, debut novelist.

The book itself, begins as a re-telling of folklore that has passed down through the ages; a way in which to entertain and engage the children by the heat of the stove, distract from the cold and bleakness of winter, and a way to keep the stories alive, both as a reminder of old ways—and as a way of warning.

What begins as a distant, fairytale narrative slowly transforms into the story itself with characters of this world and elsewhere intermingling in a fight first for common survival—from working the land, keeping the hearth, and providing daily sustenance—to maintaining and gaining religious and spiritual territory as a way of thinking, living, and thriving not only in the land, but hopefully throughout the ages.

It is a coming-of-age tale of a young girl who inherits her grandmother’s special, occult gifts, but is ostracized for them: her innate comfort and oneness with nature, her gift of sight for things unseen, and her ability to hear, speak, and connect with animals and mystical creatures as harshly judged and whispered by those in her community.

The characters are wonderfully vivid and unique, from the book’s central heroine, Vasilisa (Varsya), daughter of Pyotr Vladimorovich and Marina Ivanova, a young woman whose independent personality and headstrong temperament goes beyond the accepted roles of a woman in medieval Russia; to the frantic paranoia and maddening cruelty of Varsya’s stepmother, Anna Ivanova; to the zealous and self-righteous priest of extremism, who hides his own terrible secret.

But, what is most breathtaking about this tale of a novel, is its imaginative fantasy and magic, this other-worldly setting of startling frost, its beauty, but also its enticing danger, and the other-worldly creatures whose integrity and existence resides in the faith and actions of the townspeople towards them.

The original depiction of such fantastical creatures as the Domovoi, whose small squat and long beard resides in an oven, to the majesty of speaking stallions, and the regality, strength, and grace of Karochun, also known as Morozko, Winter-King, a death-god whose voice is the winter wind, are exceptional examples of such natural and effective writing that they become real and believable.

But, this is no fairytale for young children or the faint-hearted. What begins as an idyllic and pastoral setting and plot devolves quite graphically into dark and horrifying evil and the tests, destruction, and decay it brings, not only on the land, but to the spirit of the living—and the dead.

I moved from being mildly curious to quickly enthralled, intrigued, and then petrified.

This novel is more than its telling, a book layered with themes of oral history, folklore, historical acuity, political and religious power, spiritualism, magic, superstition, female empowerment, the perpetual fight between good and evil, faith, resilience, and of course, love—including self-love.

It’s a glorious book of storytelling, one that will haunt and mystify its readers for a long time after it’s done.


Characters: 5 stars

Plot: 5 stars

Language/Narrative: 5 stars

Dialogue: 5 stars

Pacing: 5 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars


Zara’s Rating

A special thanks to Penguin Random House Canada on behalf of Del Rey for providing me with a copy of The Bear and the Nightingale, in exchange for an honest review.


About the Author:


Born in Austin, Texas, Katherine Arden spent a year of high school in Rennes, France. Following her acceptance to Middlebury College in Vermont, she deferred enrollment for a year in order to live and study in Moscow. At Middlebury, she specialized in French and Russian literature. After receiving her BA, she moved to Maui, Hawaii, working every kind of odd job imaginable, from grant writing and making crêpes to guiding horse trips. Currently she lives in Vermont, but really, you never know.


You can connect with Katherine Arden on her official website, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.




Oh, Giller, you’ve got me writing poems again!



By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis / @zaralibrary

Yesterday, bibliotaphes everywhere rejoiced at receiving the news of the Scotiabank Giller Prize announcement of its book longlist for this year’s much-coveted prize!

Out of 161 books that were submitted for consideration, only 12 works that [most] reflect the boldness, originality and global perspectives that have come to characterize much Canadian writing  were chosen, as described by the five-member jury panel: Lawrence Hill, Jeet HeerKathleen WinterSamantha Harvey, and Alan Warner.

In honour of this year’s longlist titles, I have, yet again, decided to create a poem that uses the actual Giller Prize contending titles in my poem’s content:


Death Valley

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez


The best kind of people:

a stranger

a pillow

the two of us

against the

party wall.


You spoke of


as simply

13 ways of looking

at a fat girl


I thought you meant me—

my longing for


as thin as

Willem de Kooning’s



But you were taken

by my Yiddish

(my Yiddish for

pirates, you said)


Eyn loshn iz keynmol nisht genug.*


It’s better than nothing

my Yiddish..


Do not say we have nothing,

you said


as you pass me

your pillow

—the one that grazes

my leg—


Who is Willem de Kooning?

you ask.


I shrug.

I could say many things:


the best kind of people




my English

is no longer useful

   my Yiddish

is far better


so I answer,

by gaslight…?


you watch me


as my leg

grows fat

before your eyes.


* Yiddish to English Translation: “One language is never enough.”


For more details on this year’s longlist, visit the Scotiabank Giller Prize website and join the conversation on Twitter!


Have you read any of the books listed as this year’s contenders for the Giller Prize? If so, which ones?

Of the twelve books listed, which top three are your favourites in winning the top prize?

Which books did NOT make the cut this year that you would have like to have seen go forward?

Are you influenced in reading or buying a book based on whether or not it is considered as a finalist and/or winner in literary contests especially an annual contest like the prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize? Or does it not matter to you?


Happy reading bibliotaphes, until we meet again to find out the news on which of the books of the twelve titles make the shortlist on September 26, 2016!


zara - grey black fedora