In 2006, on September 9, we moved into our house in Montreal, after waiting a whole month for our furniture to be delivered. Our personal belongings had been shipped from Dubai and the boxes filled every room of the house. So we did not have TV and internet until almost the end of the month. Those days were sad days. I remember the 13th, the Wednesday when the Dawson shooting took place. Our landlord knocked on our door and informed us about the incident. We were new in Montreal and my teenage kids were taking the metro to school for the first time in their lives. Dawson was located between both their schools.
I first learned about the Scotiabank Giller Prize on October 12 when the names of the five finalists were announced by the jury. I was born and raised in Lebanon and lived much of my life in Dubai prior to coming to Canada. And as such I had never heard about the Giller Prize. I had never heard of Mordecai Richler, or Jack Rabinovitch, or the late Dorris Giller in whose honor the Giller prize was created.
In fact we didn’t hear much about Canada back then. People wrote stories in the local newspapers relating their accounts of the hardships they faced after immigrating to Canada. The fact that they could not find a job or were not found qualified to work in their field of profession and had to return to Dubai. And as my then nine year old son put it, “All I know about Canada is that it is this cold place in the North.”
Neither the Gulf News nor the Khaleej Times, the two English daily newspapers in Dubai, had written anything about this literary event. Nor had I read about the prestigious prize in the writing magazines that I subscribed to, like the Writer’s Digest or Writer’s News. The only Canadian writers I had heard of were Michael Ondaatje, mainly for ‘The English Patient’, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munroe, M.G. Vassanji. I was a huge fan of BBC’s Face to Face and Hard Talk with Tim Sebastian and I watched Margaret Atwood’s first interview with Tim a long time ago.
Something this significant and big – how could I have missed it all these years?
On the night of November 7, I watched on Bravo the awards ceremony at Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel, in awe. To find all these literary figures, to see all these fine writers and many more under one roof. To hear them talk about their books, about how they write, when they write, why they write. The whole ceremony was pure magic for me. Every time the camera focused on the audience I tried to look for a writer I could recognize. That night I watched Vincent Lam win for his ‘Bloodletting And Miraculous Cures.’ It was by far the best literary event that I had watched live. It takes a pure genius to create such an event and keep it going year after year.
And now that the jury for 2011 is formed, the Giller conundrum has started again for me. I can’t wait! And as Maya Angelou wrote,
“I have learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow.”
Thank you Mr. Jack Rabinovitch for creating something so wonderful, so great and magical, and specially for touching the lives of so many including mine. How can life not be better?