After a hard fought final battle between two war novels, Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden and The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway, the winner of this year’s Rossland Reads has emerged.
The final debate took place on Thursday at New Edition Café and Books, and in a close vote that was ultimately determined by the panelists themselves, The Cellist of Sarajevo, defended by Jane Therriault, was voted the book that every Rosslander should read.
During the debate, moderator Jennifer Ellis asked both Therriault and Penny Johnson, who was defending Three Day Road, what made their book specifically suited to Rossland.
Therriault argued that her book, about a cellist who plays on the street during the siege of his city, is specifically suited to Rossland because it reminds readers of the value of the arts.
“The greater theme of The Cellist of Sarajevo is to remind the reader of the importance of the arts in society, because art is civilization and it is a beautiful expression of humanity. Art is what is behind our history and it’s what we remember. Art is about showing our feelings,” she said.
Johnson argued that her book, about two Cree boys in the First World War, was especially suited to Rossland in November, as many Rosslanders turned out for the Remembrance Day ceremony at the cenotaph. She also argued that the book gives Rosslanders a better understanding of what happened at residential schools and the role Canada and First Nations soldiers played in the war.
“It exposed to many people for the first time the role of First Nations during the First World War. There was no conscription during the First World War and yet thousands of Aboriginals volunteered,” she said. “And you know interestinly enough, Aboriginals didn’t get the right to vote until 1960.”
Therriault obviously voted against her competition, as did Johnson. Lise Levesque and Maddie Snelgrove, whose books were voted out in the previous two debates, both cast their elimination votes for different books.
Levesque voted to eliminate The Cellist of Sarajevo, and came into the final debate knowing how she’d vote. Though she thought that Therriault had made a strong case for the book, that didn’t sway her.
“I thought that the debate for The Cellist of Sarajevo was really strong, and I knew it was a strong book. I thought it was going to be a tight race the whole time, but my vote was pretty solid,” she said.
Snelgrove voted to eliminate Three Day Road because though she thought both books were beautiful, she enjoyed The Cellist of Sarajevo more.
“Between the two [books] I had personally enjoyed The Cellist of Sarajevo more. I think probably because of the sheer amount of gore and graphic images in Three Day Road, it was a little bit tougher for me to work through. Whereas The Cellist of Sarajevo, it was beautiful throughout. They were both absolutely beautiful,” she said. “I think as well The Cellist of Sarajevo automatically kind of stood out to me because I’ve always been an enormous fan of cello music. It makes me cry when I listen to it, and I just have that kind of longing and [I’m] sort of drawn to it.”
Snelgrove said it also helped that she didn’t have as many expectations for The Cellist.
“So many people had told me over and over how much they love Three Day Road, and it’s one of their favourite books,” she explained. “I hate going into books with expectations from other people, and having them not meet the expectations at least for me, just because everyone reads a book differently and everyone enjoys a book differently.”
Ellis revealed that The Cellist of Sarajevo was a front-runner throughout the competition, receiving no votes against it in the first week, and very few votes against it in the second.
Therriault was surprised to learn her book had taken the lead from the beginning.
“I was surprised; I’m not sure why,” she said. “I kind of figured that it wasn’t a real heavy weight because people talk about Three Day Road all the time, and The Birth House is a fabulous book. I loved the graphic novel (This One Summer), I’m going to read more graphic novels, and yeah, it just surprised me.”
Therriault enjoyed participating, and said that participating as a debater also made her read the books much more carefully that she normally would.
“I read so carefully, which is something we don’t often do, and I had to be much more thoughtful about all of the books that I read, and so it was kind of back to basics reading,” she said.
Despite her book being edged out in the final round, Johnson didn’t seem too disappointed and was happy to have participated in the debate.
“I thought it was a really fun event. It could have gone either way, but I mean all the books were fantastic,” she said. “It was just a great event to be able to participate in.”
If you missed the debates, you can listen to the Poscasts on the Rossland Public Library’s website.