on November 4, 2010
First off, I have to say that this was definitely one of the best books I've read this year. Interesting, beautifully written, unique. Winter writes with elegant simplicity. As the blurb on the cover by author Michael Crummey says, "It's a beautiful book, brimming with heart and uncommon wisdom," and that sums it up perfectly.
Annabel is the story of a baby born in 1968 in a remote village in Labrador---itself a remote region of Canada--with both male and female genitalia . A decision was made somewhat reluctantly by his mother and her best friend/midwife-- to raise the baby as male, and so his vagina was stitched shut, he was given life-long meds, and the female side of little Wayne was hidden inside himself. By the time Wayne reaches puberty though, it is clear to him that he is not like any other child, and the truth is revealed to him in bits and pieces. More than just a story of what it's like to live an intersex life, this is a story of silences and secrets, and all about identity and how we all perform our genders. Winter approaches this all with great dignity and sensitivity. If I have quibble about this book, it's just that Wayne's poor mother disappears from the book about 2/3rds of the way through. What happened to her?
I received this book back in July, but between the frosty blue cover with the deer on it and the author's name "Winter," the book just seemed too cold to read in the height of summer. Having read it now I wonder why I took so long--this is a great read any time of the year.
One more small thing: Gabriel Fauré's "Cantique de Jean Racine" is important to a three of the characters in a few spots. When it came up right near the end I was curious and so pulled it up on YouTube. Of course I recognized it right away. It's a stunning piece of music, and listening to it as I read the final pages was an enriching experience that brought tears to my eyes.
Annabel was nominated for the literary triple crown in Canada: the Roger's Writers' Trust Fiction Prize (which was recently awarded to Emma Donoghue for Room), the Governor General's Literary Award, and the Scotiabank Giller Prize.
on March 16, 2011
The Globe and Mail calls it "Beautiful...Absolutely riveting from the very first page." and that is a fact. Kathleen Winter is a very capable storyteller and I look forward to future works.
I love when the cover of a book intrigues me. The blurred vision of an animal confused me at first, but became a profound imagery in several ways throughout the introduction to Labrador and its inhabitants.
In this story the author weaves a tale about people and community and the challenges of youth, all of which has been complicated further by the hidden truth of a child's identity, dictated to by gender and society beliefs.
I felt tremendous sympathy for Wayne throughout, and was often angered or bewildered by the actions of the adults in his life. However, I was also touched by the depth of love and respect amongst these individuals, and moved by the sense of innocence and trust that remained at the core of Wayne's character from childhood into his adult life. As a parent, I also understand that we are often called upon to make decisions in our children's lives and that community, family traditions and upbringing play such a strong role for all of us in who we become as adults and how we make those decisions.
From the time I first heard about his story through the Giller prize shortlist, I was compelled to read it. At a young age, I remember my mother and aunts talking about a distant cousin that was born a hermaphrodite, though that word never entered the conversation. They spoke about the fact that his parents chose to raise him as a son, and that through the years that decision became a struggle for him.
I never understood, or even contemplated, what kind of struggle he would have had or the depth of physical and mental pain he may have been subjected to.
Thank you, Ms. Winter, for opening my eyes and touching my heart through Annabel.
on February 16, 2011
The author tells a poignant story without leading the reader to judge anyone's behavior or decisions.
The "scene" is wonderfully set: 1968 rural Labrador (nearly-Northern Canada, very isolated and "rustic" living environment) where a true hermaphrodite child is born. Even today this would be a challenging and difficult moment for parents, now imagine 40 years ago in a rural hunting/fishing community.
There is no sense of judgment as to whether or not the parents made the "right" choice, or handled it the right way - they made the choice they did, knowing what they know. I can't imagine what any parent would do if they had to decide just after birth, what gender they should choose for their child.
And how would they feel about themselves if they chose wrong? When do you tell your child? At what age will he/she be old enough to understand, or to forgive your decision on their gender?
Some terrific questions explored via Wayne/Annabel as he/she grows up.
on January 15, 2012
This book was well written. Very thought provoking. The writer brought out the emotions of the characters well. I could relate to these emotions. Ethics to think about. I recommend this book. Be aware if you cry easily this book will make you cry
It was March of 1968 in Labrador, when a child was born to Jacinta and Treadway Blake. Their child was born at home and it was their trusted friend, Thomasina, who delivered the baby. Treadway was not in the room. Thomasina noticed that the baby had a penis and a clitoris. This meant that the baby was neither a boy or girl, but both at once. The name for this abnormality is Hermaphrodite. Jacinta kept this a secret from her husband. Thomasina suggested that Jacinta wait a little longer to see what developed.
Treadway was a woodsman and trapper, part Inuit and Scottish. He spent a lot of time away from home. In the evenings after work, he liked to read, meditate and study. It was Jacinta who was responsible for most of the baby's upbringing. A few days after the baby was born, Treadway sensed that something was very wrong with the baby and that Jacinta was keeping a secret from him. He spoke to Jacinta and told her he knew what the secret was. She thought it would be better to leave things alone and let nature take its course. Treadway did not agree with that idea. He said the baby would be raised a boy and his name would be Wayne after his grandfather. Jacinta said she would like the baby to be seen by a doctor. So off she went with the baby to the nearest hospital by helicopter to be seen by Dr. Ho. When Dr. Ho examined the baby, he came to the conclusion that because the penis was long enough, he would be called a male. Dr. Ho prescribed medications that had to be taken for a lifetime. This was to shut off the development of Wayne's female self and encourage the development as a male. Upon Jacinta's return with the baby, she spoke to Treadway about her visit. A christening for Wayne followed at St. Mark's Anglican Church in Croydon Harbour.
Thomasina was a school teacher, married to Graham Montague. She had a curvature of the spine and did not think anyone would want to marry her, but Graham was in love with her and did. Together they had a daughter whom they named Annabel, a pretty red-haired girl. When Graham wanted to take a boat ride, it was always Annabel who guided him to the boat, because he was blind. One day, while both of them were in the boat, an animal caught Annabel's eye and she got excited and stood up to see more and the boat capsized. Both Annabel and her father drowned. Thomasina was devastated. Her losses were unbearable, but she knew the living must go on living. She decided to sell her home and travel. When she would visit Wayne, she would call him Annabel after her late daughter. When Wayne grew older, Thomasina told him the secret. On her travels she would send him postcards of different bridges especially Ponte Vecchio in Florence, where there were buildings on the bridge and shops full of gold. There were people living in the buildings right on the bridge and the lights from their windows reflected on the water. The idea that people could live on a bridge fascinated Wayne.
When Wayne was in school, his best friend was a girl named Wally Michelin. She and her parents moved into the home that Thomasina sold. Wayne was in love with her the moment he saw her. When Wayne told her about the postcards he received from Thomasina and the bridges, they decided to build a little house for themselves on a bridge. Even Treadway helped them, but when he saw that they were spending too much time together, he destroyed what they had built and decided to end their relationship. In its place, when he saw that Wayne was very sad, he gave him a puppy. Wayne didn't want the puppy and so his father gave the puppy away.
As Wayne grew older, he was invited to his school prom by Gracie. Gracie became his friend, but he never forgot Wallie. His body was changing and one day, an unbelievable problem arose. How did he deal with it?
After a time, Wayne decided to leave home and moved to St. John's, Newfoundland, where his mother was originally from. Did he do the right thing by moving? What happened to his family and friends after he left? Was he/she able to cope with life as an Hermaphrodite?
Annabel is a debut novel for Kathleen Winter. It is written with such grace and sensitivity. The writing on this deep subject is extraordinary. This book has been critically acclaimed and an International Bestseller several times over.
on May 15, 2014
Good novels ought to touch us in some way. Annabel does just that and very well.
First, the author Kathleen Winter touched me with her strong sense of place. The place is Labrador (and at times St. John’s, Newfoundland).
They didn’t call this place the big land for nothing. It was big in a way that people who came in either respected and followed or disdained at their peril. You could live like a king in Labrador if you knew how to be subservient to the land, and if you did not know how, you would die like a fool, and many had done.
Place is tightly connected to plot and character. Winter’s has the talent to make you feel the texture and bareness and cold of Labrador and how Treadway (the main character’s father) is so linked to Nature.
Treadway had read Pascal, and the Bible, and the essays of philosophers, and he had read poets, and against his own will the hawk reminded him of things he had read. It did not speak to him out of its own wildness, perhaps he thought, because it had spent too much time circling above steeples and libraries and museums that held the thoughts of civilized men.
Second, Winter touched me through the beauty of her poetic prose. Reading Annabel is like savoring a very fine wine, listening to a touching piece of music or smelling a magnificent bouquet of lilacs. In spite of its serious subject and the many conflicts in the novel, beauty is everywhere. The novel is literary art at its finest.
“…that’s what a dance was, he saw. It was to get the two of you in your own world. You make the world anything you wanted. You could make it as far from here as possible, yet to the rest of the room you would look as if you were still here. They would have no idea where the two of you had gone.”
Third, I was touched by the story. The plot revolves around a couple’s conflicts over their son, Wayne, who was born with both female and male sexual organs. His mother wants him to be as much girl as boy, while his father totally rejects his son’s femaleness. As Wayne becomes older and more aware of his situation, conflicting emotions arise in him.
“He wished at that moment that his whole life had not been a secret, that lots of people were like him, instead of his being alone in a world where everyone was secure in their place as either woman or man.”
As a writer, I am always “studying” a novel, asking myself why I care or don’t care about a character. I cared about every character in Annabel but in particular, Wayne. Kathleen Winter has painted an unforgettable, tender coming of age story of a boy struggling to fit into a world that rejects him.
I still haven’t figured how Winter made me care so much for her characters but one thing I know is that if I need inspiration for my writing I just have to pick up her novel, read a few random pages and I am instantly inspired.
on June 3, 2014
Annabel was a beautiful book. The characters in the book were expressed fully in a way that I became involved with then, and to feel sensitive and compassionate to their struggles. The attention to description of the land, animals and way of life was told with wonder. I did not want this book to end, and I could not put it down. Thanks to the author. I look forward to her next book
on February 13, 2015
This is the best book I have ever read! I'm sorry I'm finished reading it. I loved the characters, I loved the way Kathleen Winters makes them so real, I felt like I know these people really well and could understand them and why they did what they did. I could see so many similarities between people I've known and many of the characters in this book. Treadway reminded me of my own father in his knowledge of the wilderness and animals, in fact it helped me understand how my father must have felt as he made his way through forests in the north of Ontario and Quebec. He was not one to communicate with words but he was a good man who tried the best he could to do well by his child and for his wife and family as a whole because he loved them deeply. I also loved Jacinta and she reminded me of my mother in many ways. She was so lonely when Treadway was gone for long periods but still she understood and lovingly did what she had to do caring for and loving her child as a daughter. That is until Wayne/Annabel left home and then she could no longer continue and was overwhelmed by loneliness, self-doubt over her decisions for her child and worry. Of course Wayne/Annabel I adored as I do my children, and also his friend Wally. And the descriptions of nature and animals that Kathleen gave put me right in the moment and place. Although I've never been to Labrador and would find the harshness of the climate difficult, it made me want to see for its majestic vastness. I could see the beauty and power of nature in such a place. The book brought out many emotions in me, many memories, it made me cry, it was thought provoking.
I too had a cousin whom I never knew who was supposedly raised as a female but who wanted to be a male. It was talked about in my family but not in a negative way. It was more or less mentioned as an oddity. Many years later another old relative said this cousin had been raised a female and had decided she wanted to be a male and had left home, started dressing like a man and tried doing a man's work in lumber camps but did not have the physical strength to do it. I have one photo of him and he is very slight build and would have had a difficult time in those days trying to fit in as a man. It is said he died young and alone. So Wayne/Annabel in this story, being born in 1968, had some medical interventions from birth onward that my cousin would not have had. But the identity uncertainties and dilemma were still there as well as social acceptance issues or lack of it.
A beautiful book I recommend, a thoughtful book that will touch you and haunt you, one you won't want to put down and will be sorry when it ends. If I could give more than 5 stars I would!
on January 31, 2012
This is a beautiful book, the best I read in 2011. It is well-written, touching the heart and soul like few other books manage to do. It is tragic, yet hopeful at the same time. Kathleen Winter has a fantastic grasp of language and a tremendous ability to construct scenes and characters. I highly recommend this book.
on November 3, 2014
It has been a long time since I've read a book cover to cover with such speed. I was engrossed in the inner worlds of the characters, all different and special in their own way. I was captivated by the landscape and culture. And the protagonist's story was beautifully told. Winter's writing and insights are superb.