Cities of Refuge: Book summary and reviews of Cities of Refuge by Michael Helm

Cities of Refuge

By Michael Helm

Cities of Refuge
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  • Published in USA  Mar 2013,
    424 pages.

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Book Summary

In Cities of Refuge, a single act of violence resonates through several lives, connecting close by fears to distant political terrors. At the story's center is the complex, intensely charged relationship between a twenty-eight-year-old woman and the father who abandoned her when she was young.

One summer night on a side street in downtown Toronto, Kim Lystrander is attacked by a stranger. Thrown deep into turmoil, in the weeks and months that follow, she confronts her fear by returning to the night, in writing, searching for harbingers of the incident and clues to the identity of her assailant. The attack also torments Kim's father, Harold, a historian of Latin America. As he investigates the crime on his own, the darkest hours from his past revisit him, and he gradually begins to unravel. Entwined in their stories are Kim's ailing mother, Marian; Father André Rowe, whose mission to guide others involves him in a decision with troubling consequences; Rodrigo Cantero, a young Colombian man living illegally in the city; and Rosemary Yates, a woman whose faith-based belief in the duty to give asylum to any who seek it, even those judged guilty, draws Harold to her, before a fateful choice changes the future for them all.

Cities of Refuge is a novel of profound moral tension and luminous prose. It weaves a web of incrimination and inquiry, in which mysteries live within mysteries, and stories within stories, and the power to save or condemn rests in the forces of history and in the realm of our deepest longings.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Standout ...[T]his is a powerful depiction of the struggle to overcome adversity." - Publishers Weekly

"[W]hat [Helm] shows in a remarkable display of multiple-perspective sympathy, is how, in a world where we're all inter-connected as never before, guilt and innocence are all but impossible to apportion with finality... Cities of Refuge establishes him as one of Canada's most commanding writers." - Montreal Gazette

"Cities of Refuge's...thematic breadth pushes Helm into the front ranks of Canadian novelists." - Quill and Quire

"Let me state simply that this is one of the finest books I have read in recent years. …This is not just a novel set in Toronto; it is about Toronto and it is the most discerning description of the city since Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion ...In his luminous prose, Helm has dared to go beyond the psychological level to the level of spirit." - Literary Review of Canada

"[A] stunning read...gripping, thought-provoking, ultimately haunting... Cities of Refuge may be the future of The Canadian Novel: intrinsically and internally varied, polyvalent, confident, contemporary and challenging. If this is the future, bring it on." - Edmonton Journal

"Helm writes delicately and empathetically, using a photographer's eye and poet's lyricism to ... illuminate the consequences of violence and loss." - Elle Canada

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Michael Helm was born in Saskatchewan. His most recent novel, Cities of Refuge, is a national bestseller in Canada and was a Rogers Writers' Trust Ficiton Award finalist, a Giller Prize nominee, and a Globe and Mail and Now magazine Best Book of the Year. His earlier novels are The Projectionist, a finalist for the Giller Prize and the Trillium Award; and In the Place of Last Things, a finalist for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and the regional Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Book. His writings on fiction, poetry, and the visual arts have appeared in North American newspapers and magazines, including Brick, where he serves as an editor. He teaches at York University in Toronto.

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