Nov 08, 2022
Suzette Mayr has won the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize for her novel The Sleeping Car Porter.
Baxter's name isn't George. But it's 1929, and Baxter is lucky enough, as a Black man, to have a job as a sleeping car porter on a train that crisscrosses the country. So when the passengers call him George, he has to just smile and nod and act invisible. What he really wants is to go to dentistry school, but he'll have to save up a lot of nickel and dime tips to get there, so he puts up with "George." On this particular trip out west, the passengers are more unruly than usual, especially when the train is stalled for two extra days; their secrets start to leak out and blur with the sleep-deprivation hallucinations Baxter is having. When he finds a naughty postcard of two gay men, Baxter's memories and longings are reawakened; keeping it puts his job in peril, but he can't part with the postcard or his thoughts of Edwin Drew, Porter Instructor.
Judges for this year's panel discussed why they selected Mayr's work for the top prize:
"Suzette Mayr brings to life –believably, achingly, thrillingly –a whole world contained in a passenger train moving across the Canadian vastness, nearly one hundred years ago. As only occurs in the finest historical novels, every page in The Sleeping Car Porter feels alive and immediate –and eerily contemporary. The sleeping car porter in this sleek, stylish novel is named R.T. Baxter –called George by the people upon whom he waits, as is every other Black porter. Baxter’s dream of one day going to school to learn dentistry coexists with his secret life as a gay man, and in Mayr’s triumphant novel we follow him not only from Montreal to Calgary, but into and out of the lives of an indelibly etched cast of supporting characters, and, finally, into a beautifully rendered radiance."
The other Giller finalists were: Lesser-Known Monsters of the 21st Century by Kim Fu, Stray Dogs by Rawi Hage, We Measure the Earth With Our Bodies by Tsering Yangzom Lama, If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English by Noor Naga.
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Check out our recent blogs and reading lists for the Booker, the Writers' Trust, and Giller. Have you been reading along as the Fall awards season continues? Do you have a favourite finalist book or books you fell in love with?