You are entering a place of exceptional horror and tragedy. Please show your respect for those who suffered and died here by behaving in a manner suitable to the dignity of their memory. -- Auschwitz sign

The impetus for writing her debut novel about two Vancouver hairdressers making a pilgrimage to the Auschwitz museum came to Caroline Adderson after reading an article in The New Yorker about the hair in the Auschwitz museum.

"While I knew the camps had been preserved and could be visited, I hadn't known about the room full of hair," she told interviewer John Metcalf. "The image haunted me and I began to think about the idea of going to the museum specifically to see the hair. Who would do this?" Adderson knew right away she didn't want to presume to write from a survivor's point of view, or even from the perspective of children of survivors. And it could not be deeply historical. "The subject of the novel had to be compassion, why some people are able to feel the suffering of others, even people they have no connection to, while others can't."

A History of Forgetting is about two unlikely travelling companions visiting post-war Poland. Malcolm Firth is an aging, gay man who is losing his lifelong partner to Alzheimer's disease. He is accompanied by his naive, 20-year-old apprentice, Allison, who is traumatized by the recent, brutal murder of a co-worker. Unable to escape from private pains, the pair move towards the even greater pain of the Holocaust.

How can we hope to make sense of a world that is so rife with cruelty?

Adderson initially had resisted visiting Auschwitz herself but realized it was necessary. "I was overwhelmed by what I'd seen and had no idea how to incorporate the trip into the novel. Since I had to start somewhere, I simply typed out the sign posted at the entrance to the Auschwitz museum. You are entering a place of exceptional horror and tragedy. Please show your respect for those who suffered and died here by behaving in a manner suitable to the dignity of their memory.

"Because the sign is in second person, I continued on in that voice, describing the scene through the eyes of a neutral narrator who comes into the salon to have his hair cut. We see all the salon characters through his eyes; the pilgrimage is foreshadowed. I had no idea what I was going to do with it, but it allowed me to start writing again."

After making the trip to Auschwitz in 1994, it would take Adderson almost six years to complete the novel. "It wasn't until I got to the end of the book, however, that I understood that these second-person sections had a thematic as well as a functional purpose in the book. Compassion involves a feat of imagination. It asks you to get inside another person and feel what he feels. It occurred to me that by writing in the second person, I was forcing the reader to step into the shoes of these different characters and even witness a murder. The act of reading the book became an act of compassion, in other words."

"Her damaged and struggling people become your own to deal with," praised novelist Robert Harlow, "as if they were relatives, and you follow them through the trivia of a hairdressing salon and eventually all the way to Auschwitz, the most relevant site in the 20th century." The London Times called the story "arresting... with a rare understanding of human frailty... A History of Forgetting reminds us that to ignore the past condemns us to relive its mistakes." The Independent noted, "That earnest desire for divining some profound meaning from the experience of living outside your own culture and language is a thread woven deftly through the novel."

Also about enduring pain, Adderson's second novel, Sitting Practice (Thomas Allen, 2004), won her a second Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. The central character of Ilianna has been stricken by a spinal cord injury and confined to a wheelchair after her celibate-by-choice husband Ross drove their car into a moving van three-and-a-half weeks after their wedding. A tennis ball rolled onto the floor of the car and... Ilianna, two years later, is still lustful and considering infidelity. For this novel, Adderson visited the Spinal ward at Vancouver General Hospital and attended Buddhist retreats like one described in her novel. "I also came across a fabulous book about women's sexuality and SCI [spinal cord injury]," she says. "It blew me away. I communicated online for about six months with five women with SCI."

In Adderson's adult novel The Sky Is Falling (Thomas Allen, 2010), a physician's wife opens the newspaper and learns her old student friend has just been released after twenty years of prison for charges of terrorism. The story is set in an era where fear of nuclear war leads to political activism and paranoia. Her adult novel Ellen in Pieces (Crean / HarperCollins) is told through the eyes of a lover, an ex-husband, two daughters, a grandson and a friend. Ellen in Pieces is the story of Ellen McGinty, who, in the middle years of her life, sells the home in which she raised her daughters, finds a lover twenty years her junior, and begins to explore love and the possibility of recovery from regret.

In Pleased to Meet You (Thomas Allen, 2006), nine more stories added to Adderson's growing reputation for compassionate fiction. Adderson's first children's novel, Very Serious Children, was published in 2007. Recently she has written a children's book series for ages 7 to 10, illustrated by Ben Clanton. Caroline Adderson continued with her split writing personality in 2014, releasing A Simple Case of Angels (Groundwood) for children aged 8 to 11. Hoping to rehabilitate the reputation of her adorable but overly-mischievous dog June Bug, Nicola decides to take her pet to visit the shut-ins at the new Shady Oaks nursing home, but Nicola's mother won't allow her to go alone. She is forced to accept the company of a new girl she doesn't like in order to discover that more than a few of the elderly patients are being kept against their will. June Bug and Nicola become involved in an escape plan.

Caroline Adderson's series of books about a spirited only child named Jasper John Dooley dotingly echo her experiences of observing childhood as a parent. Written for ages 7 to 10, her Jasper series describes the emotional adventures of a perfectly normal boy who experiences girl-it-is and copes with a sudden, guilty need to imbibe overly-sugared soft drinks. The author tagline for the fourth installment, Jasper John Dooley: You're in Trouble (Kids Can 2015) describes Adderson as someone who lives with her husband, her dog "and the son who lied to them when he said he would always be seven." She simultaneously published a story for children aged 3 to 7, Eat, Leo! Eat! (Kids Can 2015), about a boy who is enticed to eat homemade pasta by the cook's stories about a different-shaped pasta every week.

Between 2004 and 2015, more than 10,000 demolition permits were issued for residential buildings in the city of Vancouver. As of 2015, an average of three houses a day were being torn down, many of them original homes built for the middle and working class in the 1920s, '30s and '40s. Very few are deemed significant enough to merit heritage protection, but Caroline Adderson and other Vancouver writers believed the demoliton of these dwellings amounted to an architectural loss. She therefore spearheaded Vancouver Vanishes: Narratives of Demolition and Revival (Anvil 2015), co-authored with John Atkin, Kerry Gold, Evelyn Lau, Eve Lazarus, John Mackie, Elise & Stephen Partridge and Bren Simmers. The introduction is by heritage artist and activist Michael Kluckner--who has published a book called Vanishing Vancouver--and photographs are by Tracey Ayton and Adderson. The book was nominated for a Bill Duthie Booksellers' Choice award.

Caroline Adderson was born in Edmonton in 1963. After a year in New Orleans and a year in Toronto, she moved back to Vancouver where she studied at UBC. She has taught ESL at a community college and twice won prizes in the CBC literary competition. Adderson has had a radio play broadcast on CBC Radio's Morningside and her feature-length screenplay, Ying-Yang, has been produced in Vancouver. Her stories have been widely published in magazines and one story, 'Oil and Dread,' was selected for the Journey Prize Anthology 5. Carol Adderson's papers are at SFU Special Collections.

Caroline Adderson is the only author to have won both of B.C.'s top fiction prizes--the Ethel Wilson Prize for adult fiction (in 1994 and 2005) and the Sheila Egoff Prize for children's literature (in 2013). Her first short story collection, Bad Imaginings (Porcupine's Quill, 1993) was also shortlisted for the 1993 Governor General's Award and the Commonwealth Book Prize. Adderson later received the 2006 Marion Engel Award and her young adult novel Middle of Nowhere (Groundwood 2012) received the Sheila A. Egoff Children's Literature Prize for best non-illustrated book for children in 2013 [as shown, photo by Monica Miller]. Sitting Practice was shortlisted for the 2004 VanCity Book Prize for best book pertaining to women's issues by a B.C. author. A History of Forgetting was nominated for the 2000 Rogers' Trust Fiction Prize and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize.

BOOKS:

Bad Imaginings (Porcupine's Quill, 1993)
A History of Forgetting (Key Porter, 1999)
Sitting Practice (Thomas Allen, 2003 $32.95)
Pleased to Meet You (Thomas Allen, 2006), $26.95
Very Serious Children (Scholastic, 2007) $9.99 978-0-439-93751-1
I, Bruno (Orca Echoes, 2007) $6.95 978-1-55143-501-5
Burno for Real, illustrated by Helen Flook (Orca Echoes, 2009)
The Sky Is Falling (Thomas Allen, 2010) 978-088762-613-5 $32.95
Film Studies (Annick, 2010).
Middle of Nowhere (Groundwood 2012)
Jasper John Dooley: Left Behind (Kids Can) $16.95 978-1-55453-579-8. Illustrated by Ben Clanton.
Jasper John Dooley: Star of the Week (Kids Can) $16.95 978-1-77138-119-2. Illustrated by Ben Clanton.
Jasper John Dooley: NOT In Love (Kids Can 2014) $16.95 978-1-55453-803-4. Illustrated by Ben Clanton.
A Simple Case of Angels (Groundwood 2014) $9.95 978-1-55498-430-5
Ellen in Pieces (Patrick Crean / HarperCollins 2014) 978-1443426787 $22.95
Jasper John Dooley: You're in Trouble (Kids Can 2015) $16.95 978-1-55453-808-9. Illustrated by Ben Clanton.
Eat, Leo! Eat! (Kids Can 2015) $18.95 978-1-77138-013-3
Vancouver Vanishes: Narratives of Demolition and Revival (Anvil 2015), co-authored by Caroline Adderson, John Atkin, Kerry Gold, Evelyn Lau, Eve Lazarus, John Mackie, Elise & Stephen Partridge and Bren Simmers. Introduction by Michael Kluckner. Photos by Tracey Ayton and Caroline Adderson. $32.95 978-1-77214-034-7
Jasper John Dooley (Kids Can Press 2016) 978-1-77138-015-7 $16.95
The Mostly True Story of Pudding Tat, Adventuring Cat (Groundwood 2019) $16.95 978-1-55498-964-5. Illustrated by Stacy Innerst.
A Russian Sister (Patrick Crean / HarperCollins 2020) $24.99 978-1-4434-2681-7

[BCBW 2020] Alan Twigg / Holocaustlit