Cities of Refuge weaves a web of incrimination and inquiry, where 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.
One summer night on a side street in downtown Toronto, Kim Lystrander is attacked by a stranger. In the weeks and months that follow, she returns 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, and as he investigates the crime on his own, he begins to unravel. Entwined in their stories are Kim’s ailing mother, a young Colombian man living in the country illegally, and a woman whose faith-based belief in the duty to give asylum to any who seek it, even those judged guilty, endangers them all. A novel of profound moral tension and luminous prose, Cities of Refuge shows how a single act of violence connects close-by fears to distant political terrors. 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 not only in the forces of history but also in the realm of our deepest longings.
The humanity that informed Helm's previous novels, including The Projectionist, is again in evidence in this standout about the aftershocks of a brutal crime. Twenty-eight-year-old Kim Lystrander is riding her bike to her Toronto home after having dinner with her parents when she's brutally attacked by a masked rapist, escaping with injuries both mental and physical. She resists plastic surgery to fix her nose, believing that its altered appearance should reflect her state of mind in the wake of the assault. Kim's father suspects that the attack might be linked to his daughter's work for an advocacy group for undocumented aliens, and Kim withdraws and retreats as much as possible, unable to engage even in identifying her assailant. If the general plot outline doesn't break new ground, Helm's often mournful prose does; one character looks at the future arc of his life and anticipates floating "for years toward... death like so much space junk destined for burning reentry." The author's facility in making Kim's pain the reader's own makes this a powerful depiction of the struggle to overcome adversity. Ellen Levine, Trident Media Group.