Governor General’s Literary Awards

To the River by Don Gillmor

To the River: Losing My Brother

By Don Gillmor

Random House Canada/Penguin Random House Canada; distributed by the publisher

Synopsis

In the spring of 2006, Don Gillmor travelled to Whitehorse to reconstruct the last days of his brother, David, whose truck and cowboy hat had been found at the edge of the Yukon River just outside of town the previous December. David’s family, his second wife and his friends had different theories about his disappearance. Some thought David had run away; some thought he’d met with foul play; but most believed that David, a talented musician who at the age of 48 was about to give up the night life for a day job, had intentionally walked into the water. Just as Don was about to paddle the river looking for traces, David’s body was found, six months after he’d gone into the river. And Don’s canoe trip turned into an act of remembrance and mourning.

 At least David could now be laid to rest. But there was no rest for his survivors. As his brother writes, “When people die of suicide, one of the things they leave behind is suicide itself. It becomes a country. At first I was a visitor, but eventually I became a citizen.” In this tender, probing and surprising work, Don Gillmor brings back news from that country for all of us who wonder why people kill themselves. And why, for the first time, it’s not the teenaged or the elderly who have the highest suicide rate, but the middle aged. Especially men.

“In clear, crisp prose, Gillmor has written a book that is searingly honest and heartbreakingly sad. From the story of his brother’s life and death to a larger exploration of white, middle-aged masculinity, Gillmor impresses us with his quiet insights. At one point, he asks, “What are we anchored by?” His hard-earned wisdom holds us, here and beyond.”

Peer assessment committee: Ross King, Rachel Lebowitz, Marina Nemat

Don Gillmor
Don Gillmor
Photo: Ryan Szulc

Biography: Don Gillmor

Don Gillmor is one of Canada's most accomplished writers. He is the author of the bestselling, award-winning, two-volume Canada: A People’s History, and his journalism on suicide has earned him both a National Newspaper Award and a National Magazine Award. Gillmor’s other books include the novels Kanata, Mount Pleasant and Long Change, all of which were published to critical acclaim, and nine children’s books, two of which were finalists for a Governor General’s Literary Award. He lives in Toronto, Ontario, with his wife and two children.

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