York prof’s book presents a multicultural retelling of King Lear

York English Professor Priscila Uppal has penned a new novel that is seemingly suited to the emotional turmoil associated with the age-old angst that plagues families during challenging times.

Right: Priscila Uppal

Uppal used Shakespeare’s King Lear as a starting point for her new novel To Whom It May Concern. The book presents a modern, multicultural retelling of King Lear. Published by Doubleday Canada, the book’s narrative explores the vulnerability and complexity of family and inheritance. In its pages, Uppal exposes the tragic and comedic dimensions of our failures to communicate and the consequences of our betrayals, which result in disappointment and disillusionment, but also in moments of compassion and love.

As in Shakespeare’s Lear, the book’s central character, 58-year-old Hardev Dange, has fallen from his former glory and is facing financial and personal ruin. Confined to a wheelchair following an accident, the civil servant, who has been dubbed the "Water King" by his co-workers for his role in supervising the installation water plants for the Canadian International Development Agency, has just been informed that the bank is going to foreclose on his Ottawa house. Added to his personal stress, Dange’s fickle daughter Birendra is on the verge of marriage and his son Emile is studying curses (while falling in love with a fellow male grad student). His younger daughter, Dorothy, who is deaf, works at a tattoo and body piercing parlour, and collects stories from the older men languishing at her local hangout. And because he’s in a wheelchair, Dange is dependent on his home-care worker, the kleptomaniac Rodriguez, to help him devise a plan to keep house and home together. Uppal recreates Lear in Dange as he struggles to maintain his role as head of his family in the face of declining circumstances. The book also presents observations on family from a variety of characters including Dange as he furiously pens letters about his plight to faceless officials.

Tonight, Uppal will officially launch To Whom It May Concern at a special event at the Gladstone Hotel, 1214 Queen St. W., Toronto. She will discuss the influence of Shakespeare’s Lear for her novel with Quill & Quire magazine reviews editor Steven Beattie. The launch is part of a larger event "This Is Not A Reading Series", which features a number of Canadian writers, poets and editors speaking about King Lear.

Along with Uppal, Canadian author and playwright Linda Griffiths; novelist Andrew Pyper, the author of Lost Girls (a New York Times notable book); Portuguese-Canadian writer Anthony De Sa, author of Barnacle Love; Shyam Selvadurai (BFA Spec. Hons. ’89), an award-winning writer whose first novel Funny Boy won the WHSmith Books in Canada First Novel Award; and Deanne Williams, professor of English at York University and author of the prize-winning book The French Fetish From Chaucer to Shakespeare will present their own responses to three questions:

  • When was the first time you read King Lear?
  • Does Shakespeare belong on the stage or on the page?
  • Is the Bard overrrated?

Tickets are just $5 (free with book purchase) and doors open at 7pm. The event is presented by Pages Books & Magazines, the Gladstone Hotel, EYE Weekly, Doubleday Canada and "Take 5" on CIUT Radio.

Born in Ottawa, Ont., Uppal is a Toronto-based author and academic. She was one of three Canadian writers on the 2007 short list for the prestigious Griffin Poetry Prize. She is the author of five collections of poetry and the internationally acclaimed 2002 novel The Divine Economy of Salvation. The American Library Association recently named Uppal a "Canadian Writer to Watch".

For more information, visit the Pages Books & Magazines Web site.