Cedar Bowers | Astra

Reviewed by: Howard Stewart

Biography Brief:  Cedar Bowers’s debut novel, Astra, was nominated for the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize.  Her short fiction has been published in Joyland, Taddle Creek, and The Malahat Review.  With her husband, novelist Michael Christie, and their two children, Cedar divides her time between Galiano Island and Victoria, Coast Salish Territory of the Lekwungen speaking people, the unceded territory of Wsanec, Penelakut, Hwlitsum Nations, and the ceded territory of the Tsawwassen First Nation.  

Who are you?  Are you the person you like to think you are?  Or the person everyone else thinks you are?  Of course, each of us is a shifting patchwork of personas, a nebulous collage of our own and others’ images of us.  But what do they all amount to?  What do we amount to?  What have we evolved into over the years as our images of ourselves change?  As the understandings that others hold of us also change?

Most of us don’t spend a lot of time pondering these questions.  Sometimes the answers are not just confusing but downright frightening.  It’s bad enough thinking hard about how we’re viewed by embittered ex’s or disillusioned offspring, without trying to imagine how we may have appeared to the myriad others who have shaped us, and been shaped by us, over the years.  But Cedar Bowers tackles these questions head on, and with aplomb, in Astra.  Her powerful debut novel is named for the woman whom we will follow from the moment of her birth through until late middle age, when we find her worrying about her addled old father.  This epilogue is the only chapter where Astra speaks to us directly.  Ten preceding stories are told by others who have known her, one way or another, over the years.  Each adds a layer to our understanding of Astra, even as she changes through her life.

In pulling off this ambitious project with style and grace, Bowers has established herself as a writer to watch. Few earn a Giller nomination for their first novel.  As luck would have it, you’ll have a chance to watch Cedar Bowers close up at the upcoming Denman Island Readers and Writers Festival this coming July.  Don’t miss it.

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