In Many Waters


a novel by Ami Sands Brodoff

Print: 978-1-77133-365-8 – $22.95
ePUB: 978-1-77133-366-5 – $11.99
PDF: 978-1-77133-368-9 – $11.99
320 Pages
April 20, 2017  

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In Many Waters is the gripping story of three orphans whose lives intersect on the island of Malta during our current, urgent refugee crisis. Zoe, a budding historian, comes to Malta with her younger brother Cal to learn more about their Maltese mother, as well as the mysterious circumstances surrounding their parents’ untimely deaths. The siblings’ well-mapped plans are derailed when Cal, who is a daily swimmer in the Mediterranean, discovers a girl floating in the sea, barely alive. The small, battered fishing boat on which she has journeyed from Libya to Malta capsized in a storm: Aziza is the sole survivor. Meanwhile, Zoe returns to the site of her parents’ drownings and stumbles across a trail of clues which lead to the discovery of an unknown family member, unearthing a chain of life-changing secrets. In Many Waters brilliantly mines the hearts and minds of characters in extremis, the unforgettable tale of the ways that we love and help one another and how the choices we make reverberate through generations.

In Many Waters feels like a miracle. In her ambitious, cross-cultural examination of love in absence, Ami Sands Brodoff covers huge swaths of time and space with a remarkably light touch. The novel manages to be simultaneously local and global, domestic and political, intimate and vast. Brodoff’s portrayal of the hardship of refugees is timely, wise, and moving. I fell for each of these characters—especially Zoe and Cal—siblings orphaned by their parents even while their parents still lived. As soon as I turned the final page of this extraordinary novel, I wanted to read it again.”

—Angie Abdou, author of Between

“Orphaned at an early age, Zoe and Cal both long to understand and occupy their lives. When they visit the island of Malta, Zoe finds herself drawn into the several mysteries surrounding her parents’ lives and deaths. Meanwhile, Cal becomes involved with trying to rescue an illegal immigrant. As the narrative moves between Malta and Mexico, Marrakech and Montreal, past and present, Ami Sands Brodoff weaves their complex stories into a deeply satisfying and suspenseful narrative. In Many Waters is a splendid and very timely novel.”

—Margot Livesey, author of Mercury and The Flight of Gemma Hardy

“This captivating novel explores the unmaking and remaking of families, as well as the dark secrets and grim histories that can destroy lives—a few of which can be salvaged and redeemed by love and hope. In Many Waters is a profound and moving work.”

—Joseph Kertes, author of The Afterlife of Stars and Gratitude

In Many Waters is a deeply intelligent and emotionally resonant story about two sets of orphaned siblings and the dark waters that can keep secrets hidden for only so long. The living mourn the dead, while the dead speak across the lost years to the living about bonds of love, blood, and the shared wounds of history. A moving journey of weeks and months and years, awash with compelling characters.”

—Zsuzsi Gartner, Giller finalist, author of Better Living Through Plastic Explosives

In Many Waters


Ami Sands Brodoff is the award-winning author of three novels and a volume of stories.  Her previous novel, The White Space Between, about a mother and daughter struggling with the impact of the Holocaust, won The Canadian Jewish Book Award for Fiction. Bloodknots, a volume of thematically linked stories about families on the edge, was a finalist for The ReLit Award. Ami’s debut novel, Can You See Me? was nominated for The Pushcart Prize.

Black water licked her limbs. She remembered where she was, had no idea how long she’d been floating in the sea, no sense how long she could hold on. Aziza thought of Uncle Nuru strapping her into the life vest the moment she stepped onto his old wooden fishing boat in the middle of the night at the port in Tripoli. Uncle had to tie the straps tight, Aziza was so skinny. She’d always been thin no matter how much she ate, with long arms and legs, a swan-like neck, slender hands and feet. Like her father. Like Baba, she was strong; unlike him, she looked delicate.

Her father, Idir, had vanished from their home in Tripoli six months ago. After Baba disappeared, the terror grew. Menacing calls, death threats scrawled onto the front of their house. Her father’s leather shop in the souk ransacked, their home set on fire, then Uncle Nuru’s burned to the ground. They were not the only ones. Anyone under suspicion, anyone disloyal to Brother Leader Qaddafi, or accused of disloyalty—it didn’t take much.

Stepping onto the wooden fishing boat, Aziza hadn’t known if she was more afraid to board or to stay behind…. Already her cousins had boarded, Afua, one year older than Aziza, more sister than cousin at eighteen, and Afua’s little sister Dede, who’d just turned ten. Bassam, a young man Afua fancied who cooked the best kebabs in the city and already owned his own shop was on the boat with his mother and three sisters, the girls fighting over a doll they’d snuck on board, pulling it by its plastic limbs until a leg snapped from its socket and they burst into tears. Bassam huddled them into his chest, promised to fix the doll like new. He was a sweetheart, Bassam, and the girls believed him. Maybe he would, could, once they were safe on shore. Anything was possible. Afua nuzzled up to him, stroked his cheek and the hair prickled on Aziza’s forearms.

7 reviews for In Many Waters

  1. inannaadmin

    In Many Waters by Ami Sands Brodoff
    reviewed by Maya Khankhoje
    Herizons – spring 2018

    In Many Waters, as the title might suggest, is set in different parts of the world, that are adjacent to large bodies of water. Water, as a metaphor, and as a geographical feature, plays a very important role in the lives of the book’s protagonists. The book is billed as a novel but it can also be read as an exploration of how mass migrations affect the lives of individuals—a very topical subject in our troubled times. It is also a history told by people who flesh out an arrid account of rulers, wars, and geopolitical changes that are meted out by scholars to unwary schoolchildren.

    Cal and Zoe are an American brother-and-sister team who, orphaned in their youth, set out to discover the mysterious circumstances of their parents’ demise. In this quest, they uncover their family history a they learn about the history of the small Jewish community settled in Malta, a tiny island state in the Mediterannean Sea. Their journey takes them from Malta to Marrekesh, Morocco, and from there to Montreal, which is located on an island in the St. Lawrence River. Did I forget to mention Puerto Escondido on the Pacific coast of Mexico? That is where their parents met their untimely deaths.

    The cast of characters in this book is fascinating: a photographer, a travel journalist, a painter, a jewellry designer, an old nanny, a young au pair, a writer, a patriarch, an amateur rabbi, a free-spirited spinster and many more. Books with multiple characters in various geographical settings, and those with a plot taking place in different historical periods, tend to be difficult to follow. But this is certainly not the case with In Many Waters. The author does an outstanding job of keeping readers’ interest at all times through the use of authentic dialogue, a very visual sense of place and shrewd psychological insights that make her characters come alive at all times. Ami Sands Brodoff has written an engaging book about how life prevails even in stormy waters.

  2. inannaadmin

    In Many Waters by Ami Sands Brodoff
    reviewed by Kimberly Bourgeois
    Montreal Review of Books – July 7, 2017

    It’s the middle of the night. Your vessel: a worn, wooden, overcrowded fishing boat. Even if you survive the Mediterranean’s choppy waters and reach foreign land, your life as a refugee is destined for danger. Given the risks, just how desperate would you need to be to climb aboard?

    This is the kind of question that floods your heart as you dip into Montreal author Ami Sands Brodoff’s timely new novel, In Many Waters. The native New Yorker’s prologue, “Lost at Sea,” calls compassionate attention to the continuing refugee crisis: “After Baba disappeared, the terror grew. Menacing calls, death threats scrawled onto the front of their house,” recalls 17-year-old Aziza, fleeing Libya. When her boat capsizes, she drifts alone on her back, wondering how long she can hold on. “Black night rolled into white-hot day folding into night and then again the stinging sun, fierce as a bright, hot mouth.”

    Aziza’s destiny entwines with that of two orphaned siblings, Cal and Zoe, in Malta. Out for a late-night swim, Cal spots Aziza and pulls her to safety. Yet, having no papers or passport, the young woman’s struggles are far from over. Zoe and her younger brother Cal have come to Malta from New York to investigate the untimely death of their parents, who drowned seven years prior while on assignment for a travel magazine. Zoe has landed a research grant for her doctoral thesis, but is stalled in her writing. Unravelling her family history eventually gets her pen flowing as she writes about “the nearly lost Jewish community and history of Malta,” but she aches to know her Maltese mother posthumously: “In truth, she’d missed her Mom when Cassandra was in her very presence; how lonely and unreal it had felt to miss her when she was right there … but there was always the glimmering possibility of more. And then she was gone for good.”

    Family secrets emerge thanks to Zoe’s research, upping the intrigue. The missing and deceased swim like ghosts throughout, filling pages with their own desires. In Many Waters is saturated with a sense of longing, characters craving those who are gone. “Zoe had weathered so many losses, absence had become a kind of presence,” observes the heroine, summing up an important theme.

    Particularly poignant chapters, entitled “Memento Mortis,” have characters address their loved ones directly in the first person. “Dad, remember you and me in the water, any water?” asks Cal. Rescuing Aziza summons boyhood memories of nocturnal swims with his father: “If I was already in bed, you’d lift and carry me down to the lake. When I opened my eyes, I saw the black water, the dark warm, like a person. You were the dark, you were the water. I rode your back as if you were a porpoise, smooth, sleek, faster than anything. … I wasn’t scared. Loved that grey-green-water-world. You were out there with me tonight, Dad. In the water, you know my name.”

    Cal, Zoe, and Aziza’s alternating viewpoints, along with those of Cal and Zoe’s mother and estranged aunt, Yael, are expressed in separate chapters. Given the size of the cast, which includes grandparents, a nanny, and others, and the number of locations covered – Tripoli, New York, Montreal, Valletta, Gozo, Marrakech, Mexico’s Oaxaca Coast – things might have gotten messy in the hands of a less agile writer. Yet Brodoff slides easily between perspectives and places, as well as back and forth through the years.

    The common landscape throughout the novel is water. It is a place where trauma is born, yet also where it comes to bathe and heal. Linking characters through their losses, this absorbing novel treads the deep end of human experience, mining stories of love and resilience that ripple through time.

  3. inannaadmin

    Novel tells of recent refugees and past slavery in Malta
    Lynn Desjardins
    rcinet.ca – May 5, 2017

    (Radio interview available at the link above)

    When she arrived in Malta ten years ago, two things shocked Canadian author Ami Sands Brodoff; the horror stories of refugees coming by boat and the history of Jews who were enslaved there in the 17th and 18th centuries.

    Characters seek refuge and sanctuary

    “So, the plight of the Jewish slaves echoed the refugees’ current plight and these interconnected threads knit together marginal characters forced from their homes, displaced from families and identities seeking refuge and sanctuary elsewhere. And the seeds of the novel were planted,” she says.

    The novel, called In Many Waters, opens powerfully with a young refugee woman floating in the Mediterranean Sea after her boat has sunk. She is alone. It traces her rescue and eventual incarceration in a refugee detention centre.

    At the same time, another main character returns to the place where her parents drowned and learns about a mysterious family member and a chain of secrets.

    ‘A novel takes you deep inside the skin’

    Brodoff conducted extensive research about refugees and spoke with many of them to help her construct her story. She agreed that it is one thing to hear about refugees on the news and quite another to experience it through a novel.

    “What a novel does, it takes you deep inside the skin of the characters. It really is a way where you can experience what they experience and…(where) you are moved and have empathy, whereas the news often feels out there.

    ‘What is our responsibility?’

    “I think art right now is more important than ever and I think as artists it’s very important that we’re politically concerned right now.”

    Brodoff says she hopes the novel helps people “think about ‘what is our responsibility to strangers, who do we help, who do we love, who do we make a part of our family?’”

    Especially in light of events in the United States, where refugees, immigrants, Muslims, and members of the LGBT community are often seen as others, she says one of her themes is that “nobody is a stranger, nobody is another. We are our neighbours’ keepers.”

  4. inannaadmin

    Why Ami Sands Brodoff loves the Canadian winter – CBC Magic 8 Q & A
    CBC Books – April 18, 2017

    The world is witnessing the largest global refugee crisis since the Second World War. This migrant crisis is the focus of Ami Sands Brodoff’s latest novel, In Many Waters. Orphans Zoe and Cal go to Malta to uncover the mysteries surrounding their parents’ deaths when Cal rescues the sole survivor of a capsized fishing boat that was carrying Libyan refugees.

    We asked Brodoff to take CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answer eight randomly selected questions from eight authors.

    1. Ausma Zehanat Khan asks, “At what point in your career do you believe you will have accomplished what you set out to do as a writer? How will you know?”

    Robert Browning said that a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. Let’s amend that to include a woman’s reach as well. I don’t have a hard and fast end goal, except to stay inspired, creating human stories that open readers’ horizons, for as long as I can. Writing helps me make sense of the world and I hope that process will continue, given that life is not eternal and we are not immortal.

    2. Vivek Shraya asks, “What is your favourite writing snack?”

    That’s a very revealing and personal question! To give me energy and deal with the frustrations of writing, I need a snack with lots of crackle and crunch. I love sweet and salty nuts. Maple pecans are my decadent favourite. My beverages of choice are a steady supply of fresh-ground coffee with steamed milk in the a.m. and sparkling water spiked with OJ – preferably with lots of ice – in the p.m.

    3. Gail Anderson-Dargatz asks, “Who is your muse?”

    My Brittany Spaniel puppy Xenophilius Quixote. Our daughter named him this mouthful because he loves strangers and is on a constant quest for an impossible dream: birds, birds, birds and a few squirrels. Xeno keeps me company as I write and then nudges me out for long rambles, where I can think and dream and often come up with ideas for current and future projects.

    4. Jo Walton asks, “What time of year is best for your creative productivity – summer or winter?”

    Winter. Our six-month Canadian winter is perfect for immersing oneself in an enveloping project like a novel, swaddled in a big cozy sweater, (better yet, PJs). The palette of silvery greys, whites and the shrouded bones of trees outside the window both soothes and inspires. When I get cabin fever, I go out for a snowy walk. At night, a mug of cider with Calvados in front of a blazing fire warms and recharges.

    5. Jane Urquhart asks, “Should more dogs be the protagonist in serious contemporary novels?”

    No. André Alexis has been there, done that, brilliantly!

    6. Vincent Lam asks, “For you – what does the ‘ultimate literary event’ look like?”

    I would love to hear a few of my favourite contemporary writers’ work read by professional actors, followed by a wine-saturated schmooze, where the authors chat about the stories behind their stories, set in a thriving indie bookstore. How about Vanessa Redgrave reading Alice Munro, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Ondaatje, Sarah Polley, Zsuzsi Gartner, Molly Parker, Elise Levine, Riz Ahmed, Rohinton Mistry and Priyanka Chopra, Anita Rau Badami? Now that would be a night to remember!

    7. Will Ferguson asks, “What is the dumbest and/or weirdest question you’ve ever been asked at a book signing or interview?”

    Did X, Y or Z in your novel really happen to you? I dislike reductive connect-the-dots questions, straining to marry the fictional to autobiographical fact. There is something almost pornographic about it, or at least voyeuristic. This question punctures the power and alchemy of a novel or story, which needs to be alive on its own terms.

    8. Tracey Lindberg asks, “Your latest novel is made into a movie. Who is on the soundtrack?”

    A mix of John Legend, from his album Darkness & Light; Ahmed Fakroun, the Libyan singer and songwriter from Benghazi with mandol and darbuka drum; and Klezmer music. I know! It’s a mix alright. These multicultural sounds represent the tastes of the three primary characters in my novel, In Many Waters.

  5. inannaadmin

    In Many Waters by Ami Sands Brodoff
    reviewed by Publishers Weekly – April 17, 2017

    Brodoff, who previously won a Canadian Jewish Book Award for Fiction for The White Space In Between, competently explores Malta’s present and past in this short novel. Of a boatload of refugees who set out to escape Gadhafi’s Libya, only Aziza survives, pulled from Malta’s surf by Cal Braverman. Cal and his sister, Zoe, are visitors to Malta, there to uncover their shattered family’s hidden past. Helping Aziza seems but a distraction from their true purpose. The Braverman siblings’ parents are lost to them, but their parents’ secrets are not. Methodical investigation uncovers tragedy and betrayal, but as painful as this is, it is the only path to reconciliation. Cal and Zoe’s quest allows the author to explore the long and often tragic history of the Jews of Malta. Aziza’s tale of Libyan woe seems related only by the luck that puts Cal in the right place at the right time to save her, but as the novel progresses, their lives become inextricably entangled. Brevity is not a strength in this case: the novel lacks space to fully develop its themes, such as community born of calamity, and its effect is more allusive than illuminating.

  6. inannaadmin

    In Many Waters by Ami Sands Brodoff
    reviewed by The Miramichi Reader – March 12, 2017

    Award-winning author Ami Sands Brodoff’s newest novel, In Many Waters (Inanna 2017) takes place primarily in Malta where Zoe, along with her brother Cal were born and raised. The story begins in Malta. It is 2007 and it has been 7 years since Zoe and Cal lost their parents, Cassandra and Lior, in a surfing accident in waters off Mexico. Zoe dislikes being on the water, for it means you could be in it, a fear instilled in her when as a child, her father threw her into the water in a “sink or swim” moment: “Zoe never quite forgave him for that scare. but her lifelong fear was perverse revenge. Her parent’s drowning deaths only made her terror burrow in more deeply.” Cal, on the other hand, is like his father and loves the water and is a strong swimmer.

    Meanwhile, off the coast of Libya, a young woman by the name of Aziza floats, a survivor of an attempt to flee the country and reach Malta as a refugee.

    “Black water licked her limbs. She remembered where she was, had no idea how long she’d been floating in the sea, no sense how long she could hold on. Aziza thought of Uncle Nuru strapping her into the life vest the moment she stepped onto his old wooden fishing boat in the middle of the night at the port in Tripoli. Uncle had to tie the straps tight, Aziza was so skinny. She’d always been thin no matter how much she ate, with long arms and legs, a swan-like neck, slender hands and feet. Like her father. Like Baba, she was strong;unlike him, she looked delicate.

    Her father, Idir, had vanished from their home in Tripoli six months ago. After Baba disappeared, the terror grew. Menacing calls, death threats scrawled onto the front of their house. Her father’s leather shop in the souk ransacked, their home set on fire, then Uncle Nuru’s burned to the ground. They were not the only ones. Anyone under suspicion, anyone disloyal to Brother Leader Qaddafi, or accused of disloyalty—it didn’t take much.”

    Aziza is rescued by Cal when he sees her floating in the water when he is out for a swim. Unsure what to do with her, or what might happen to her as an illegal immigrant, he takes her back to his apartment where he helps her to regain her health. Not being able to hide her in his apartment forever, Aziza eventually comes to the attention of the Maltese authorities and is subjected to the demeaning immigrant internment process along with hundreds of others. Thanks to Cal’s help on the outside, Aziza is eventually taken in by a Montreal family as a nanny. Cal will eventually follow her there where he plans to attend university. At the time of Aziza’s rescue, Zoe is in Mexico trying to track down clues about her parent’s death (the bodies were never recovered) and where she discovers her parent’s marriage wasn’t as secure as she thought, which raises more questions in her mind. One can feel Zoe’s frustrations at the insensible clues she is given, especially from Luz, a close friend of her mother:

    “Lior did not like our friendship, which stood between them, but she could not have survived…without me.”
    “Well, she didn’t.”
    Luz sat erect, her chin raised, looking past Zoe. “Neither did he.”
    Shit, Zoe hated this woman.

    In Many Waters is a multi-layered, multi-national, multi-generational story that is fascinating to read. There is also the significant side story of Zoe’s estranged Aunt Yael (Cassandra’s older sister), who one day up and leaves Cassandra and her parents and disappears. The book is also quite informative regarding the history of the Jewish people in Malta and how they came to form a community on that tiny island. Overall an impressive read, right to the final page.

  7. inannaadmin

    Novel examines family relationships and human nature
    Canadian Jewish News – June 15, 2017

    There is a lot to keep straight in Ami Sands Brodoff’s new novel In Many Waters. The author of The White Space Between, the 2009 winner of the Canadian Jewish Book Award for Fiction, uses many different first-person voices throughout this book.

    Often they are names we’ve heard before in previous chapters through the narrative of others but are now able to find out their side of things. While this is exciting to discover, we simultaneously miss the voice that has disappeared on the previous page, maybe flipping forward to see when they will return.

    In In Many Waters the narrative jumps from past to present and from one voice to the next. Through hearing different perspectives on the same story from different times in the characters’ lives, we learn about who they are and also eventually, of their betrayals. Brodoff doesn’t make it easy for us: we have to form our own opinions of the situation and the people that make up this novel – she won’t decide for us. We get to see each character’s good and their bad. Some are deeply flawed, yet have such human qualities that they still draw our sympathies.

    This is a book about a lot of things, from relationships, to betrayal, to the flaws of human nature, and as Brodoff says: how one creates one’s own family. In this story, Brodoff shows “the unmaking and remaking of family – who becomes our family.” It also brings in the story of the refugee crisis in Malta. As people fled the chaos in North Africa for the haven of the European Union, many ended up drifting to this tiny Mediterranean island.

    Brodoff explains that each character came to her mind and then fit themselves together in the story. Some of her characters come fully formed and others are an idea that she then shapes. She got the image of a refugee and then also of a brother and a sister , where one sibling had to function as a parent. In hindsight, she can see how these characters were always connected.

    Those were the first three characters that came to her mind and then the others followed. She also wanted to include three generations of stories: from Zoe, to her mother, to her grandparents.

    Zoe is the first we meet – a sister who has had to act as a mother to her younger brother Cal while her parents wrote and photographed travel stories all around the world. Although Zoe and Cal were all each other ever really had, this becomes more real when their parents meet their deaths in the ocean. Years later, Zoe uses her thesis to look into the way her parents died yet really finds out about the way they lived.

    Aziza is a North African refugee found drifting near death by Cal in the Mediterranean. She has lost her immediate family escaping, yet is still strong enough to survive the internment camps set up in Malta to take in all the refugees and then try to create a life for herself in Canada.

    Brodoff has been able to give a positive spin on a life that is often depicted as dire, that of a refugee from a war-torn land. She tells me in an interview that keeping a hopeful tone throughout this part of the story was a must.

    “Jews are particularly empathetic,” referring to the connection she has made between one of her strong characters and the people she has known, who came to North America from horrific situations and created success and families. She knows refugees often have PTSD and then have to learn to adjust and adapt—“there is darkness but there is hope.”

    One of the most impressive skills of the ficton writer is making us see the other side of a viewpoint that we take for granted. In this case, the way the Maltese treated the refugees who came to their island in hopes of an entry into Europe. What those on the outside don’t realize, Brodoff explains, is how small the island is and how the entry of even a few people can pull at their scarce resources. As it is throughout the novel, she doesn’t tell us how to think but instead puts it all on the table to let us decide.

    In other parts of the book, we hear from Zoe’s mother, Cassandra, from the time when she was young, growing up Jewish in Malta, to when she meets her future husband Lior and further on. We learn this story sometimes separately from Zoe and sometimes with her, as she painfully learns that her parents were broken in many ways. Cassandra’s flaws come from a piece of her that is missing: Yael, her adopted sister who ran away from Malta when they were young and never met again.

    History is its own character in the story. Zoe finds a connection to the grandfather she has never met through tapes he and Cassandra recorded as they studied the little known history of the Jews in Malta. In the end, she begins to finish the work they started.
    Water starts and ends the novel. This isn’t surprising as Brodoff describes herself as a water person. It symbolizes so much for the characters as well: a trap, an escape, a place for bonding, a place for broken relationships, everything that can be feared. The story starts with water allowing one character to live and ends by taking away the lives of others.

    When asked about the many themes that flow throughout the novel, Brodoff says that she free writes her fi rst draft and then the themes begin to emerge. She never meant to write in the theme of “the responsibility to strangers“ but it turns out to be one of the most prominent in the end.

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