Helen Weinzweig writes about the complex places where each of us live; her attention to detail grounds both her character's physical locations and their personal, imagined worlds. Consequently, her stories manage something akin to magic realism without denying the limitations of the world as most of us understand it.
Born in Poland in 1915, Weinzweig moved to Canada in 1924 and has lived in Toronto most of her life. While she maintained a lifelong interest in reading, she only began to write seriously at 45, and ultimately began publishing her short fiction in the late 1960s. Many of these stories were ultimately collected in A View from the Roof (1989), and have inspired dramatic adaptations by Dave Carley.
Her first novel, Passing Ceremony (1973) garnered praise for its poetic style and gained her a small following, mostly among the Canadian literati.
Her second longer work, Basic Black with Pearls (1980), represents her greatest achievement. This readable postmodern tale gives us Shirley Kaszenbowski, a possibly delusional middle-aged woman seeking her lover, Coenraad, an enigmatic spy who communicates to her through messages coded into National Geographic. Coenraad's latest code brings her to Toronto, and ultimately to the immigrant neighbourhoods of her youth. As she wanders, we hear the stories, both plausible and unbelievable, of the people she meets, and we piece together possible narratives of her life.
It seems likely her existing canon will never bring her the fame lavished upon many other twentieth-century Canadian writers, such as Margaret Atwood, Timothy Findley, Alice Munro and Mordecai Richler. The quality of her writing, however, marks her as one of the great writers of her time and place.
Ms. Weinzweig died in 2010 at the age of 94.