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It is 1989 and Naiko is working in the Unde­liv­erable Mail Office, a cav­ernous space that resembles a giant, con­gested pawnshop. Immersed in things lost and missing, she searches for clues to match unde­liv­erable mail with addresses, a job that allows her to achieve a sem­blance of order in a dis­orderly world. It is a shock, then, when Naiko’s co-worker Andrei, an enigmatic Romanian refugee who has become the unlikely object of Naiko’s fas­ci­nation, suddenly vanishes.

Naiko’s shifting under­standing of Andrei’s past becomes an opaque reflection of her own existence, and objects — from the pens hoarded by Naiko’s mother in her retirement home to the personal effects of Jewish women that Andrei’s grand­mother sorts through at Birkenau — become touch­stones for memories and meaning, loss and love.

Praise and Reviews

Finalist for the 2008 Evergreen Award
Finalist for the 2007 in Canada First Novel Award
2009 K.M. Hunter Award in Literature

The Letter Opener by Kyo Maclear. This first novel came out in 2007, and deserves wider attention. A fabulous premise, and written with lyricism, intel­ligence and heart, about a Japanese-Canadian woman working in the Unde­liv­erable Mail Office (for orphaned letters and keepsakes) and trying to track down the Romanian refugee who has dis­ap­peared from her life after befriending her at work.
—Canada Reads 2009 Winner Lawrence Hill selects The Letter Opener as one of his ‘Book Picks’.

“Like the mas­terful Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, Maclear creates a layered world that is both real and dream-like.… Her language and tone are just right, neither sen­ti­mental nor sen­sa­tionalist. Maclear’s instincts are apt in leavening her poten­tially dark tale with dashes of humour.… In The Letter Opener all the elements of craft are woven together into a rich and seamless tapestry. It is hard to believe that this is a first novel. Maclear is a writer with many gifts, all of them on display in this strong debut.”
—The Montreal Gazette

“A graceful debut [that] illu­minates what the objects in people’s lives reveal about them”

“Maclear is a novelist of promise. She has a way of drawing char­acters and drawing readers to them.”
—Hamilton Spectator

“Maclear [has] a very felicitous way with words that makes the book a com­pelling read… There are piercing insights here, par­tic­ularly about the nature of the immigrant expe­rience in Canada… There is res­onance and thought­fulness to Maclear’s writing, in her visceral cham­pioning of the lost, the for­gotten, the quiet, and even the shabby.”
—Quill and Quire (Feature Review)

“Maclear’s writing is thoughtful and well paced…Where she shines is in her thoughtful rumi­nations on how pos­sessions, mere things, are not always just pos­sessions or mere things. Things tell stories, often tragic ones—the enu­meration of Naiko’s mother’s pos­sessions, which include 163 ballpoint pens and 51 empty egg cartons, poignantly shows a woman slowly losing her mind.”
—Edmonton Journal

“A subtle moving literary debut … Maclear handles the story with care and attention to detail… The Letter Opener is a promising start for Maclear as a novelist.”
—The Now

“Nothing in Naiko’s life seems securely anchored: just as Maclear’s prose bubbles with multiple meanings. The title could indicate Naiko, Andrei, or the common object that resembles a knife… In this unusual, cerebral tale, Maclear shows her young narrator striving—suc­cessfully at last—to connect the missing pieces into the great puzzle that is the world.”
—Toronto Star

“Kyo Maclear can write.”
—The Globe and Mail

“In her wise and lovely first novel, Maclear explores the workings of human attachment.”
—Women’s Post

“This quiet, beau­tifully written & thoughtful novel about a postal clerk & her efforts to reconnect people with their mis­di­rected mail at the Unde­liv­erable Mail Office provides remarkable insights into the mer­curial nature of identity, loss & personal history.”
—North49 Books

“This is a won­derful story of memory, loss and acceptance.”
—Café Books (Alberta)

“A really good book and excellent first novel. There is an attention to detail that isn’t just a neurotic cat­a­loguing, but con­siders the emo­tional nuances.”
—Electric Pages

“The words are mas­terfully chosen. In this way the book was rem­i­niscent of a fine book of poetry or a beautiful painting — every word is deliberate. The result was a touching book, something that you want to read slowly to take it all in, as the pieces all fit together so del­i­cately. I loved this book.”
The Book Chick

“Maclear has produced an ingenious work of fiction that combines rich, intimate char­acters with a nar­rative that unfolds like a puzzle box. The Letter Opener is that rare book that nourishes both the mind and the heart, at once wise and tender. A stunning, lyrical debut.”
—Naomi Klein

“This is an extra­or­di­narily thoughtful novel about the travails of the diaspora of lost souls who have been the victims of total­i­tarian regimes. It all feels so tranquil, so exact, so hal­lu­ci­natory in a tidy and sci­en­tif­ically organized way, the report of such a careful, observant, and honest witness.”
—Elisabeth Harvor, author of Excessive Joy Injures the Heart and Let me be the One

“Kyo Maclear’s sense of humanity is indis­pensable. It’s the basis of her com­mitment to history’s for­gotten and unde­livered. Her voice is exquisite, brilliant, incisive.”
—Joy Kogawa

For more “First Look” reader reviews, see:

Read an extract from The Letter Opener
Read an extract from the essay Postal Phantoms and Becoming Corrupted by Kyo Maclear
Read an interview with Kyo Maclear about The Letter Opener