City of Orphans by Patricia Robertson  

The ten stories in Patricia Robertson’s first collection of short fiction offer a somber, shadowed world of characters who strive for other, more magical destinations. The book’s mood and images are stark and carefully controlled. And while Robertson roots each tale very firmly in the here and now, a few of her characters actually find their way into the imaginary....City of Orphans is a thoughtful, well-written collection.

A young Pole in a Canadian internment camp during World War I becomes obsessed with a female visitor. A contemporary young woman’s baby develops a mysterious illness while her own life is invaded by dreams of a homesick Norwegian princess from the 14th century. The father of a British child disappears on the Canadian frontier in the early 1950s.

Luminous, sensual, haunting, City of Orphans weaves fantasy and reality together into stories of dreamlike intensity and hypnotic visual power.


1995—Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize,

Review quote

‘These ten stories show off Robertson’s imagination and expansive stylistic range to full advantage. Several of the stories draw from her experiences abroad, while others are set in backwoods British Columbia, where Robertson grew up. The characters range from a teenage hustler, to a mysterious baker who is suddenly possessed by a long-dead Norwegian princess, to an aging homosexual man living in self-imposed exile. The stories in The City of Orphans are as different from each other as snowflakes, but they share similar themes: grief, suffering, defeat, rejection and always some mystery. There is a quality of inscrutability in Robertson’s work that makes it a perfect tonic for boredom.’

—eye weekly

Review quote

City of Orphans is, astonishingly, Robertson’s debut collection of short stories. Astonishing, for her work is so assured. She has the strong narrative control that’s necessary for anyone using magic realism as a story-telling device. In the ten stories that make up this collection, magic and fantasy heighten the stories, without overwhelming them.’

—Montreal Gazette

Review quote

‘One moment I was reminded of Virginia Woolf, at another Kafka; later of Marguerite Yourcenar, but those moments were fleeting. Robertson and her characters are independent and completely realized. Read these stories now. Now, before they become part of the anthology-stew that steals the flavour and the delight of personal discovery each of us feels when we encounter an author with a voice that speaks so directly, we know she’s writing for us alone.’

—Charles Lillar, Victoria Times-Colonist


Patricia Robertson was born in England, near Manchester, and emigrated to Kitamat, B.C. when she was still very young. A City of Orphans is her first collection, though several of these stories have previously appeared in Quarry, Matrix, and the Second Macmillan Anthology.

City of Orphans was a finalist for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize -- awarded to the best novel or story collection written by a British Columbia writer. Past winners have included Blue Husbands by Don Dickinson (1992) and Bad Imaginings by Caroline Adderson (1994). City of Orphans has been praised for its sensual and haunting stories and for Patricia Robertson’s accomplished and sophisticated writing.

Patricia Robertson currently teaches at Yukon College in Whitehorse, Yukon, where she lives with poet and journalist Erling Friis-Baastad.

The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.

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FICTION / Short Stories


ISBN-13: 9780889841765

Publication Date: 1994-04-15

Dimensions: 8.75 in x 5.56 in

Pages: 160

Price: $12.95