The Girl Who Stole Everything

Norman Ravvin

September 2019

A stolen house on a Polish square. A pop bottle on Vancouver’s east side. Nadia Baltzan knows a few things about theft. The Girl Who Stole Everything is a fresh and telling portrait of the relationship between prewar Polish shtetl life and Jewish lives today. In Poland, a house stands empty on a village square seventy-five years after its owners were killed. In Vancouver, the aftermath of a murder overturns the life of the victim’s niece. In these old and new worlds a mystery lurks, and Norman Ravvin lovingly recovers the past of both.

Norman Ravvin’s books have won prizes across Canada. His novels include The Joyful Child, Café des Westens, and Lola by Night, which also appeared in Serbian translation. A story collection Sex, Skyscrapers, and Standard Yiddish, won the Ontario Arts Council K. M. Hunter Prize, and his travel essays are collected in Hidden Canada: An Intimate Travelogue. He has traveled often to his family’s prewar home in Poland, and this experience informs his writing. He lives in Montreal.
Author website:

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Size: 8.5 x 5.5 in.

Pages: 310

What they say
A writer of tremendous reach
Eli MacLaren, Canadian Literature Quarterly

All of this unfolds in Ravvin’s understated, mellow style, with the unhurried, incremental pace that characterized his last novel, The Joyful Child. Here, as there, the writing is affable, wise, and wry. Characters speak and move with an appealing directness. At the same time, Ravvin is obviously a writer with a tremendous reach and, as in Alice Munro, every detail brims with significance, if one cares to look twice. 
Read more.
June 2021, Canadian Literature Quarterly

Brimming with significance
Eli MacLaren, Montreal West Informer

Among the new books at the Public Library is The Girl Who Stole Everything, the latest novel by NDG writer Norman Ravvin. It begins with Nadia, a UBC music student, leaving a Vancouver park one evening, thinking, "Theft. It had the power to reorder the world in interesting ways." Nadia is carrying a box that a friend has stolen for her from an auction house. Inside the box is a murder weapon from 1962, which was used to kill a shopkeeper––a Jew, her uncle.

The Girl Who Stole Everything is full of such boxes. Like Michael Ondaatje, Ravvin presents artifacts as rocks in the current of time, holding on to stories that would otherwise be washed away. These unlikely archives resist oblivion and the liberties that memory takes. Nadia's compulsion to learn more about her father's family draws her to the scene of the crime, where she meets Simon, the new owner of the shop, who is renovating it into a coffee-house. He too confronts artifacts that will draw him into a strange past, leading him to the the Polish village of Radzanow, 100 km northwest of Warsaw, where his father was a boy and first fell in love.

The Girl Who Stole Everything unfolds with an unhurried pace and an affable, wry style. As in Alice Munro, every detail brims with significance. Ravvin opens up a strange, recognizable country, full of flaws that are endearing. It is a Canada with indistinct borders rooted deeply in hope.

May 2021, Montreal West Informer

Girl Who Stole featured in Polish museum
Virtual Shtetl

Norman Ravvin's The Girl Who Stole Everything has been added to the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, Poland. From the book's catalogue page:

The Girl Who Stole Everything by Norman Ravvin is a novel set partly in Radzanow, northwest of Warsaw, and in Vancouver, Canada. It is an exploration of contemporary Poland and Canada as sites of Jewish memory and history. In both Radzanow and Vancouver, young characters discover aspects of their ancestral past that redirect their lives. 

Radzanow, before World War Two, was a rather typical shtetl, with a Jewish market square economy and an impressive red brick synagogue opposite the large village church. Some of its inhabitants had family in nearby Mlawa, lending a more urban side to their life in a small place. The Girl Who Stole Everything starts from the premise of a return: the son of a man who was born in the village comes back to stay in a house that belonged to his family and was protected through the decades by a local villager. In his time in the village he confronts his own past and the contemporary scene, as a movie shoot is in the works outside his window. Published by Linda Leith Publishing in Montreal in fall, 2019, it was recently launched in Lodz. A museum exhibit based on it will take place at the Museum of Jewish Montreal in 2020.

April 2021, The Museum of History of Polish Jews

"Prisoner of hope and memory"
Sheldon Goldfarb, Ormsby Review

The reviewer is expecting a Holocaust novel, and bracing for it, but the opening chapter of The Girl Who Stole Everything is lyrical, magical, far away from the Holocaust, though of course suggesting it, with its mysterious discovery in an abandoned Jewish cemetery near the Polish village of Radzanów. This is in the present (more or less), but you will turn the page and find yourself in … Vancouver? Yes, Vancouver.
Read more.
January 2021, Ormsby Review

"A funky, postmodern feel"
Henry Auster, University of Toronto

Indeed, the book, with its short chapters and their often intriguingly playful titles and headings, as well as with its breadth of reference, not least the pop culture ones, has a funky, postmodern feel that suits the intergenerational narrative at its heart. Moving intriguingly between Vancouver, Poland, mainly the small town of Razdanów, and even a Jewish wedding in Queens, New York, it evokes a globalised world -- a geographic freedom and mobility that these days we look back on wistfully, wondering if travel will ever be so seemingly easy again.
Henry Auster, Department of English, University of Toronto (retired)

"Wonderfully written"
Richard King, CBC

On CBC's Let's Go, Richard King said that "Norman Ravvin's novel, The Girl Who Stole Everything, is wonderfully written. The plot is complex and layered. Great well-drawn characters make this novel an engrossing read."
September 2019, CBC Montreal

Bronwyn Drainie

A fascinating, at times mesmerizing, book. The parallel structures -- Downtown Eastside Vancouver beside Radzanow – Simon’s shop/cafe beside the empty house on Pilsudski Square – Ania and her mother beside Simon and his father – all handled with great writerly skill.

"Lush and filled with wondrous detail"
Allan Hudson, Miramichi Reader

Norman Ravvin skillfully weaves his story with images of the past and present in Vancouver and a small village in Poland. The key figures are drawn together throughout the story using the unlikeliest of props; a vacant building which was once a pawn shop in Vancouver, an abandoned house in the Polish village square of Radzanow, a pop bottle, a box containing relics – one of which is a photo of children, a black and white image of the past.

The main characters, Nadia the dulcimer girl and the person referred to in the title and Simon, meet by chance in Vancouver and unknown to them, their pasts are linked. Neither of their fathers has spoken of their history. Mysteries are presented to us and as we move through the story, clues are revealed.
Read more.
March 2020, The Miramichi Reader

12 books to add to your reading list
Jade Colbert, Globe and Mail

Norman Ravvin’s The Girl Who Stole Everything is set in Vancouver and Radzanow, a Polish village an hour’s drive northwest of Warsaw. Ravvin’s novel is about two places in flux and the secrets – particularly their hidden Jewish histories – that are brought to the surface by the churn of recent change. In Vancouver, gentrification’s creep into the Downtown Eastside reveals Cordova Street’s past as an Eastern European Jewish enclave, as well as a murder mystery from the 1960s. Meanwhile, post-Communist Poland is only just starting to grapple with the facts of its past, including the Holocaust. When a Second World War movie, comically earnest in its desire for historical accuracy, begins filming in Radzanow’s town square, it awakes memories for those who lived through the war. Ravvin brings these stories together while resisting the urge to tie a too-neat bow.
30 December 2019, The Globe and Mail

The best reads from Canada's small publishers this year
Jade Colbert, Globe and Mail

Set in Vancouver and a post-Communist village outside Warsaw, Ravvin's novel is about what was lost in the Holocaust and asks how we contend with the crimes big and small that shape who we are.
10 December 2019, Globe and Mail

Holiday books list: 17 great reads!
Concordia magazine

Norman Ravvin is a professor in Concordia's Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture. His latest book, The Girl Who Stole Everything, was included in the Globe and Mail's Best Reads From Independent Publishers in 2019. Ravvin's novel is a fresh and telling portrait of the relatioship between prewar Polish shtetle life and Jewish lives today. Set in Poland and Vancouver respectively, these old and new worlds hide a mystery, and Ravvin lovingly recovers the past of both.
December 2019, Concordia magazine

Concordia magazine
Cherie Smith, Jewish Independent

Norman Ravvin is a professor in Concordia's Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture. His latest book, The Girl Who Stole Everything, was included in the Globe and Mail's Best Reads From Independent Publishers in 2019. Ravvin's novel is a fresh and telling portrait of the relatioship between prewar Polish shtetle life and Jewish lives today. Set in Poland and Vancouver respectively, these old and new worlds hide a mystery, and Ravvin lovingly recovers the past of both.
December 2019, Concordia magazine

Interview: Where the real and the imaginary mix
Cherie Smith, Jewish Independent

For anyone interested in the history and landmarks of Vancouver, especially, but also cities in Poland, reading Norman Ravvin’s new novel, The Girl Who Stole Everything (Linda Leith Editions, 2019), will take longer than its 310 pages would suggest. You’ll want to allot time for side trips to the internet to see what the Army & Navy building on West Cordova Street looked like in the middle of the last century, for example, or Stan Douglas’s mural at the Woodward’s complex of the 1971 Gastown riot. Stalin’s Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw? The main square in the town of Radzanów, Poland? 

While The Girl Who Stole Everything is set in real places described in detailed accuracy by Ravvin, there is still much left to the imagination. The discovery of family secrets – in one case, which were literally buried; in the other, figuratively – leads to events that bring Vancouver dulcimer musician Nadia and bookseller-café owner Simon together and, eventually, take both to Poland. Nadia’s father never told her that her uncle, who owned a pawnshop on West Cordova, was murdered in 1962, beaten to death in a robbery gone wrong, and Simon’s father told him nothing of their prewar Polish heritage. Both a little lost in life before friends drop these revelations on them, Nadia and Simon find meaning and direction as they search out the truth of their histories.

Jewish Independent: I was struck by your attention to detail in the history and geography of Vancouver, and I imagine the same with Warsaw and Radzanów, though I wouldn’t know that from personal experience. Have you lived in all these places? If not, from where did you gather your local knowledge?

Norman Ravvin: I came to know Vancouver as a child, traveling from Calgary with my family to visit my mother’s mother, who lived on Willow Street. Those trips and her presence in the city contributed to my coming back to study at UBC, where my dad went for a few years in the wartime before enlisting in the Navy. I did my undergrad degree and a one-year MA in the English department.

So, I lived in the city, altogether, only about six years. I lived at UBC, then on the West Side, then in the West End, which I came to think of as “my neighbourhood.” Having left in the mid-80s, with family still there, I continued to come back and never really let go of it as “home,” or maybe a “second home.” We tend to spend two or three weeks in the city in the summer each year. My background knowledge of the city then is also connected with my mom’s youth in the city, my dad’s time there in the wartime, and my grandmother’s life in the city. Read more.
December 2019, Jewish Independent

A novel with an elegant narrative force
Mordechai Ben-Dat, CJN News

[Norman Ravvin's] most recent novel is an intriguing story whose key figures intersect with one another on a matrix of geography, time and relationship that joins the pre-Second World War Polish village of Radzanow and the east end of downtown postwar Vancouver.

The girl – actually a young woman – of the title lives in Vancouver. She befriends a young man in her downtown Vancouver neighbourhood. For separate reasons and at different times, both characters are drawn to Radzanow, where they meet a mother and her daughter. All of these lives are, of course, intertwined in mysterious ways, as Ravvin poetically suggests, like “the snarled yarn of an old sweater.”

The secrets to unravelling this snarled yarn in the present time lie hidden in past events in Radzanow and in Vancouver. Ravvin is superb in leading the reader through the complicated weave of clues, intimations and disclosures that ultimately connect the main characters and yield the novel’s elegant, full narrative force. [Read more.]

October 2019, Canadian Jewish News

"A feast of atmosphere and mystery"
Michael Kluckner

Ranging across Vancouver's neighbourhoods and touching down in a magical ancestral Polish village, Ravvin's characters weave a spell on the reader. "Nadia the dulcimer girl" studies music at UBC and lives in Point Grey but is irresistibly drawn to Cordova Street, "shot through with noir – a washed-out street of failure and dissolution," where she busks on the step of an old storefront, once a pawn shop called Reliable Loan where the Polish-Jewish proprietor was murdered in 1962. She connects with Simon, who walks every day from his cramped West End apartment to the storefront, steeped in family memory, which he leases as a performance space. Ravvin's new novel is a feast of atmosphere and mystery.
Michael Kluckner, author Toshiko and Vanishing Vancouver

About Ravvin's previous novels

“A remarkable talent.” 
Calgary Herald

“Powerful and beautiful writing.”
Janice Kulyk Keefer, author Under Eastern Eyes, The Ladies Lending Library

“Both quietly humorous and harrowing.” 
University of Toronto Quarterly

“Wickedly witty, quirkily original.” 
New Brunswick Reader

“Absurdly gorgeous . . . the sky’s no limit in Ravvin’s luscious narrative lexicon.” 
Judith Fitzgerald, Toronto Star 

“Brief moments exquisitely recounted.”   
David Staines, University Of Toronto Quarterly 


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