A Sharp Intake of Breath


Winner of the 2009 Canadian Jewish Book Awards - Martin and Beatrice Fischer Award in Fiction

Born with a split lip and cleft palate, Toshy Wolfman’s life is an uphill battle. Believing he is dim-witted and ugly, Toshy finds his resentment slowly building as he is ridiculed, used, and misled. Ultimately, he is imprisoned after being caught stealing a valuable and famous diamond, the Orange Sunset.

But Toshy’s story is not his alone - it is shared with his two sisters: Lil, a radical and a devotee of anarchist Emma Goldman; and Bessie, who goes to work for one of Goldmans enemies, the owners of the Orange Sunset. Toshy’s love for his sisters drives him to make some of the bravest decisions of his life. But despite having seemingly overcome his obstacles, an aging Toshy stuns his nephew by asking for his assistance in committing suicide.Toshy wont fully explain his decision. Nor will he fully explain why, at this late stage in life, he is obsessed with making a journey to France.


Canadian Jewish Book Awards - Martin and Beatrice Fischer Award in Fiction


A story of courage and sacrifice, it is a solid second novel for a writer of promise and one that left me waiting for more.

The Sun Times (Owen Sound) (July, 2007)

... the novel feels like a journal, a journey of remembering.

British Journal of Canadian Studies (January, 2007)

The storyline that most captured my imagination revolved around a huge, orange diamond and its mysterious, (some would say cursed) history ... the answers are not revealed until the last pages.

The Lethbridge Herald (March, 2007)

A Sharp Intake of Breath illustrates the strengths of John Miller ... The nuances of his old-fashioned portrayal of family are often absorbing, as is his evocation of the various settings."
"Miller's expansive tale of family and committed action satisfies.

The Vancouver Sun (March, 2007)

The bad boy who finds his way only after making a big mistake isn't a new idea in literature, but ... John Miller has constructed his version so well in his new novel, A Sharp Intake of Breath, that it not only works, it seems fresh.

The Edmonton Journal (April, 2007)

A Sharp Intake of Breath is a heartwarming and potent piece of fiction. Miller has created a world that is welcoming, intriguing, heartfelt, and genuine.

Quill and Quire (January, 2007)

Miller pens some remarkable passages about speech, silence and breath ... A Sharp Intake of Breath is an examination of love, sacrifice and the grey area between politics and emotion.

XTRA! (January, 2007)

... the ending satisfies with a nice twist.
Miller succeeds admirably in shaping a serious, imaginative novel about the jagged, often fractured, path taken for the sake of a worthy life.

The Star Phoenix (August, 2007)

A Sharp Intake of Breath more than satisfies. At once a profile of courage and resolution, a family history, a mystery and a social commentary, it reveals Miller as an impressive storyteller; one wonders what he'll do next.

The National Post (July, 2007)

Toshy is both sympathetic and likable. His story shows that actions can have far-reaching consequences that we can't even imagine, and yet, at the same time, it is ultimately possible to escape the prison of memory and regret.

Winnipeg Free Press (January, 2007)

Miller is at his best and most empathetic when he gets inside Toshy's head and explores his protagonist's experience as an outsider.

NOW Magazine (February, 2007)

A Sharp Intake of Breath is good, solid storytelling.

The Calgary Herald (January, 2007)

About the Author

John Miller

Posted by Kendra on December 6, 2014

John Miller

John Miller's first novel, The Featherbed, received stellar reviews and earned a devoted readership upon its release in 2002. Besides novels, Miller has written on culture and politics, and in his spare time he provides consulting services to local and international non-profit organizations and governments. He lives in Toronto