[Canadian 🇨🇦 Book Talk] Sanaaq: An Inuit Novel by Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk

Book Details:

Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Read: December 2017

Synopsis:

Sanaaq is an intimate story of an Inuit family negotiating the changes brought into their community by the coming of the qallunaat, the white people, in the mid-nineteenth century. Composed in 48 episodes, it recounts the daily life of Sanaaq, a strong and outspoken young widow, her daughter Qumaq, and their small semi-nomadic community in northern Quebec. Here they live their lives hunting seal, repairing their kayak, and gathering mussels under blue sea ice before the tide comes in. These are ordinary extraordinary lives: marriages are made and unmade, children are born and named, violence appears in the form of a fearful husband or a hungry polar bear. Here the spirit world is alive and relations with non-humans are never taken lightly. And under it all, the growing intrusion of the qallunaat and the battle for souls between the Catholic and Anglican missionaries threatens to forever change the way of life of Sanaaq and her young family.

About the translation:

In the early 1950s, Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk was asked by a priest working in Kangiqsujuaq in northern Quebec to write down some Inuttitut phrases to assist him in the study of the language. At the age of twenty-two, Nappaaluk began writing but did not stop at mere phrases. She invented a group of characters and events and, over the next twenty years, wrote the first Inuit novel, simultaneously reinventing the novel form.

Due in part to the perseverance of French anthropologist Bernard Saladin d’Anglure, Sanaaq was first published in syllabic Inuttitut in 1987. His French translation appeared in 2002. This English translation now brings this cornerstone of Inuit literature to Anglophone readers and scholars.

My Thoughts

I had gotten this book from the library as an interlibrary loan after I had been wanting to read more fiction by indigenous authors in Canada. I had been trying to read across Canada, trying to find authors from every single province and territory and had been starting to think that the majority of authors lived in Toronto, and I misread Mitiarjuk as living in Nunavut (which is a territory) when she actually lived in Nunavik (which is in northern Quebec). I had already started reading this and was halfway through before I realized the error, but I’m glad that I picked it up because it was such an interesting story.

Now, really, this story isn’t written like a lot of the fiction available these days. It had originally been commissioned as a way to learn some Inuit phrases, but Mitiarjuk instead turned the phrases into many chapters featuring the life of someone living in Inuvik just before the arrival of the Qallunaat (the white man) and includes the arrival of a white priest into their society. This story is very quick paced and really doesn’t include the descriptive phrases or narration that we come to expect in fiction, but nonetheless, it’s very accessible and very interesting.

I think what I love most about this story is how it was written. I believe it took Mitiarjuk 20 years to write the story and she had originally written it in Inuktitut symbols. The priest who commissioned the writing, Bernard Saladin d’Anglure, worked with her to translate it to French and spent two years actually seeing the scenarios she had written in the book played out in real life so he could get a better grasp on her writing. It was only recently translated from French to English but the original publication that’s written in syllabic Inuttitut is still available in Inuit schools. I also find it fascinating that this was written by Mitiarjuk, who had never actually read a novel prior to writing.

This is a story about community and relationships and really provides a glimpse into a culture that people these days probably can’t even fathom. I highly recommend reading this if you’re interested in the indigenous culture. I really look forward to finding more books written by First Nations people in Canada. I find stories like this fascinating and love getting a glimpse into history.

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[Canadian 🇨🇦 Book Talk] The Break by Katherena Vermette

Book Details:

Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Read: December 2017

Synopsis:

2016 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize finalist

When Stella, a young Métis mother, looks out her window one evening and spots someone in trouble on the Break — a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house — she calls the police to alert them to a possible crime.

In a series of shifting narratives, people who are connected, both directly and indirectly, with the victim — police, family, and friends — tell their personal stories leading up to that fateful night. Lou, a social worker, grapples with the departure of her live-in boyfriend. Cheryl, an artist, mourns the premature death of her sister Rain. Paulina, a single mother, struggles to trust her new partner. Phoenix, a homeless teenager, is released from a youth detention centre. Officer Scott, a Métis policeman, feels caught between two worlds as he patrols the city. Through their various perspectives a larger, more comprehensive story about lives of the residents in Winnipeg’s North End is exposed.

A powerful intergenerational family saga, The Break showcases Vermette’s abundant writing talent and positions her as an exciting new voice in Canadian literature.

My Thoughts

I hadn’t originally planned on getting this book, but after seeing it absolutely everywhere for about a year, I decided to finally buy it and read it. I had been reading a lot more fiction by First Nations authors and when a local book club decided to choose this book as their December pick, I thought I’d join them and dig in!

I really enjoyed reading this debut novel by Katherena Vermette. I had heard of her poetry collection, and the cover for this book was just so eye-catching that she had my interest right away. The one thing I really loved about this book was the fact that it dealt with many generations, from a grandma to her daughters and her daughters’ children. It’s also a story about the indigenous community and an area called “the break.” It’s a very heavy story dealing with rape, but on top of that it’s very much rooted in family and I really liked the family dynamics that took place in the story.

I feel like Vermette wrote some really great characters and we even get voices from those who have passed and it really added something to the story. I liked how the story was written in many different voices so we get many sides of the story and hear what everyone’s (well, mostly everyone) thoughts are. I also liked how one of the officers dealing with what happened was Metis, working with a white officer who thinks it’s an endearment to over-enunciate his nationality at MAY-tee. This officer was someone whose parents come from both sides and it felt like a slap in the face which I could understand.

This story was exhausting in its emotions and it was such a heavy read. I can definitely tell why it was up for so many awards and why people are talking about this book so much. Even though this deals with rape, this book is full of so much love and I really liked the balance that Vermette provides in her writing. I really look forward to what she writes in the future!

[Canadian 🇨🇦 Book Talk] Night Moves by Richard Van Camp

Book Details:

Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Read: December 2017

Synopsis:

As a window into the magic and medicine of the Northwest Territories, Richard Van Camp’s fourth short story collection is hilarious and heartbreaking. A teenaged boy confesses to a vicious assault on a cross-dressing classmate; Lance tells the sensual story of becoming much closer to his wife’s dear friend Juanita; while a reluctant giant catches up with gangsters Torchy and Sfen in a story with shades of supernatural and earthly menace.

My Thoughts

I’ve heard so many great things about Richard Van Camp that I just had to try out one of his books. So when I was wandering around the library, I picked up his short story collection, Night Moves, and thought it would be a great introduction to his work.

I will say that this collection of stories really isn’t what I had expected, but then again I didn’t even know what to expect. I loved the majority of the stories in this collection, especially hearing more about the Northwest Territories (or, more specifically, his fictional Fort Simmer, based on Fort Smith). The stories here aren’t really feel good stories, but they’re made to make the reader uncomfortable and to really show them the myths and what feels like fantastical ideas of the indigenous people.

I’ve been reading a lot of short stories lately and I’m really enjoying them. I like how tight a short story can be and every single one in this collection had me wondering if I’d like it as I read the first sentence, and then Van Camp’s writing would just suck me in a few sentences later. I enjoyed his writing so much that I immediately downloaded his book The Lesser Blessed from the library. I’m so happy to have found such a great author from the Northwest Territories!