Empire of Wild

Old medicine has a way of being remembered, of haunting the land where it was laid.

I like the work of this author – all two books I’ve read by her. Not just because she writes about Canada and a Canada I know little about (of indigenous people), but there is something lush about her writing style. Organic, flowing. And yes, using those clichés makes me feel a little bit iffy.

Empire of Wild uses indigenous stories and mythology again, again in a contemporary (bit less apocalyptic) setting. A lost man is found again, but doesn’t recognise his wife nor their life together. Something wolf-like skulks around. White people threaten the land.

You could call it magic-realistic, but somehow it feels too down to earth for it. These people are so used to living the way they do with the stories they know, that adding whispering winds or lounging ghosts would make things silly instead of magical.

Honestly, I’m just curious to what Cherie Dimaline does next. We’ve had post-apocalyptic and contemporary. Something from the (distant) past?

Empire of Wild, Cherie Dimaline, Random House Canada 2019

The Marrow Thieves

Mitch was smiling so big his back teeth shone in the soft light of the solar-powered lamp we’d scavenged from someone’s shed.

I don’t like post-apocalyptic stories; they make me very nervous. With the way the people in power are ignoring environmental and societal issues, it’s – for me – not that hard to believe that sooner than later we’ll be scavenging food and fighting for survival. It’s not something I enjoy thinking about, so why did I still start The Marrow Thieves?

Because of the author and the point of the view of the story: indigenous people. I always try to read more by indigenous writers, books using indigenous stories (although that’s a whole other (potentially sticky) kettle of fish), and this one made it sound more sci-fi-ish than “the world has gone to the crapper and humans are terrible”. We all make mistakes, sometimes.

Cherie Dimaline keeping the story short (less than 200 pages) and the characters very recognisable and deserving of your support prevents you from leaving this story feeling absolute despair. Yes, humans are terrible. Also yes: humans have family, hope and determination.

I still hope we don’t need those in a post-apocalyptic setting.

The Marrow Thieves, Cherie Dimaline, Cormorant Books 2017

There There

There was an Indian head, the head of an Indian, the drawing of the head of a headdressed, long-haired Indian depicted, drawn by an unknown artist in 1939, broadcast until the late 1970s to American TVs everywhere after all the shows ran out.

Disclaimer: even more () than usual; I don’t want my ignorance about other’s people culture to show too badly.

I feel like I can share how I’m discerning a certain kind of mood, element in books written by different contemporary Native (north) American authors. It’s not just in the style they use (non-chronological without clear pointers of time, multiple character points of view), also the subject. Life as a native in North America doesn’t seem to be very good a lot of the time.

After doing a bit of research on this story, it turns out that the conscious stream of thoughts around the same things, connecting every character in passing, was on purpose. There’s a focus on oral tradition with (some) Native people and this book should feel like that. Which changes things a bit.

With that, you get not just a people’s history, but the huge amount of weariness, pain and discomfort that comes with it. Plenty of minorities stories are slowly shared and heard more often, but what about the people that were first on the North American continent? So yes, maybe there’s a recurring element, but maybe that’s because that’s just something essential that has to be shared before anything else can.

There There, Tommy Orange, Penguin Random House 2018

The Orenda

We had magic before the crows came.

My first (consciously experienced) Canadian author, very probably the first story I read about the First Nations People. Now that I’m in Canada I feel kind of obliged to know more about the history of the country, and what better way than to discover it through (fictional) stories?

The Orenda tells about ‘New France’ and its influence on the native people of the country in the seventeenth century. Also known as colonialism, European diseases wiping out populations and destroying land and communities. We view this happening through three story tellers: Snow Falls, a daughter from an enemy tribe, taken. Bird, an important man in his community and the one that adopts her to fill the place that the deaths of wife and children left. And Christophe, the Jesuit priest that so very desperately wants “those sauvages” to come to the light that’s God.

It’s not an easy story to read, and not just because as the reader you know only how much more destruction will follow. Boyden starts out very strong and appealing, but seems to get lost near the middle of the book. Situations start to feel repetitive, and, even though I understand that we have to learn about the scary fundamentalism of the white saviour, Christophe’s chapters start to drag like he’s lost in a desert.

The Orenda is loosely a part of a trilogy, and I have already been told that the other two are (much, much) better. In this case, there’s still enough interest to give an author another chance. And maybe The Orenda can be edited in the meantime.

 

The Orenda, Joseph Boyden, Penguin Groups 2013