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review 2018-04-18 15:40
Corvus / Harold Johnson
Corvus - Harold Johnson

Eighty years have passed since flash floods, droughts, and tornadoes ravaged the North American landscape and mass migrations to the north led to decade-long wars. In the thriving city of La Ronge, George Taylor and Lenore Hanson are lawyers who rarely interact with members of the lower classes from the impoverished suburb of Regis and the independently thriving Ashram outside the city. They live in a world of personalized Platforms, self-driving cars, and cutting edge Organic Recreational Vehicles (ORVs), where gamers need never leave their virtual realities.

When Lenore befriends political dissenter and fellow war veteran Richard Warner, and George accidentally crash-lands his ORV near the mountain-sheltered haven of a First Nations community, they become exposed to new ways of thinking. As the lives of these near-strangers become intertwined, each is forced to confront the past before their relationships and lives unravel.

 

The author of this book will be coming to the annual When Words Collide conference here in Calgary in August. I try to read at least one book by each of the guests of honour before the conference and since I am a birder, how could I resist a book called Corvus?

I really enjoyed the book—Mr. Johnson is a talented writer. I loved how many threads he managed to weave into this story, everything from Aboriginal issues to climate change to poverty issues. He also painted an intriguing and rather grim view of the future. I loved his Organic Recreational Vehicles, developed from birds—swans, ravens, hawks, etc. One of the main characters, George Taylor, purchases a Raven ORV and true to Raven’s mischievous nature in Aboriginal tradition, George is taken on some unexpected adventures.

Some of Johnson’s themes are really overt—there are a couple of places where I was dismayed with the bludgeoning of the reader with his opinions (even though I agree with them). That prevented this from being a higher rated read for me—your mileage may vary.

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review 2017-11-22 20:20
Surprisingly entertaining Canadian & Cree First Nations read about overcoming your past and owning your power.
Strangers - David Alexander Robertson

Disclaimers: I'm reviewing an uncorrected proof ebook version acquired via NetGalley, I'm choosing to leave an unbiased review, and I'm not qualified to comment in-depth on aboriginal representation.

 

More disclaimers: Um, so I just want to note for the record that I already named characters Cole and Ash in BLIND THE EYES before I read this book. No plagiarism. I guess Canadian authors just think alike? lol.

 

I loved this WAY more than I expected to. To get a few critiques out of the way, the cover looks a little off to me (more indie or MG maybe?), so I wasn't expecting a lot of polish. The first few pages are also a little disorienting, because the author launches with a different perspective from the main POV, incorporates supernatural elements immediately without explanation, and references past events without backstory at first. All of which turns out to be great in the scope of the story, but it feels like jumping in the deep end.

 

This is the story of a 17yo Cree First Nations teen who left his rural home community in elementary school and is attending high school in Winnipeg at the time the story opens. A supernatural being is trying to lure him back to his hometown. His aunt and grandmother don't want him to return for reasons that aren't explained at first, but we discover that there's past trauma and bullying to contend with. Cole also has some superior abilities that may be more than natural. There's a lot going on in the plot:

 

-trickster spirits, ghosts, unexplained supernatural/paranormal phenomena
-murder mystery/thriller
-romance? maybe?
-bullying, trauma & clinical anxiety (incl. struggles with medication)
-rural vs. city enmities/tension
-First Nations/aboriginal experience (on/off reserve, resourcing, discrimination)

 

As a Canadian, and as someone who actually lived in Winnipeg during her childhood, there was a lot that felt familiar in this, including issues raised that I'm not sure if a foreign reader would pick up on or not. The author (based on his Goodreads bio) does live in Winnipeg and is a member of a Cree First Nation, so this is an #ownvoices book with (to the best of my knowledge) good representation.

 

I liked how the struggles that First Nations people experience within Canadian society were included within the scope of the story, but that the focus was on the characters and their experiences. It can be hard to write good fiction that represents real-world issues without breaking character or bogging down/diverting the plot (see: preachy dystopias for one), so I thought Robertson did an excellent job of including accurate world-building in service of the story. For instance, there are medical emergencies in the scope of the story, and it's referenced a few times how help is requested but the government takes a long time to respond, ignores the pleas, or doesn't send the help needed in a timely manner. Remote communities struggle for resources and lose people to the cities where there's more opportunity, jobs etc.

 

Some Cree words are used (and translated in place), some ritual and beliefs are incorporated, but the narrative doesn't suffer at all from the exoticisation of aboriginal culture. (Though maybe American readers will feel like it's "exotic" Canadian culture?) If anything, the hockey-playing, tiny-remote-community, one-restaurant-in-town setting felt so recognizable to me that it would have been boring if not for the strong character writing and murdery-plot.

 

Cole and his friends are relatable as teenagers struggling with a variety of issues: tragic pasts, tension with childhood friendships left behind, current identity and past identity, sexual identity and relationships, trust issues with adults who're keeping secrets . . . Also, the writing of "Choch" the trickster-spirit was hilarious. That's probably what tipped this story from a good read to "when's the sequel coming out?" for me. His clowning felt instantly recognizable and, at times, laugh-out-loud hilarious. It was a great counterpoint to the dark thriller plot that could have headed into way more emo territory without him.

 

I'm totally down for reading a sequel/series about a Canadian First Nations teen with superpowers and his trickster spirit sidekick/tormenter/guide/whatever.

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review 2016-02-04 17:10
The Inconvenient Indian / Thomas King
The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America - Thomas King

The Inconvenient Indian is at once a “history” and the complete subversion of a history—in short, a critical and personal meditation that the remarkable Thomas King has conducted over the past 50 years about what it means to be “Indian” in North America.
 
Rich with dark and light, pain and magic, this book distills the insights gleaned from that meditation, weaving the curiously circular tale of the relationship between non-Natives and Natives in the centuries since the two first encountered each other. In the process, King refashions old stories about historical events and figures, takes a sideways look at film and pop culture, relates his own complex experiences with activism, and articulates a deep and revolutionary understanding of the cumulative effects of ever-shifting laws and treaties on Native peoples and lands.
 
This is a book both timeless and timely, burnished with anger but tempered by wit, and ultimately a hard-won offering of hope -- a sometimes inconvenient, but nonetheless indispensable account for all of us, Indian and non-Indian alike, seeking to understand how we might tell a new story for the future.

 

”[For] me at least, writing a novel is buttering warm toast, while writing a history is herding porcupines with your elbows.”


I might never have read this book, had it not been a selection for my real-life book club. I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s novel The Back of the Turtle last year—it was one of my 5 star selections. His humour and style are both very appealing to me and reading it was like buttering warm toast. But I’m not much of a non-fiction history reader. I feel like I did my time reading history while taking my Canadian Studies degree, and now I want to concentrate on fiction and non-history non-fiction, if you understand me there.

So, I approached this book with trepidation. And what can I possibly say about Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian? It is well written—I would expect nothing less from so able an author. He herded his porcupines well.

It is tough. Tough on the dominant society, as it should be. For me, it was tough to read. I imagine as a white Canadian reading this, I felt very much like men feel when they read feminist critiques of modern society. A bit bewildered—okay, I know that things need to change, but how? I didn’t come out of this book with a clear idea of what should be done or if there is anything that I can do to improve the situation.

I would have appreciated a bibliography or a few notes or something—to point me to other reading material should I decide to pursue one of the topics he references.

An important book in the Canadian conversation and one that should be read widely, perhaps taught in our high schools.

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review 2015-08-14 04:53
Tiddalick: The Frog Who Caused a Flood
Tiddalick - Robert Roennfeldt

This was a kids story my husband remembered from his own childhood, and we've been looking for it on and off for quite some time; on a quick errand for a friend yesterday, MT saw it on a shelf while he was waiting in a line.

 

Based on an Australian Aboriginal story, Tiddalick is a frog that drank all the water in the land, and the other animals had to figure out how to make him laugh, so he'd let all the water back out.  I figured he'd eventually have to pee it back out, but that would make for a less dramatic ending, I guess.

 

It's a cute story, and it's well illustrated, and it made me smile at the end.

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text 2014-08-15 13:32
Thoughts on place of scraps
The Place of Scraps - Jordan Abel

Dedicated to the Indigenous peoples of North America, the place of scraps juxtaposes poetry and visual art with excerpts from Marius Barbeau’s "classic" anthropological study Totem Poles.

 

Text and black and white photographs collide. 

A full set of paragraphs on one page is presented on the following page with only select words evident, suggesting a new meaning. 

The ‘his’ of history appears like a settler’s declarative statement upon arrival in a homeland.

 

Sometimes only the punctuation remains, and readers must wonder at the decision, for instance, to include the indigenous language only in parentheses in Barbeau's work.

 

Curators and collectors claimed articles as small as beads and as large as totem poles, often in the name of preservation not extermination, and Jordan Abel invites readers to reconsider elements of this his-torical process and its legacy for today’s descendants.

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