[identity profile] ms-mmelissa.livejournal.com
Through Black Spruce was the 2008 winner of the Giller award (Canada's top literary prize for those not in the know). I've only read a handful of the winners and nominees over the years, but Through Black Spruce easily tops my list as my favourite of those I've read.

In Moosonee, Ontario a middle aged man lies in a coma. His name is Will Bird and over the course of the novel he narrates the events of the past year of his life, slowly building up to the event that led to his coma. While he is in a coma his niece Annie Bird talks to him, telling him about the past year of her life, when she left the town she had lived in all her life in order to travel to Toronto, Montreal and New York in an attempt to track down her missing model sister Suzanne who ran off two years ago with her drug-dealing boyfriend Gus.

The novel alternates between Will and Annie's voices and it's a testament to Boyden's strength as a writer that each story is equally compelling. There was no sense of disappointment when a new chapter began and Will's story ended and Annie's story continued or vice versa. The missing Suzanne is also a compelling character, her abscence spurring on Annie's quest and having devastating consequences for Will. Suzanne is what weaves these two stories together despite the fact that we never "see" her within the novel.

There is also a lot of detail about Cree life and what it means to keep the traditions alive in an increasingly modern world. Will and especially Annie represent a bridge between traditional Cree culture and Western culture. Boyden is able to eloquently capture the negotiation between modern and traditional and the compromises that his characters must make in order to feel comfortable within themselves are woven elegantly into the story. 

FYI: Boyden wrote this as a loose sequel to his first novel Three Day Road (Will is the son of the main character of Three Day Road) and has announced that he intends to write a third book to form a trilogy.
sanguinity: woodcut by M.C. Escher, "Snakes" (Default)
[personal profile] sanguinity
I'm going to be doing a little flurry of lists as I post all the books that I never got around to doing full reviews of last year. (Usually not for lack of interest, but lack of time.)

Most of this list was assigned as part of a course on Indigenous Futurisms. The professor identified both Nalo Hopkinson and Andrea Hairston as Black Indians, but I do not have any information about their tribal affiliations. (ETA: see comments, neither Andrea Hairston nor Nalo Hopkinson self-identifies as indigenous.)

Andrea Hairston, Mindscape.
Flashy, wild, post-apocalyptic fiction wherein West Africa is the graceful society to aspire to, and the southwestern U.S. is a failed state run by studio ganglords. Ghost-dancers, “ethnic throwbacks”, science v. magical realism, heroes v. survivors, intrigue, double-crossing, and the kind of moral dilemmas where no one gets out clean. Heartily recommended, with two caveats: complex enough that by page 200 I was lost and had to start over again, and the final resolution about the Barrier didn’t live up to my expectations.

William Sanders (Cherokee), Are We Having Fun Yet?
With the exception of “The Undiscovered” (Shakespeare writes Hamlet among the Cherokee), I would only recommend this collection to someone who either 1) is nostalgic for Heinlein’s knows-better-than-you crankiness, or 2) is in specific need of some Cherokee-themed spec-fic. Some of the stories are Cherokee riffs on stories you already know (Devil Went Down to Georgia; The Lottery); others never found a market because of various flaws. I enjoyed the collection, but my enjoyment is definitely idiosyncratic. (NB: William Sanders. William Sanders.)

Drew Hayden Taylor (Ojibwa), The Night Wanderer.
Story of a girl from a small Ontario reserve and the Ojibwa vampire who has come to rent a room in the family basement, on what is his first return to Ojibwa land since his siring in Europe, centuries before. In a twist on most vampire stories, this vampire is a walking time-capsule: he knows things about Ojibwa traditions and language that have been long since been lost. So this is not just a vampire story, but also a story about the fraught relationship of contemporary Indians to their cultural traditions and pre-colonization ancestors. Unfortunately, the author’s playwright roots show through, and I fear that he has left no room for sequels. Because I woulda liked some sequels.

Gerald Vizenor (Chippewa), Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles.
AIM-era classic of American Indian literature, but oh, I loathed this. Post-peak-oil apocalyptic roadtrip from upper Minnesota to New Mexico, with larger themes warning against confusing the trappings of Indian identity with Indian identity itself, or against getting too attached to any one story of self. As for my loathing: misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, and ablist, with victim-blaming for child abuse, rape, and murder. Still looking for the Vizenor book that I don’t hate.

Tomson Highway (Cree), Kiss of the Fur Queen.
A deeply painful read: residential schools, anti-Indian racism, and the AIDS epidemic. But a deeply beautiful read, too: some of the imagery from this book will stay with me forever. (Note: does not read as spec-fic for me.)

Nalo Hopkinson
Midnight Robber
Science fiction that addresses colonialism head-on! One of the two worlds is settled by Caribbean islanders who took to space to escape postcolonial dynamics on Earth; the second world is the first’s penal colony, which is engaging in settler colonialism against the indigenous population. There is much that I love about where Hopkinson went with this. (Bonus: non-heteronormative society! Also, written right up the middle of the SF genre, for those who like SF that's right up the middle of the genre.)

The New Moon’s Arms
Realist fantasy with merpeople, selkies and time-travel (kinda) intertwining with the lingering effects of slavery in the Caribbean. Main character’s homophobia (not endorsed in the text) was hard for me to take.

(ed.)So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction
I only wish that more of these authors had been new to me, or that there hadn’t been so many pieces that were early outtakes of novels that I had already read. While I very much enjoyed the anthology (yay!), I’m left with the lingering impression that circa 2004, postcolonial SF was a small, small field. (But it has been growing exponentially since! Yay!)

Additionally, but which I reviewed previously, Stephen Graham Jones, The Fast Red Road and The Bird is Gone.

...and I'm happy to discuss any of the above at more length.

(Tags: native-american, indigenous peoples, first-nations, science fiction, fantasy, short stories, cree, anishinaabe/ojibwe/chippewa, cherokee, black indian, canada, caribbean)


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