A Matter of Malice – Thomas King

A Matter of Malice - Thomas KingThumps DreadfulWater (wonderful name) is a Cherokee ex-cop trying to live a quiet life in a small town in Montana. Thomas King is a very fine writer (The Back of the Turtle, An Inconvenient Indian) so the writing is much better than the average murder mystery. King captures the world-weary aspect of DreadfulWater, how a mind can wander and then snap back into focus. Now I am going to read the first three books in this series.

Keeper n’Me – Richard Wagamese

Keeper n’Me - Richard WagameseIn the tributes to the late Richard Wagamese at literary festivals in Calgary and Vancouver, several Indigenous authors said that this book had a huge influence on their lives. Garnet Raven is a young child in an Ojibway-Anishanabe community in Northern Ontario. He is a victim of the sixties scoop, essentially a kidnapping, and so grows up without any sense of being an Indian. In fact, there are some hilarious instances of his attempts at cultural appropriation. After 20 years, he is reunited with his family and begins to lean the Indian way with an elder named Keeper. It is easy to understand why this book, published in 1993, became so important to Indigenous youth. This book should be essential reading for everyone, to appreciate a way of living in harmony with the land and the important of silence, of a slow pace of life and a solid sense of humour.

Starlight – Richard Wagamese

Starlight - Richard WagameseThis is the continuing story of Frank Starlight. Much of the story is quiet and contemplative, describing how to live as one with the land through solitude and your senses (sight, hearing). The result is healing and redemption, expressed in two very different lives. The story was unfinished at the time of Wagamese’s death in March 2017 but the conclusion is evident. This is just masterful story-telling, a final fitting legacy for a remarkable author.

Tilly and the Crazy Eights – Monique Gray Smith

Tilly and the Crazy Eights - Monique Gray SmithSmith’s first book about Tilly (Tilly: A story of Hope and Resilience) was largely about recovery from addictions. This second book has Tilly driving eight Indigenous elders from Canada to a pow-wow in Albuquerque. Along the way, each of the elders has a bucket-list destination. There is both laughter and tears in this unashamedly sentimental book with significant insights into Indigenous spirituality. The spectre of residential school abuse looms in the background of some of the elders, but the story is mainly about resilience.

 

Amy notes; we saw her speak at the Vancouver Writers Fest.

There There – Tommy Orange

There There - Tommy OrangeOrange is one of a group of impressive Indigenous authors introduced to me during the Calgary Word Fest. This is a superb first novel with intersecting characters assembling in Oakland for a Pow-wow. These individuals have links to the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma but their Indian identity is very limited: these are urban Indians. For example, a young boy, Orvil Red Feather, learns pow-wow dancing from YouTube videos. The intersecting multi-generational story-lines can be complicated to follow sometimes because of uncertain or unknown parentage, but the culminating climax is presented powerfully. This is excellent story-telling about identity, violence and recovery, of belonging and un-belonging, loss and hope.

Heart Berries, A Memoir – Terese Marie Mailhot

Heart Berries, A Memoir - Terese Marie MailhotAn ongoing quest to read more indigenous authors can be complicated because there can be a vast gap in the ability of a non-Indigenous reader to grasp meaning. This book by Ms. Mailhot produced an uncomfortable feeling because of her raw and uncompromising writing. The narrative unfolds as a stream-of-consciousness confession of many difficulties: foster care, parenthood and removal of children, substance abuse, complicated and often destructive relationships, mental illness, suicidal ideation … the list goes on. Although short in terms of pages (132), this book is thought-provoking and intense, and is best read in short segments (like poetry). Highly recommended but be warned that this is a tough read.

Future Home Of The Living God – Louise Erdrich

Future Home Of The Living God - Louise ErdrichErdrich has written an intriguing dystopian story set in the near future. The precipitating cause is biological but vague, a sort of reverse-evolution. Lack of information is critical, and so the book’s focus is on one pregnant woman. In other words, the story is not so much about the cause of the collapse of society but rather the implications for one person. I was reminded of Cormac McCarthy’s brilliant book The Road, where we never learn about the catastrophic event, just the aftermath. Erdrich is a wonderful story teller. This book has a significant Indigenous focus, albeit less than LaRose. Overall, this is an original dystopian thriller – highly recommended.