Tag Archives: colonialism

Seven Fallen Feathers

Reading Seven Fallen Feathers was tough. Not only because it engages with the history and present of colonialism and genocide, or because of its methodical attention to the ways the Canadian state continues to underfund education on reserves in ways that replicate structures of residential schools (isolation from family and community), but because it drove home for me how completely I’ve been avoiding doing any of the work of reconciliation I need to be doing.

I’ve long thought “oh I should read the compete text of the TRC report” or “I should find out more about rates of I incarceration of indigenous people,” or or and or. And I haven’t. Not for a good reason and certainly for bad reasons: I’ve thought it wasn’t my responsibility. Or not my priority. Or that I’d missed an earlier opportunity and now it was too late and – and I’m ashamed to say this – that I was too proud to admit how very much I don’t know. Like I wanted people to think I was suitably progressive and to say all the right things and be a good lefty social justice human without doing any of the work to actually live those ideals out.

Reading this book hasn’t changed much of this feeling. It does offer an impressively comprehensive and synthesized consideration of the intersections of many threads: missing and murdered indigenous women, the Indian Act, residential schools, treaty rights and intergenerational trauma. And I have some greater understanding as a consequence, but for me what it did best was to call me in to the living present of colonialism and my contribuatory role. Of not letting me get away with shifting responsibility or pretending not to know (or care).

So yeah. I have some work to do. And if you’re reading this with any resonance with my feelings pre-reading, I can’t urge you with enough pep to read this one.


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Filed under Bestseller, Non-fiction

Lost in September: I predict a Giller nominee.

One of the skills I developed during my undergraduate degree was finding connections among the books I was reading for different courses. I’d hear about an idea in one course and take that idea and put it to work in another; or I’d notice themes from one novel resonating in another course that might be distant in time or geography. I’m not sure whether this cross-reading was intention on the part of the program (I’m pretty sure not) but the consequence was that I took personal pleasure in finding these moments of connection or overlap. I’d probably have made for an excellent thematic critic. Alas. I raise all of this because even now with the combination of my terrible memory and my appetite for reading I often find myself midway into a book and certain I’ve recently read something similar, or surprised that everyone seems to be writing about X topic (which probably owes more to how I select what I read than the novels themselves…). Continue reading

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Filed under Canadian Literature, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Prize Winner

Homegoing: What you should read in the era of Trump (?)


In the utterly fantastic Americanah,  the protagonist, Ifemelu, jokes/notes that all novels about Africa have yellow/orange/bright colours. While probably not categorically true, it’s certainly true in the case of Yaa Gyasi’ (also utterly fantastic) Home Going. I’m tempted to digress and ramble about book covers, but I’m wary of distracting you from how. good. this. book. is. and so I’ll stay focused. Look at me. Focused. Continue reading

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Filed under American literature, Bestseller, Fiction, New York Times Notable

All True Not a Lie In It: In which I do not brag about reading historical fiction (that’s a lie)

090728daniel-boone1[Here’s something true: if you’re not me, you’re looking at this picture and you’re thinking, wait, is that Fess Parker playing Daniel Boone? If you are me, you’re thinking, Daniel Boone, now that name sounds faintly familiar, but who names their kid Fess?]

Here is something else true (and its not much of a brag, but it’s a bit of a brag): I’ve read a lot of Canadian historical fiction. I’m being loose with what counts as Canadian here. And with historical. And fictional (think Pierre Berton). I’m not reporting my historical fiction habit for the congratulations and admiration (though I’d take both), but more to say that when I read a new novel in the genre, I’ve got a lot to compare it with. Like if you’re a wine drinker (looking at you C & R) you can describe the subtle differences and tasting notes because you pay attention and you’ve had a lot of it. Really what I’m saying is that whatever you do or consume a lot of, you get to know the qualities and characteristics that make one thing great and another just okay. And that if maybe you didn’t consume so much of that one thing, you’d be more likely to think the thing that was ‘just okay’ was really great. Like without so many reference points for comparison you’d confuse vinegar for wine, right? I guess I’m just saying that historical fiction is my go-to wine, it’s the thing I’ll read because I can be certain I’ll enjoy (at the very least) its genre conventions and I can tell when my usual table wine has been swapped for a serious vintage or for something cheap and watery.

In the case of Alix Hawley’s All True Not a Lie In It I’d say we’ve got something of a ‘pretty good ‘ wearing the label of ‘really fucking awesome’. Take the title – great, right? If I were going to go back and re-write my thesis (an act of revisionist history in itself), I’d probably use the novel’s title to unpack the spectrum of history telling and the conventions of historiographic metafiction. I’d use the novel’s use of the present tense (which is actually obnoxious to read for 400 pages) to talk about the ways the genre blurs the boundary of issues and questions of the past with those of the present, making ‘present’ in its tense choice concerns about treaties and land rights, colonialism and the ‘post’-colonial and heredity and belonging. Except, well, the novel makes these concerns present, but without doing much more than showing them to the reader. To say ‘ah, I think maybe white settlers stole indigenous land and murdered people’ and ‘umm maybe Daniel Boone was a complicated man’ -so what? Why, after walking around with him on seemingly interminable journeys from one part of Pennsylvania to another part of Kentucky, does his story resonate, beyond being an interesting tale about a ‘American frontiersmen’?

So sure, the novel has some compelling plot bits and some decent descriptions of setting. It has the key features of the genre that I love – a playing about with truth and fiction, omission and imagination, opportunity for reimagining and awakening. Yet, with its historical star for a protagonist, he’s flat in the narrative (perhaps a relationship here? because he was ‘real’ there was less need to make the imaginative leap to make him a fully realized character on the page?). I didn’t believe his pain and didn’t much care for his survival. (I did appreciate that we see the mechanics of how his accidental heroism is constructed and glorified into a story of the nation and rugged American pioneering).  And the very key element I look for in great historical fiction – the resonance to the current moment – is made only tenuously through tense (or tense!ously) and without any of the potential punch it could deliver.

All this to say: go! read it if you’re interested in Daniel Boone’s biography. Read it if you have a passing interest in Little House on the Prairie (it reminded me a lot of the series, actually). Read it for the joy of the genre. But read it knowing you’re drinking a $12 bottle that’s being sold for $25.

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Filed under Book I'll Forget I Read, Canadian Literature, Fiction, Historical Fiction