Felicia Mihali’s new novel, Pineapple Kisses in Iqaluit, follows a depressed young Romanian woman, Irina, from Montreal who goes to Iqaluit for a year to teach French to young children. She develops a complex relationship with a student’s white uncle. Themes of identity, colonization, community, and immigration are explored in the relationships between the Inuit locals and the settlers.
In this list, she recommends books about Inuit Women, Nunavut, migration, rootlessness, tradition, and identity.
Split Tooth, by Tania Tagaq
I first learned about Tania Tagaq while I was working as a French teacher in Iqaluit, Nunavut. It was there that I saw her in concert, performing a kind of throat song that she insisted we consider contemporary music, not a traditional piece. Everything Tagaq does brings modernity to a community that some still wrongly believe is populated by people living in igloos and eating raw meat all day long. Canadians have very limited knowledge of the Inuit, the Arctic, and the history of British explorers looking for the Western Passage. What strikes me when I read stories on Northern topics is that Inuit women are regularly described as victims. It is true that they are and they have been. But too many stories reduce these women to powerless creatures. They are much more than that. In a way, Tagaq’s novel normalizes life in the North. She writes about abuse, depression, and infidelity. She speaks out about family bonds and community pressure. Overall, this book is about contemporary women as they are: strong, intelligent and resilient. These women make choices and sometimes they can be misled, but they are also masters of their own lives.
In the introduction of her book, Fletcher speaks of herself as a Saskatchewanian who chose to live and work in la belle province as a journalist. She insists she loves French and disagrees with the rest of Canada who sometimes misrepresent Quebec. I loved the balance she drew between being an outsider and an insider. Her book explains to the rest of Canada what happens within the scene of Quebec’s political life, the worsening anti-migrant policies, the thin frontier between tolerance and endemic racism. It is also about the rise of the extremist movement north of the border following Donald Trump’s election, culminating in a terrorist attack perpetrated in 2016 against a mosque in the idyllic town of Quebec City by Alexandre Bissonette. I read this book in a few hours, eager to understand my own position about those issues in my adopted country. Fletcher’s book sharply analyzes these contradictions.
Tumbleweed, by Josip Novakovich
I saw Josip Novakovich talk at Metropolis Blue festival in Montreal 10 years ago. His ideas were sharp and funny. As I was often reading books depicting how miserable migrants are, I said to myself that his books could be interesting for a change. And they really were. I was thrilled to discover his characters, some beautiful losers, as Cohen would put it, generally interested in cheating the system and getting away with it. Tumbleweed is the best of them, a collection of short stories about a migrant writer, maybe Novakovich himself, and his comic whereabouts. His characters, mostly artists, live at the edge between poverty and wealth, between gaining glory and losing everything. They show the hidden face of the American dream, made of illusions, lies, killings, guns, remote farms and the remnants of a Wild West mentality. I had a good laugh while reading his book, which doesn’t happen very often.
The Bone Mother, by David Demchuk
I met David Demchuk for the first time in Toronto a few years ago, when he was invited to read an excerpt from his book, The Bone Mother. It was a genre I had never before read: horror. But then my attention was caught by a story set at the border between Ukraine and Romania in the wake of the WWII. It was a mix of folkloric tales, middle age traditions, and gothic atmosphere. The life in those remote villages, the cold and starvation, was a blend of fantasy and history, as this territory was living at that time under one of the cruelest dictatorships. It was the war that saved people from the extermination perpetrated by Stalin to throw them into the fascist purgatory. Sophisticated yet borrowing from pop culture, his novel is both enchanting and troubling.
The Knowledge Keeper: Embracing the Indigenous Spirituality, by Blair Stonechild
My conclusion after teaching Canadian history and living for two years among Indigenous people up North is that settlers know close to nothing about the sufferings inflicted on First Nations. Settler knowledge of Indigenous communities and history is often reduced to clichés and superficialities, and to my shame, perpetuated by teachers who still use Hollywood productions as historical material in their classes.
A member of the Cree-Saulteaux First Nation, the author spent his early years in a residential school. Afterwards, he tried to help the young Indigenous people by creating educational programs adapted to their needs and interests. Beyond this important role as mentor and founder, he remained close to the Elders, learning from them about sacred ceremonials, healings, and welcoming a baby into the world. There are few books as simple and authentic as the one written by Blair Stonechild.
Ten years after her picture on a magazine cover made her nationally famous as The Darling of Kandahar, Irina moves up North hoping that new experiences would allow old wounds to finally heal. Yet, in the land of darkness and polar bears, she learns that there really is no place to hide from herself. When she meets Constable Liam O’Connor, her past comes out to challenge her once again.
Comments herecomments powered by Disqus