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Biography & Autobiography Asian & Asian American

Northern Light

Power, Land, and the Memory of Water

by (author) Kazim Ali

Goose Lane Editions
Initial publish date
Mar 2021
Asian & Asian American, Environmental Conservation & Protection, Indigenous Studies
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Mar 2021
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2021
    List Price

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Finalist, Lambda Literary Award (LGBTQ Nonfiction)
"It begins to rain as we fly, falling in solid sheets, water from sky to earth — a free system of exchange."

Kazim Ali’s earliest memories are of Jenpeg, a temporary town in the forests of northern Manitoba where his immigrant father worked on the construction of a hydroelectric dam. As a child, Ali had no idea that the dam was located on the unceded lands of the Indigenous Pimicikamak, the "people of rivers and lakes."

Northern Light recounts Ali’s memories of his childhood and his return to Pimicikamak as an adult. During his visit, he searches for the sites of his childhood memories and learns more about the realities of life in Pimicikamak: the environmental and social impact of the Jenpeg dam, the effects of colonialism and cultural erasure, and the community’s initiatives to preserve and strengthen their identity. Deeply rooted in place, Northern Light is both a stunning exploration of home, belonging, and identity and an immersive account of contemporary life in one Indigenous community.

About the author

Kazim Ali was born in the United Kingdom and has lived transnationally in the United States, Canada, India, France, and the Middle East. His books encompass multiple genres, including the volumes of poetry Inquisition, Sky Ward, winner of the Ohioana Book Award in Poetry; The Far Mosque, winner of Alice James Books’ New England/New York Award; The Fortieth Day; All One’s Blue; and the cross-genre texts Bright Felon and Wind Instrument. His novels include the recently published The Secret Room: A String Quartet and among his books of essays are the hybrid memoir Silver Road: Essays, Maps & Calligraphies and Fasting for Ramadan: Notes from a Spiritual Practice. He is also an accomplished translator (of Marguerite Duras, Sohrab Sepehri, Ananda Devi, Mahmoud Chokrollahi, and others) and an editor of several anthologies and books of criticism. After a career in public policy and organizing, Ali taught at various colleges and universities, including Oberlin College, Davidson College, St. Mary's College of California, and Naropa University. He is currently a Professor of Literature at the University of California, San Diego. His newest books are a volume of three long poems entitled The Voice of Sheila Chandra and a memoir of his Canadian childhood, Northern Light.

Kazim Ali's profile page


  • Short-listed, Lambda Literary Award (LGBTQ Nonfiction)

Editorial Reviews

“A powerful, thoughtful, and beautifully written exploration of the narratives that we create and that are created for us.”

<i>Book Riot</i>

“Ali moves from writing a memoir to something else, something larger than the story of one person, one family, or even one place ... Northern Light transcends any one of these categorizations to become something much larger than the sum of its parts, a provocative consideration of what it means to belong to a place — and whether or not a place can ever belong to a person.”

<i>Shelf Awareness</i>

“In this slim memoir, Ali gives us a view of his childhood memories and the reality of what he finds upon return to the small community of his youth. Not Jenpeg, Manitoba Canada, but rather the Pimicikamak community. Here he learns of the damage done by the power company and the way the community members have responded and are dealing with the issues that damage has caused. Ali's gentle narrative points to the underlying story in a way that is both enlightening and enriching. Thank you.”

Linda Bond, Auntie's Bookstore

Northern Light will push you to consider what home means to you. It evokes the transformative power of revisiting a place from your past in order to reencounter yourself.”

<i>Hippocampus Magazine</i>

“Part personal narrative, part chronicle of history, Northern Light reads mostly as an in-real-time account of Ali's return to reacquaint himself with Cross Lake and its long-suffering yet gracious people.”

<i>Star Tribune</i>

“This lyrical memoir is a balm for the soul.”


“[Ali’s] reflections on alienation and the environment are deeply explored in his most recent book, Northern Light.”


“A graceful, elegant account even when reporting on the hard truths of a little-known corner of the world.”


“The book reflects diligent scholarship on the long and complicated relationship between Indigenous Canadians and the institutions created by European settlers that changed their lives forever.”

<i>Winnipeg Free Press</i>

“Ali's book grapples with place, ecosystem, ‘home,’ and how sometimes home is not an identifiable place. Through Ali's memories of living near the Nelson River in Canada, he discusses the survivance of a community and concerns of exploitation and colonialism ... I've already learned so much regarding this community and place I had not known of before.”

<i>Ecotone</i> Magazine

“In this latest book, he shines some northern light over essential questions about identity, power, governance, and justice for all peoples.”

<i>Anchorage Daily News</i>

“A poet and writer whose life and its inception challenges the way that we construct narratives of belonging to a nation.”

“What a privilege his fine book is, what a joy to spend a week in Cross Lake beside Ali.”

<i>World Literature Today</i>

“[Ali’s] experiences are relayed in sensitive, crystalline prose, documenting how Cross Lake residents are working to reinvent their town and rebuild their traditional beliefs, language, and relationships with the natural word. ... Though these topics are complex, they are untangled in an elegant manner.”

<i>Foreword Reviews</i>

“Ali places importance on revisiting his memories while also respecting, honoring, and holding space for the disrespected landscape where his now-demolished childhood home once stood.”

<i>The Adroit Journal</i>

“A beautiful and meditative burst of recollections and reconciliations. Blending together the indigenous history of the region with his own past and present experiences was no small feat, but Ali pulled it off with poetic precision.”

<i>San Diego Union-Tribune</i>, “5 Favourite Books”

“I cannot pretend to be objective about how much I loved the book.”

<i>Los Angeles Review of Books</i>

“On every page, [Kazim] tries to decipher what it means to be ‘from’ a place, crafting a poetic exploration of home, assimilation, and belonging.”


“Ali has fulfilled the promise he made to the people he met on his journey, a pledge to “...share what I learn with as many people as I can reach.””

<i>Miramichi Reader</i>

“In a cross-cultural exploration of home, Kazim Ali faces the reckoning of his family's legacy in the destruction of indigenous lands when he is welcomed to a Cree tribe known as the Pimicikamak. Poetically and precisely, Ali gives us an example of the ways we can learn to reconcile with the impact of our history with a story that shows the ways in which water connects all of us from lakes, rivers, and across oceans.”

Riley Jay Davis, Next Chapter Booksellers

“Ali weaves a detailed meshing of historical events, personal accounts, and his own experiences as he searches for answers to the series of questions that led him to Cross Lake and the Pimicikamak community.”


“Ali’s prose shines when recalling his interactions with members of the Pimicikamak community and friends. Those concerned with environmental justice or the plight of Indigenous peoples will want to give this a look."

<i>Publishers Weekly</i>

“Ali’s lyrical, hypnotic storytelling takes us on an unlikely journey to a place that only now exists in his childhood memories: a remote industrial community in the boreal forest of Northern Canada. I was mesmerized by the voice of a poet who methodically and artistically recounts his once in a lifetime journey to connect with a Cree tribe called the Pimicikamak, the original owners and occupiers of the land and water that mesmerized him as a child. The human landscape Kazim Ali creates in his work, interweaving his own familial and cultural disruption with those of the Pimicikamak Cree, is intriguing and profound.”

Darrel J. McLeod, author of <i>Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age</i>

“One of Northern Light’s greatest strengths is Ali’s ability to weave between his personal connection to the land and the history of the people who call it home.”

<i>The San Diego Union-Tribune</i>

“In the search for home, Ali finds a home within himself, one made up of the stories and the people he has encountered throughout his life. ... He returns to his childhood home on account of the dam, but comes to discover that it is so much more than a place rich in resources.”

<i>Event</i> magazine

Other titles by Kazim Ali