Sanaaq is an intimate story of an Inuit family negotiating the changes brought into their community by the coming of the qallunaat, the white people, in the mid-nineteenth century. Composed in 48 episodes, it recounts the daily life of Sanaaq, a strong and outspoken young widow, her daughter Qumaq, and their small semi-nomadic community in northern Quebec. Here they live their lives hunting seal, repairing their kayak, and gathering mussels under blue sea ice before the tide comes in. These are ordinary extraordinary lives: marriages are made and unmade, children are born and named, violence appears in the form of a fearful husband or a hungry polar bear. Here the spirit world is alive and relations with non-humans are never taken lightly. And under it all, the growing intrusion of the qallunaat and the battle for souls between the Catholic and Anglican missionaries threatens to forever change the way of life of Sanaaq and her young family.
“Sanaaq begins abruptly and ends with a spiritual release, and everything in between carries the reader along the life journey of a small community tangling with the paradoxes, juxtapositions, and day-to-day realities of northern colonialism while also re-affirming the livelihoods and knowledge that people use to assert local ways of knowing upon colonial actors. This novel, now available in English, is important reading for anyone wishing to better understand the trajectories and ironies of mid-twentieth century state projects to furnish “welfare” to Canada’s northern peoples, and to understand how Inuit actors approached these new realities.”
“Despite being a figure of great literary and cultural importance, Mitiarjuk and her work are almost entirely unknown in English-speaking Canada.... Sanaaq may be read as an ethnographic or historical document, but to do so would be to miss the skill and complexity of the storytelling. The novel is a creative and critical intervention into the process of representing Inuit experience.”
"This simply told tale captures the stark and sometimes brutal reality of life in the Far North."