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Books on the North

By 49thShelf
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tagged: northern
Books from the Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and the Arctic.
Sanaaq

Sanaaq

An Inuit Novel
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

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 …

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Strange Things Done

Strange Things Done

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

2017 Arthur Ellis Award, Best First Novel — Winner
A dark and suspenseful noir thriller, set in the Yukon.

As winter closes in and the roads snow over in Dawson City, Yukon, newly arrived journalist Jo Silver investigates the dubious suicide of a local politician and quickly discovers that not everything in the sleepy tourist town is what it seems. Before long, law enforcement begins treating the death as a possible murder and Jo is the prime suspect.

Strange Things Done is a top-notch …

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Excerpt

Prologue

The pattern of her demise became suddenly clear, as though a dark kaleidoscope had just been turned. Everything snapped into focus then: the sharpness of the stars, the bowed outlines of trees, the expression on his face.
A blast of arctic air hit her with such force that it made her gasp and take a step back, breaking a crisp skin of snow. He moved forward, her partner in the same terrible dance. The air between them was charged, and out of the corner of her vision she saw something flash, as though the intent written on his face had become a tangible, physical force. She turned to flee into the shadows of the forest, but he caught the sleeve of her parka, then grabbed her by the throat. Impossible to twist away, though she railed and shoved. He swung her hard and the kaleidoscope turned again—filling her with a bright shower of sparks and then blackness.

***

Gradually she heard a distant clamour and something being dragged; that something was her. But what really bothered her was the bone-aching cold.
She opened her eyes and found herself staring up at tangle of stars. She marvelled for a moment at the emerald hue of the sky. How did she get here? Where was she going? The stars looked jittery. Not quite right. She felt like some lost explorer, painfully scanning from the Great Bear to Polaris, as though mapping the night sky would help pinpoint her location. But the stars would not stay still and it hurt to look at them. She turned her head away and saw instead the jagged silhouette of trees flashing past in jerky stops and starts. Snow and ice scraped against her cheek.
She felt herself lifted into the air and seated on something. A fence, perhaps. For one teetery moment, she balanced there, her arms hung loosely around someone’s shoulders like a sleepy child. Somewhere below her, the roaring grew louder. She was dimly aware of a tilting feeling, the needling scent of pine, and that she was slipping backwards. She lifted her head and their eyes met, a fleeting exchange filled with mutual surprise, and she remembered everything.
She tumbled backwards, kicking and clawing at the emptiness as she fell. Her panicked hands reached out to the swirling mass of northern lights above her, an undulating pattern that formed a last wordless message while the river below rushed up to meet her.

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Talking at the Woodpile

Talking at the Woodpile

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

In this humourous and refreshing collection of short stories, David Thompson reveals the charm and grit of life in the Yukon. 'Talking at the Woodpile' is a masterful blend of fact and fiction, history and the contemporary and intriguing stories that begin as long as 10,000 years ago. In "Frozen in Time," an unsuspecting miner discovers a frozen carcass while digging for gold. After much to-do about the origin of the gigantic creature, the mammoth and its unfortunate victim are laid torest by th …

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One Good Thing

One Good Thing

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

A novel set in Yellowknife's historic Old Town in the 70s that explores both abandonment and belonging in the life of a young woman.

In the spring of 1977, Annie, a flighty artist, and her twelve-year-old daughter, Delilah, trade the cherry blossom trees and beaches of Vancouver for rugged and remote Old Town in Yellowknife, surprising Delilah’s father by showing up on his doorstep. As she adapts to her new surroundings, Delilah befriends Will, a local Dene man and her father’s business partn …

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Future Arctic

Future Arctic

Field Notes from a World on the Edge
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback

In one hundred years, or even fifty, the Arctic will look dramatically different than it does today. While these changes may seem remote, they will have a profound impact on a host of global issues, from international politics to animal migrations. In Future Arctic, journalist and explorer Edward Struzik offers a clear-eyed look at the rapidly shifting dynamics in the Arctic region, a harbinger of changes that will reverberate throughout our entire world. A unique combination of extensive on-the …

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Late Nights on Air

Late Nights on Air

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback Paperback
tagged : literary

The eagerly anticipated novel from the bestselling author of A Student of Weather and Garbo Laughs.

Harry Boyd, a hard-bitten refugee from failure in Toronto television, has returned to a small radio station in the Canadian North. There, in Yellowknife, in the summer of 1975, he falls in love with a voice on air, though the real woman, Dido Paris, is both a surprise and even more than he imagined.

Dido and Harry are part of the cast of eccentric, utterly loveable characters, all transplants from …

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Excerpt

Harry was in his little house on the edge of Back Bay when at half past twelve her voice came over the radio for the “rst time. A voice unusual in its sound and unusual in itself, since there were no other female announcers on air. He listened to the slow, clear, almost unnatural con—dence, the low-­pitched sexiness, the elusive accent as she read the local news. More than curious, already in love, he walked into the station the next day at precisely the same time.

It was the beginning of June, the start of the long, golden summer of 1975 when northern light held that little radio station in the large palm of its hand. Eleanor Dew was behind the receptionist’s desk and behind clever Eleanor was the studio. She looked up, surprised. Harry rarely darkened the station door except at night when he came in to do the late shift and got away with saying and playing whatever he liked. He paused beside her desk and with a broad wink asked about the new person on air.

“Hired off the street,” she told him. “The parting shot of our erstwhile manager.”

“Well, well, well,” said Harry.

Despite the red glow of the on-­air light, he then pushed through the studio door, only to be met by one of the great mysteries of life. We look so very different from the way we sound. It’s a shock, similar to hearing your own voice for the “rst time, when you’re forced to wonder how the rest of you comes across if you sound nothing like the way you think you sound. You feel dislodged from the old shoe of yourself.

Harry had pictured somebody short and compact with sun-­bleached hair, “ne blue eyes, great legs, a woman in her thirties. But Dido Paris was tall, big-­boned, olive-­skinned, younger. Glasses. Thick, dark, springy hair held back off a wide face. Faintest shadow on her upper lip. An unreasonably beautiful woman. She ­didn’t look up, too intent on the newscast typed in capital letters on green paper, three-­part greens, the paper-­and-­carbon combination the newsmen typed on.

He turned to check who was in the control room. Eddy at the controls and one of the newsmen standing at Eddy’s shoulder. An audience, in other words.

Harry took out his lighter, “icked it, and put the “ame to the top corner of the green. And still she ­didn’t look up.

An upper lip as downy as he imagined her legs might be. And yes, when she stood up later and came around the table, her legs were visible below a loose blue skirt, and the mystery of her voice was solved. She was European. European in her straightforwardness, her appearance, her way of speaking, which was almost too calm, except when the page was alight. Then her voice caught “re. She stopped turning her long pencil end on end, pacing herself. Stopped speaking altogether. Her eyes went in two directions — one leg on shore, the other in the canoe, but the canoe was pulling away from shore and shit — she picked up her glass, poured water on the “ames, and read with jolting speed, repressed panic, to the very last word at the bottom of the page.

The news clip came on, she switched off her microphone and looked up wildly at the man with the boyish gleam in his eye. But he ­wasn’t boyish, he was balding, bespectacled, square-­jawed. She noticed his cauli—ower ear.

“You’re Harry Boyd,” she said.

And she, too, had imagined another face — a big, bushy head to go with the relaxed, late-­night growl that she heard only as she fell asleep. The man who’d once been a big name in radio, she’d been told. He was shorter than she’d expected and his hands trembled.

Half an hour later, perched on Dido’s desk, bumming a cigarette, Harry asked her how she’d come by her intriguing accent. She studied him, not quite willing to forgive his outrageous behaviour, until he asked if she was Greek. Then out bubbled her easy and seductive laugh.

No chance. She’d grown up in the Netherlands near the German border, the daughter of a Latin teacher who’d listened to the bbc and written questions to “London Calling” about expressions he ­didn’t understand. Her father had a reel-­to-­reel tape recorder and taped programs off the radio. She learned English at school, she told Harry, but her pronunciation was terrible and so she’d asked her father to make some tapes for her, and then she practised her English listening to Margaret Leighton reading Noel Coward and to Noel Coward himself, acquiring in that way her peculiar European-­English accent, which she hated. “I “gured marriage to a Canadian would solve my problem, but it ­hasn’t.”

“Two minutes,” said Harry, “and you’re already breaking my heart.”

“It ­didn’t last,” she said.

“Then we have something in common, you and I.”

He slipped her glasses off her face and breathed on the lenses and polished them with his handkerchief, then slid them back over her nose, saying, “And Dorothy Parker said men never make passes at girls with glasses.”

“Parker?”

“Dorothy. A writerly wit who famously claimed to be ‘too fucking busy and vice versa.’”

Dido was only semi-­amused. To Eleanor the next day she called Harry “the loser,” a put-­down softened by her accent; it came out “lose-­air.” She said he’d taken a drag off her lit cigarette, then set it back on the ashtray. “So cheap,” she said with a shake of her head and a faint, unimpressed smile.

“But not without charm,” countered Eleanor. “Charm, sex, insecurity: that’s what Harry has to offer.”

Dido was more interested now.

“He’s too old for you, Dido.”

But his age was the last thing Dido minded.

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Consumption

Consumption

edition:Paperback
tagged :

Consumption is a haunting story of a woman’s life marked by struggle and heartbreak, but it is also much more. It stunningly evokes life in the far north, both past and present, and offers a scathing dissection of the effects of consumer life on both north and south. It does so in an unadorned, elegiac style, moving between times, places and people in beautiful counterpoint. But it is also a gripping detective story, and features medical reportage of the highest order.

In 1962 at the age of ten …

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Excerpt

Eskimo ­Poetry

Here I stand,
Humble, with outstretched ­arms.
For the spirit of the ­air
Lets glorious food sink down to ­me.
Here I ­stand
Surrounded with great ­joy.
And this time it was an old dog ­seal
Starting to blow through his blowing ­hole.
I, little man,
Stood upright above it,
And with excitement ­became
Quite long of body,
Until I drove my harpoon in the ­beast
And tethered it ­to
My harpoon line!

–Recorded and translated from the Inuktitut by Danish ethno­grapher and explorer Knud Rasmussen in Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition, 1921­24

One

Storms are sex. They exist alongside and are indifferent to words and description and dissection. It had been blizzarding for five days and Victoria had no words to describe her restlessness. Motion everywhere, even the floors vibrated, and such motion as was impossible to ignore, just as it was impossible not to notice the squeaking walls, the relentless shuddering of the wind. Robertson was in Yellow­knife, and she and the kids had been stuck in this rattling house for almost a week, the tundra trying to get inside, snow drifting higher than the windows, and everyone in the house longing to be ­outside.

It was morning, again, and she was awake and so were the kids, but they had all stayed in bed and listened to the walls shake. Nine, or something like that, and still perfectly black. She had been dreaming that she had been having sex with Robertson. She was glad she had woken up. Even the unreal picture of it had left her feeling alarmed–though that eased as the image of the two of them, entwined, had faded. In another conscious moment she was able to blink the topic away and out of her thoughts. As it had ­been.

She could hear her girls, Marie and Justine, whispering to each other in their bedroom. She couldn’t tell what they were saying. She heard the word potato. Pauloosie, her son, her oldest child, was silent. She listened carefully and thought she could hear him turning in his bed. And then the wind wound up and just ­howled.

As a girl she had not been this restless, waiting out storms with her parents on the land in a little iglu, drinking sweet tea and lying on caribou skins. It had been more dangerous then but less frightening. Storms make an iglu feel more substantial somehow. This house, on the other hand, felt as if it were about to become airborne, and it would have if not for the bolts tethering it to its pilings. It had been made in Montreal, of particleboard and aluminum siding, before being shipped by barge to Hudson Bay, sagging from square with each surge of the sea. Where the door frame gapped away from the kitchen door, snow sprayed through in parabolas. These wee drifts persisted as long as the door stayed closed. After five days they seemed as permanent as furniture. The wind whistling under the house kept the kitchen floor nearly as cold as the stone beneath ­it.

That stone slid, in its turn, through the town, to the shore, and then under the ice of Hudson Bay, angling shallowly out into the sea basin like a knife slipping between skin and meat. And on top of that water was ice, a ­quarter-­million square miles of it, arid and flat and sucking in the frigid air from the High Arctic like a bellows–blowing it down through Rankin Inlet and into the rest of the unmindful continent. Chicago would be Rome but for this frozen ocean, not that its significance is known to anyone who doesn’t live alongside ­it.

Rankin Inlet, Repulse Bay, Baker Lake, Coral Harbour, Whale Cove: variations on the theme of shelter from the sea, each of these hamlets lies on the west coast of Hudson Bay, named by whalers seeking safety in the nineteenth century. The smallest is a couple hundred people and the largest of these, Rankin Inlet, is two thousand, almost all Inuit, with a handful of southerners, Kablunauks, among ­them.

The people exist along this coast against a backdrop of a ­half-­million square miles of tundra, gently rolling treeless plains. In the summer, this land is boggy and ­moss-­bound; in the winter–frozen and blasted lowlands: eskers of rock protruding through shallow snow. The Inuit lived here for ten thousand years, pulling their living from this meagre forage until the 1960s, when they accreted in the little government towns built along the coast and left the tundra empty of human inhabitants for the first time since the glacial ice ­melted.

Victoria and Robertson had been married a year when Robertson paid to have this house shipped here, for his new family to live in. It was twice the size of the housing department shacks offered to the rest of the community; this benefit of marrying a Kablunauk had been observed and remarked upon in Victoria’s presence since the house had floated its way to the bay at the edge of the town. The other young families were crowded into the back rooms of their relatives’ cramped houses, and privacy such as Victoria knew was held to be an uncommon ­luxury.

Robertson was not from here, and so no toothless and ­snuff-­spitting aunts had been assigned to their family. The drawbacks of marrying a Hudson’s Bay Company man had been explored by dozens of women in the town, but this single advantage held. She lay in her bed now and listened to her daughters squealing and whispering and calling out to each other. This was an intimacy, she thought, that could never be available to a family who shared its house with another. She was lucky, at least on that score. But then, she thought, there might be a different kind of intimacy available to the cousins and brothers who had grown up unencumbered by the rind of ­privacy.

She was thinking about that when the banging at the kitchen door began. Victoria thought the door had become unfastened, and she leapt out of bed to close it before it was torn from its hinges.

From the Hardcover edition.

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