Although I don’t have a reading list per se, I have one shelf of books that I really want to get to. Bookends on the coffee table hold seven or eight novels that are a little higher priority, and there are at least four more books – fiction and non-fiction – on the side table that are partly read.
But sometimes one book compels you to finish it and leads you (inexorably) to others that are new to you so that the list gets put aside. Lorri Neilsen Glenn’s historical memoir, “Following the River: Traces of Red River Women,” (2017) leads me towards Maria Campbell’s “Halfbreed,” Gregory Scofield’s “Louis: The Heretic Poems,” Wab Kinew’s “The Reason You Walk,” and Richard Wagamese’s “Indian Horse.”
Lorri Neilsen Glenn is on a personal quest to learn more about her Métis ancestors, in particular her great-grandmother Catherine Couture, who died in a fire on the lake steamer SS Premier in 1908 at Warren’s Landing near the northern tip of Lake Winnipeg. A simple enough quest, you might have thought.
However, white men wrote most of the surviving documents, in which Aboriginal women are scarcely mentioned, and then often disparagingly. Glenn goes as far back as her five-times great-grandmother and as she spends hours in hot archival rooms, as she traces sunken words on old gravestones and reads a cairn near the Nelson River, she is dogged by imperialism, racism, sexism and classism. The Riel uprisings, the residential schools and Helen Betty Osborne’s murder rise from the pages in all their horror.
She also writes about the dignity, reticence, kindness and adaptability of Métis people confronted by the double theft of land and culture. She finds cousins in Norway House, having driven alone through hundreds of kilometers of forest, part of the way with a bear’s muddy paw prints on her car window. She struggles with language: Norway House, Kinosêwisîpiy, river with a lot of fish. Although she loses her sense of direction in some of the Red River towns, she never does so when she’s describing her quest, whether in prose or poetry: she has a sure and sensitive hand as she places on the page the fragments that embody her hard-won knowledge.
She wonders if we all carry within us stories that haunt us, that aren’t lost, only impossible to retrieve. I am grateful for and enriched by her passion and inquiry, her persistence and insight.
So add this book to your high-priority pile. And yes, there are far too many books and far too little time – but don’t you think that’s a wonderful dilemma to have?
Such a vivid and accurate account, Jill. This book impacted me, as well–so strongly that it’s been changing the way I perceive “Canada”–noticing (and rethinking) when I hear myself saying things like “our society.” I love those paradigm shifts that startle and change our thinking, even when the reasons for the new understanding are so grim. Have you read her book, Threading Light? It’s another work where she mixes prose and poems, sharing thought and discovery with such open vulnerability and courage that it takes my breath away by times.
Thanks for the comment, Jan – I too learned so much from Lorri’s book, also a courageous book. And as it happens, Threading Light is on my high-priority list and I’m looking forward to reading it.
Very nice review, Jill. I find myself returning library books lately, unread, so maybe I need to start keeping a list of other people’s recommendations! Meanwhile, I’ve finished with the copy edited version of my Lunenburg novel – now in cover discussions …
Thanks, Jan. I went to Lorri’s launch, and was very impressed with her readings from the book and by the story of how the book came to be written. Best of luck with the Lunenburg novel.
Very comprehensive and kind review, Jill. If I hadn’t already read this book, this would make me want to. It is lovely (to be brief), as is Threading Light which really got to my heart.
I have a long reading list and some of it will get read, but other things keep popping up.
Thanks, Sharon. I’m looking forward to reading Threading Light – and I know the feeling about other things popping up! Best of luck with your own “list.”
Hello Jill, thank you for this review. It is compelling. I am going to the library site from here.
Great! And thanks, Laureen, for passing on the Book Talk to friends.
Hi Jill. I didn’t know what a blog was until I got yours on my NEW IPAD — a new experience for me. I love the sound of Lorri’s book.
More anon when I learn more about how to run this machine. See you Monday. For which I thank you in advance. Xo. Budge
Thanks, Budge! I too have a new tablet and am learning my way around it. Looking forward to Monday.