Flying the Canadian flag again today and that means it's also a good moment to announce that KevinFromCanada, a frequent flyer around the blogs has finally set down some roots with a blog of his own here. I knew if I prattled on about Canadian literature for long enough he'd have to surrender, someone's got to add in the checks and balances to all my wildly off-the-wall assumptions about it from Devon. Pay a visit, there are bound to be blog-warming mooseburgers and things happening and he's also got a great contest going.
Often my discovery of an author will be a completely chance event and thus it was with Canadian writer Joseph Boyden.
I'd met up with a friend who worked for a publisher in London, in those pre-dovegreyreader days, and knowing better than to a pitch up empty-handed she'd brought along a few proof copies for me. My envy at the luck of someone who works for a publisher and is drowning in books is second only to that of people who work in bookshops, rapidly followed by acute jealousy about librarians, especially when my own job meant all I ever drowned in was free samples of nappy rash cream with the occasional pack of post-it notes thrown in.
My joy still knows no bounds at ARCs or ERCs or whatever they are called in the trade and 'twas ever thus but I waited until I was in a Great War reading phase before opening Three Day Road and I was astounded and astonished by what I read.
To think I'd left this book lying around for months before opening it.
Two Ojibwa snipers Xavier and Elijah off to fight in the trenches in France but lying beneath the powerful Ojibwa myth of the Windigo, the evil spirit that possesses anyone who turns to cannibalism. It's true, I read bits of this book with my eyes shut, but it's one I will most certainly read again. Whilst Joseph Boyden, despite his Metis roots via his mother's family, lays no claim to being the definitive voice of the Canadian Aboriginal population, he does take great care to ensure it's a voice that is heard and one that he projects with a well-researched accuracy
The story of Through Black Spruce, Joseph Boyden's second novel is here, (and the book's journey from Vancouver to Devon in amongst a load of sopping wet kayaking gear) and as a result of that I was delighted when Canadian publisher NeWest Press then made contact with me. They had read my thoughts on Through Black Spruce and were wondering whether perhaps, bearing in mind my love of all things Joseph, might I like a copy of his very recent inaugural Henry Kreisel Lecture given at the University of Alberta?
How quickly do you think it is possible to transmit ''yes please' from Devon to Canada?
I'm always at fever-pitch waiting for Postman Jim to arrive, always grateful that Royal Mail still feel it is worth the bother to drive all the way out to us, and on the day of the Canadian parcel Jim met with a particularly effusive greeting.
I settled down to read From Mushkegowuk to New Orleans : A Mixed Blood Highway within the day.
Henry Kreisel was a teacher of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Alberta and 'beloved for his capacity to change hearts and minds', introducing the first course in Canadian Literature to the University. At the heart of the lecture the fostering of 'a critical attitude that understands literature as a necessary participant in contemporary public debate.'
Anyone who has read Joseph Boyden's novels will know they could not have made a better choice for this the inaugural lecture, and I can only begin to imagine how powerful this event must have been to have heard 'live', because even on the page the written word becomes equally passionate here in rural, snowless, Devon UK.
Interweaving some heart-stopping personal anecdotes and some great paddling moments (the Kwetabohigan Rapids..long rolling water dotted with submerged boulders...tricky enough to keep your heart beating fast) which we know all about here, Joseph Boyden takes as his theme the Aboriginal people in Canada and cleverly relates them to poor African Americans, Whites and Hispanics in post-Katrina New Orleans finding many and various similarities in their respective plights, for example,
'Both the native population of Canada and the population of South Louisiana sit upon vast resources from which they don't benefit.'
As someone who lives in both Canada and New Orleans this is a highway that Joseph Boyden travels frequently and the connections he makes are both prescient and applicable on a much wider level.
On reflection Canada rarely hits the headlines here in the UK so in talking about sense of place I will be the first to admit that I only know what I know of Canada and its people from the books I read and the tales my wandering children return home with. Two of them have spent time in Canada this year (yes there's the Kayaker ) and fallen in love with the country, I've never been there, so how else can I know?
How can I reach an understanding of the issues other than through the pages of a book?
Well I have learnt plenty through the books I've read, both to reshape my thinking and inform new ideas and I fully expect to learn plenty more via KevinFromCanada's blog too, but as I read Joseph Boyden's courageous manifesto for both these disenfranchised peoples I realised I had just learnt a whole lot more about inequality and human rights as well.