Granta 141: Canada – Mangilaluk’s Highway by Nadim Roberts

Granta 141 Canada

The first Granta journal of 2018, issue number 141 is focused on Canadian literature, whether it’s fiction, memoir, reportage, poetry or photography, each issue combines something of each of those categories, with new writing/work by known and little-known talent, around a common theme.

As guest editor and author of Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien shares in the opening introduction, (and fellow guest-editor Catherine Leroux, writing in French), their only parameter for submissions was ‘What is being imagined here, now?’

Canada being a land with sixty unique Indigenous language dialects and more than two hundred languages reported as a mother tongue or home language, it was a wide-ranging brief.

Language becomes its own landscape in this issue of Granta. Language falls apart, twists, reformulates, shatters and revives itself. Animal and self, unfinished history, land and waterways, colonisation and dispossession, settlement and refuge – all these nouns are part of the truth of this place.

Apart from Leroux’s introduction, all the work is either in English or has been translated from English, however all work in translation is available to read on Granta.com in the original French.

It features writers such as Margaret Atwood, Lisa Moore (her novel February reviewed here), Alexander McLeod, Krista Foss, Naomi Fontaine, Kim Fu, Anosh Irani, Paul Seesequasis, Anakana SchofieldJohanna Skibsrud,  and many more…

I’m reviewing here the first story and may share other’s with you as I select randomly from the journal over the coming months.

Mangilaluk’s Highway

The opening story is a mix of reportage and a retelling of the story of Mangilaluk Bernard Andreason, who when he was 11 years old, slipped out of the Inuvik residential boarding school he’d been sent to, along with two friends Jack and Dennis, to avoid being punished for stealing a pack of cigarettes, and spotting newly hung power lines, decided to follow them home to Tuktoyaktuk.

Nadim Roberts writes about Bernard’s journey in the present, interspersed with narrative reports on his own visit to Tuk in June 2017, forty-five years after Dennis, Jack and Bernard began walking that 140 kilometre stretch home. Robert’s by contrast, completes the journey from Inuvik to Tuk in thirty minutes by plane.

He tells of successive attempts by the government to build a road across the Arctic Circle, to facilitate oil and gas exploration and a stretch of highway that would connect Inuvik to Tuk.

 From the plane I could see occasional glimpses of a new, near-finished road. This was the long awaited Inuvik-Tul all-season highway that would open in a few months.

Chief Mangilaluk

We learn that Tuk was a town founded by survivors from Kitigaaryuit, an Inuit settlement, that in 1902, after contact with whalers was cursed with a measles epidemic which drastically decimated their population. One young man, Mangilaluk, departed and went looking for a new place to live. His choice, a site on the edge of a harbour, would become what is now known as Tuk. He became chief and is still talked of today. Some believed he was a shaman who could shape shift into a polar bear.

In July 1961, two decades after he died, Mangilaluk’s granddaughter Alice Felix, was eight months pregnant. While home alone one evening, she heard a knock on the door. She wasn’t sure if she was awake or dreaming when the door swung open. A three-metre-tall polar bear stood in the doorway. It walked up to her, put its snowshoe-sized paw on her pregnant belly, and began to speak: ‘If it’s a boy, you name it after me.’

The story reminded me immediately of Doris Pilkington Garimara’s Rabbit Proof Fence, a tale of indigenous Aboriginal children removed from their parents (following an Australian government edict in 1931, black aboriginal children and children of mixed marriages were gathered up by whites and taken to settlements to be assimilated) and put in  a boarding school. The three girls in this true story followed a fence built to keep rabbits out of farming land, knowing that it passed close to their home.

Before 1955, fewer than 15 per cent of school-aged Inuit were enrolled in residential schools. Most children still lived on the land with their families, learning traditional skills and knowledge.

By 1964, more than 75 per cent of Inuit children attended residential schools. Their values, language and customs were supplanted overnight by a culture that saw itself as benevolent and superior, and saw the Inuit as primitive beings in need of sophistication.

Nadim Roberts interweaves Bernard’s story, his grandfather’s story and the current issues facing indigenous and local people in the region, in an evocative portrayal of one boy/man’s courage against the odds to make something better of his chance at survival.

Nadim Roberts Source: Author Provided

It’s an excellent piece of writing and combination of narrative and reportage, bringing attention to this one man’s story and the plight of both his people and the environment in which they live.

You can read Nadim’s story for free at Granta, just click on the link below:

Mangilaluk’s Highway by Nadim Roberts

Nadim Roberts is a journalist from Vancouver whose work has been published in Walrus, Maisonneuve and the Globe and Mail.

Further examples of his work can be viewed on his website NadimRoberts.com

Have you read any recommended works by any of the authors mentioned or others featured in Granta 141?

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Alice Munro wins Nobel Prize for Literature

Alice MunroShe was a favourite to win the prize, but appears not to have been aware of being nominated, no doubt she has been enjoying her retirement from writing fiction announced earlier this year.

Alice Munro is the 13th women to have won the Nobel Prize for Literature, news to which according to the Guardian, she is said to have responded “Can this be possible? Really? It seems dreadful there’s only 13 of us.”

Not just a resounding win for a short but growing list of women writers finally being recognised, but a victory for readers and writers of the short story, Munroe’s strength and preference.

Could it be a sign that the short story is making a comeback? It is something I wonder about in one of my very first blog posts entitled Why People Don’t Read Short Stories which is a tribute to the form and a reminder of the joy short story collections can bring.

short stories

Alice Munro

aliceBorn: July 10 1931, Wingham, Ontario, Canada

Educated: 1949-51 University of Western Ontario

Books:     1968 Dance of the Happy Shades

1971 Lives of Girls and Women

1974 Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You

1978 Who Do You Think You Are?

1983 The Moons of Jupiter

1986 The Progress of Love

1990 Friend of My Youth

1994 Open Secrets

1996 Selected Stories

1998 The Love of a Good Woman

2001 Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

2004 Runaway

2006 The View from Castle Rock

2009 Too Much Happiness

2012 Dear Life

Further Reading:

Feature Article Alice Munro: Riches of a double life, the Master of the contemporary Short Story, Guardian 2003

Canada by Richard Ford

A recommendation from my like-minded, book loving Aunt, I was fortunate to pick this up at our library, a wonderful facility, though only a few bookshelves dedicated to works in English, so to find a recently published book was a real find.

Bibliotheque Mejanes, Our Library in Aix-en-Provence

Bibliothèque Méjanes,
The Entrance to our Library in Aix-en-Provence

Richard Ford is a familiar name for many, a Pulitzer prize-winning author for his book Independence Day, however he is an author I was not thus far acquainted with.

Canada is a coming of age novel written from the perspective of Dell, a 15-year-old twin, whose sister Bernie is on the verge of asserting her independence, something she is ready to do, unlike Dell, who is more of a ‘wait and see’ type of individual, though even this more submissive attitude doesn’t occur without serious consideration of all the alternatives. Regardless of whether he is ever likely to pursue those thoughts, he considers them before watching them pass, pondering how they may have changed the course of events, though rarely if ever acting on them.

The course of these siblings’ ordinary lives is altered drastically when their father, aided by their mother, decides to rob a bank to pay a supplier when his middleman status finds him stuck in between having delivered the goods and not having been paid as agreed.

The first part of the book is Dell’s recollection of the events of those weeks surrounding ‘the event that would change their lives’ with a little of the wisdom of hindsight and the knowledge he has gained from subsequently reading his mother’s journal (fifty years later).

Saskatchewan Ghost Town by R Smith @ominocity

Saskatchewan Ghost Town by R Smith @ominocity

In Part Two, Dell is at the mercy of his mother’s plan for the children to go to Canada, while the parents are in prison, only Dell departs alone; he believes he is going to stay with the brother of his mother’s friend Mildred and so begins his life ‘after the event that changed his life’.

No longer attending school, he assists a man named Charley with preparations for goose hunting and cleaning rooms at the hotel owned by Mildred’s brother, while living in an almost ghost town somewhere in Saskatchewan.

Richard Ford is an adept writer, a straight forward storyteller and reading his work reminds me a little of Jonathan Franzen’s way of writing. His use of language is plain, spare and as a consequence there are few sentences or paragraphs that I have highlighted, few metaphors, except perhaps the title, though perhaps being one word it is more of a symbol than a metaphor. Canada is the frontier, another country, another life, another citizen.

Canada1While he doesn’t coat his words with poetic language, Ford in the literary tradition, delves deep into the mind and thoughts of his protagonist, sharing events in a stream of consciousness narration. Dell methodically dissects everything that happens around him referencing the recent past in relation to what happens, the things he may have realised with hindsight but didn’t. It is a psychological journey into the mind of a 15-year-old sharing thoughts of himself and others around him leading up to and during those two events that changed everything.

I can’t make what follows next seem reasonable or logical, based on what anyone would believe they knew about the world. However, as Arthur Remlinger said, I was the son of bank robbers and desperadoes, which was his way of reminding me that no matter the evidence of your life, or who you believe you are, or what you’re willing to take credit for or draw your vital strength and pride from–anything at all can follow anything at all.

As such, not much happens, but the storytelling remains compelling, as he comes to understand the motivations of those around him and who they really are, preparing himself for what they are about to do. In the first part the bank robbery, preparing him for what will happen when he crosses the frontier.

The more we read, the more we come to understand what our preferences are, what we adore, what we find difficult to tolerate and as a result it could be said our reading narrows with age, because we come to know ourselves and our inclinations better, we become a better judge of whether a book is likely to meet that desire or not. That is one of the reasons a book-club can be so interesting, often forcing us to read outside our comfort zone and showing us the many responses to the same book, all equally valid. I know I don’t just read for pleasure, I am often curious to read outside my preferred style of book, and across cultures and language not wishing to be limited to only that which is written in the English language or tradition.

I enjoyed Richard Ford’s Canada and look forward to reading more of his work.

Travelling Life’s Long Road – The Bridge Club by Patricia Sands

Reading Patricia Sand’s The Bridge Club feels a little like taking a long road trip with a friend, she drives as we listen to her narrate this story of eight female characters, a condensed version of their lives, her voice like the gentle thrum of the engine, lulling us at times into a companionable silence, we listen and observe the passing landscape of years, immersing into these lives as if they were our own.

After forty years of friendship a group of friends are to spend a weekend at a mountain cottage, a location they have been to many times before, only this weekend will see them face a challenge unlike any other they have had to live through to date. Acknowledging the importance that this group of friends has been in each of their lives, affectionately referred to as BC, the Bridge Club, they each share their SOS, ‘support of sisters’ moment before facing the ultimate test of friendship that awaits them.

They could each identify at least one time or experience, some lasting longer than others, when family or other support was not the answer and the BC had come to the rescue.

In this way each of the characters are introduced and we learn of a significant event in their lives that required this band of sisters to come together and thrash out a problem in a way that left no other option than to resolve the dilemma shared. It gets inside the minds of how a group of women think and they aren’t always necessary in agreement, but by the end they will have agreed on a course of action that has the support of them all and often some kind of intervention as well.

We live through marriage, divorce, adoption, coming out, the premature death of a spouse and it will culminate in that weekend away, where it becomes apparent what the past forty years of friendship has been preparing them for, for nothing less than a rock solid lifelong friendship could endure what they must go through.

A moment of intense quiet followed this exchange, a moment when their connection was almost palpable, with no doubt or hesitation. Their strength flowed from one to the other and bound them together as never before.

By the end of this read, we have had a glimpse into the lives of eight ordinary women, who like every one of us have lived through some extraordinary moments and we can only marvel at how fortunate they were not just to have found each other, but to have kept this bond of friendship together over the years and to have each benefited from the powerful gift that it offered, that magic synergy where the combined intention and actions of a dedicated group surpasses the sum of each its parts.