…and my very first professional book review! After five years of writing about books here at Reading in Bed, I’m so proud to review The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth, my favourite book of 2015, in The Rusty Toque.
I’ve hinted about my super-duper, super-long review of The Wake for months. And it did take months to write. It also took some particular experiences, pieces of advice, and pep talks. I want to give a few shout outs, and a little preview, as it’s definitely in TL;DR territory. I’m proud, but also nervous. I wrote about The Wake, a novel about the Norman Invasion in 11th century England, in the context of Reconciliation in Canada.
It is controversial to suggest we need yet another account of colonization from the English point of view, but The Wake is an important novel in much the same way as Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda. The Orenda is one of Canadian literature’s first balanced accounts of first contact between Indigenous peoples and Europeans, including French and Indigenous points of view, and importantly, multiple Indigenous points of view (it is quite common that Indigenous peoples and their perspectives are presented as a monolith, despite the plural “peoples.”) The Orenda won the 2014 Canada Reads competition, and has been recommended as required reading for all Canadians.
The Wake should also be required reading for Canadians, not for its balanced perspective, and only partially for the old “those who don’t know, doomed to repeat” reasons, but mostly because learning that the Norman invasion was itself a colonization and that English people are no more a monolith than Indigenous peoples are and that the way we label people “Anglo-Saxon” is almost as misguided as the way we used to label Indigenous peoples “Indians” is very much in the spirit of reconciliation. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s mandate states that “The truth of our common experiences will help set our spirits free and pave the way to reconciliation.” The Wake addresses the themes of common experience, colonization, violence, and even cultural genocide.
Thanks to the people who helped me write this:
- Jennifer Quist for encouragement and suggesting I get in touch with The Rusty Toque
- Jane and Miranda for organizing a “Read the TRC” group, which I wrote about here
- Wab Kinew and Ray Saddleback Jr., who spoke at a City of Edmonton employee event last year, where I first heard the phrase “renegade tribe” which made me think of England’s “greenmen” and inspired the direction this review took
- Carolyn of Rosemary and Reading Glasses for her review, which informed mine
- My sister Cait for proofreading and advice
If you make it through this monster review, please let me know what you think.
For my international readers, and Canadians who’ve been under a rock for the past couple of years:
The TRC is a component of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. Its mandate is to inform all Canadians about what happened in Indian Residential Schools (IRS). The Commission will document the truth of survivors, families, communities and anyone personally affected by the IRS experience. – Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
Before I read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report (the 350ish pages of its executive summary, anyway,) I bounced back and forth between believing that:
- That this document wasn’t for me, because I wasn’t one of those racist people who needed to be convinced that Indian Residential Schools were horrific or that they have a lasting legacy.
- That the above belief is extremely naive and I would likely have to challenge some beliefs and/or confront some ugly truths, and maybe I’m not ready.
As usual, reality was somewhere in between. The TRC is for me, as much as it is for you (Canadian readers, or really, anyone who lives in a country that’s ever been colonized.) There were plenty of things I already knew, but many I didn’t. Even if you’re familiar with the history, the first-hand stories are important to read, as are the calls to action, all 94 of them.
It helped that I found a reading group, which included an inter-generational survivor who was familiar with the report and its history. Most of you won’t have that much support, and this is a long, dense document, so here are some resources, tips, and recommendations for further reading.
How to read the TRC Report
- If you’re not Indigenous, and think this isn’t for you, read this essay at 49th Shelf.
- Choose your format:
- Read it in chunks. Our reading group took months to read, just a section or two per week. The sections range from pretty dry descriptions of legal proceedings to heartbreaking first-hand accounts of abuse. Take a break when you need to.
- Read it to the end. The calls to action are at the end, or you can read them separately here. You may feel hopeless that there’s so much to do, or inspired that there are so many places to begin, but this part is really important.
- Talk to people. A buddy read, a reading group, an online chat… lots of possibilities. I was lucky to have a ready-made discussion group. If you can’t find someone to talk to in real life, try #TRC on twitter.
What to read next: non-fiction
- For non-fiction recommendations, check out the end of that essay I linked above, or, check out this list at the Edmonton Public Library.
- This essay at The Toast about missing and murdered Indigineous women and girls was a more challenging read than the TRC, in terms of having to interrogate my personal beliefs and biases. Brace yourself.
- My picks, none of which I’ve read yet (non-fiction not being my forte…)
- The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir by Joseph Auguste Merasty with David Carpenter
- Up Ghost River, by Edmund Metatawabin. Article includes an extensive Aboriginal reading list.
- The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew, about his father’s experience with residential school. I’m going to see Kinew speak in just a couple of days. I can’t wait.
What to read next: fiction
- Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese. I read this with a library book club where most of the participants are in their 60s or older. Many of them remembered residential schools as something that was known, but not known. They knew the schools existed, but not why, and certainly not what went on inside. An intense discussion ensued.
- Rupert’s Land by Meredith Quartermain (my review) about a residential school runaway and his unlikely friend.
- Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway, which I haven’t read, but has been recommended to me more than once.
- King Leary by Paul Quarrington. This one’s more hockey than residential schools, but there is a compelling minor plot about a survivor.
- The Orenda by Joseph Boyden and Black Robe by Brian Moore. These books are about first contact, but that history is important, too. Many of us read Black Robe in school, and I hope The Orenda will replace it in the curriculum one day. Black Robe really emphasizes the colonial perspective and frames Aboriginal people as “other” while The Orenda is a more balanced perspective.