Saturday, September 9, 2017

Review: Devil in Deerskins: My Life With Grey Owl by Anahareo

Devil in Deerskins: My Life with Grey Owl is written by Anahareo, born Gertrude Bernard, and I really can't begin to describe how amazing she is, and how amazing she is at telling her story. Devil in Deerskins is everything you could ever want in a memoir: humour, adventure, romance, death, separation, coming back together, journeys to find oneself...




Devil in Deerskins begins with Anahareo meeting Archie Belaney, "Englishman, trapper, and guide - later known as Grey Owl, author, lecturer and naturalist - Brother of the Beaver People." She then goes back to tell the story of her Mohawk family and their influence on her, her grandmother in particular, who raised her. Eventually, Anahareo, quite green to the ways of the wilderness (which makes for a hilarious tale), goes to stay with Grey Owl on one of his hunting trips and never goes back. The rest of the book follows Anahareo and Grey Owl's many ups and downs, as well as how they end up adopting two beaver kittens and turning from a life of trapping to a life in conservation.

It was so much fun to read about Anahareo and Grey Owl's adventures, as they were such interesting, funny people, both separately and together. Neither of them quite fit into the usual mold of society, so it is fascinating reading about their lifestyle and the kinds of things they got up to. It's especially funny when they do something more normal, like go to a dinner party, and then one of them (Grey Owl) acts silly because it's so out of his comfort zone.


There was so much tension throughout the book; of what they would do next, of what would happen to the beavers, how they would support themselves, how they would relieve their boredom (this crazy adventurous couple got bored easily), or whether they would find each other again when they left on their various hunting or prospecting trips. Anahareo drives the story forward at a great pace to keep you completely enraptured; I was hooked from start to finish. She also has a great voice and perspective on life that is so much fun to read. Wow did she know how to tell a good story.




I had actually heard of Grey Owl before; every year since I was young, my mom's side of the family has made a trip out to Riding Mountain National Park around the September long weekend. Over the years I've spent going to Riding Mountain, I'd heard of a man called Grey Owl, when wandering through the Visitor Centre or the tiny, packed museum in town. All I really knew about him was that he pretended to be an Indigenous man, and he worked for the park at some point. I'm so glad that Devil in Deerskins was my more in-depth introduction to Anahareo and Grey Owl, as they are both so much more than what I've ever heard in passing.


This year my parents, cousins, uncle, brother and I all biked just over 7 kilometres along the Grey Owl trail in Riding Mountain National Park to get to Grey Owl's Cabin, a cabin where Grey Owl stayed for six months trying to start a beaver colony (Anahareo was off doing something else at that point - I think maybe prospecting?). (All the pictures in this post are from that bike ride.) It was really interesting that Anahareo wasn't mentioned in any of the blurbs about Grey Owl on any of the trail signs or the book about Grey Owl in the cabin, even though she was a huge part of the reason why Grey Owl stopped trapping beaver and turned to conservation.



They are both such fascinating people, and Anahareo tells her story so well; it is humorous, fast-paced, and even romantic, and I definitely encourage everyone and anyone to get their hands on a copy of this excellent memoir.

Bonus fav quote: "A kiss when both parties are on snowshoes leaves much to be desired. Try it sometime."

Devil in Deerskins on:
Amazon.com
Amazon.ca
U of M Press

Thanks University of Manitoba Press for providing me with a copy!

Friday, September 1, 2017

3 Things I Learned From Women in Translation Month


Happy September! Women in Translation Month is officially over. I loved discovering all the new books I'd never heard of before and reading everyone's blog posts, tweets, interviews and guest posts, and feeling everyone's excitement and the enthusiasm for translated books by women. I managed to get in one last WITmonth read before the end of August, The End by Fernanda Torres, which was... really not my cup of tea. I read the blurb on the back cover and was under the impression it was about a group of young boys who got into big trouble, kind of in the realm of The Secret History by Donna Tartt, but it turned out it was just stories of a group of awful old men at the end of their lives. That premise wasn't that bad, but the characters were both awful people and uninteresting characters, and I feel like whatever point was trying to be made following these men's deaths didn't quite come across. Anyway I did enjoy all the other books I read for WITmonth: Swimming to Elba by Silvia Avallone, I Called Him Necktie by Milena Michiko Flasar, Sanaaq by Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk and my favourite, Trafalgar by Angelica Gorodischer.

I've really enjoyed participating in Women in Translation Month and have learned a lot! Here are a few things I've learned this month:

1. There are so many good books in the world! I love whenever I find new corners of the internet to find books I haven't heard of, and WITmonth has been great for that! It really is true what Meytal Radzinski, founder of Women in Translation Month, said: "[Women in Translation Month] is because we want the best literature, and you simply aren't going to get it if all you're reading is the same men again and again, and only ever from English." I keep coming back to this quote, because it has given me a new perspective on how I choose the books I read. If all I'm reading are books in my own language, from my own corner of the world, I'm missing out on so many good books.

2. Translators are part of the artistic process. I know it seems obvious that translators are part of translating books, but I didn't quite realize how involved they actually are. For some reason I always thought of translators as these neutral mediators who just take words and flip them to a different language. I kind of forgot that you can't just directly translate language, and definitely not literature. There's a whole lot more to translation than that. I had fun reading some interviews with translators and realizing there's this whole other part of literature I'd never considered before.

3. Reading women in translation doesn't have to end! Women in Translation month may be over, but that doesn't mean I have to stop reading women in translation. Which is good because I still have about 10 books out from the library, and I'm excited to read them!

I'm so glad Women in Translation month exists, and I hope it keeps growing every year so that more people like me can discover some awesome books. :)

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Review: Trafalgar by Angélica Gorodischer

Sorry this week's review is so late, but I have been very busy this week traveling to the line of totality of the total solar eclipse that happened across the US on August 21! That was an incredible sight. It's also very weird seeing an astronomy event like that that I've never seen before in between reading a science fiction collection about interplanetary travel. After I saw the moon entirely cover the sun, I was more inclined to believe that Trafalgar, the tale-spinning intergalactic salesman, was actually real.

Trafalgar by Angélica Gorodischer, translated by Amalia Gladhart, could be thought of as a connected collection of science fiction stories. The common thread running through the stories is that this swaggering salesman comes back from a trip, and then tells his wild stories to the narrator, who listens raptly and notes how much coffee Trafalgar guzzles.



I was kind of skeptical at first of the telling aspect of each of the stories, as the entire story is Trafalgar telling of his travels to the narrator. However, by the third or fourth story, I was hooked and both Trafalgar and the narrator's personalities added to the telling of these wild stories that never go the direction you expect them to go. I am blown away by the imagination and creativity it takes to create so many different worlds and just absolutely fascinating plots with time travel and characters and different ways of thinking on all these different worlds. Trafalgar reminded me why I love sci fi so much; it's fun, creative, and often completely ridiculous. I haven't had so much fun reading a book since Sputnik's Children.

So technically, you could read this as a collection of short stories - reading them out of order, one at a time here and there in between other things, but I suggest you not do that. Actually, once you get started, you probably won't want to do that. At the beginning there's a little note from the author (or narrator? never quite figured out where the distinction was, or if there was one) that suggests you read the stories in order, "because that way you and I will understand each other more easily." It seemed like an odd comment to make, but by the end I completely understood. At the beginning I was kind of put off by Trafalgar's personality, and not really understanding why these people who listened to his stories were so desperate for them. By the end, I was one of those people, hanging on every word and desperate for another, and also desperate to find this Trafalgar fellow to feed him coffee and make him tell me more stories.

I highly recommend everyone and anyone pick up this book and read it all the way through, and then join my hunt for Trafalgar so we can beg him to take us on one of his space travels.

Check it out on:
Goodreads
Amazon.ca
Amazon.com

Thank you to the person who recommended Trafalgar to me on Twitter when I asked for sci-fi and fantasy recs for Women in Translation month! Check out the rest of my Women in Translation month reviews here and of course search through the #WITmonth hashtag on Twitter to get some amazing recs for great books!

Bonus: My favourite quote from Trafalgar: "He was furious, too, obviously, but on the theological side, and there's nothing like theology to sap the effectiveness of your punches." 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Review: Sanaaq by Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk

Sanaaq by Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk, translated from Inuktitut by Bernard Saladin d’Anglure and translated from French to English by Peter Frost, is a collection of stories of the regular, every day life of the protagonist, Sanaaq, and her family in northern Quebec. 


I think the best way to read this book is as a collection of short stories, and only read a few "episodes" at a time. While some of the stories have overlapping incidents, characters, and themes, there isn't really a consistent through narrative so they can easily be read and enjoyed separately. This was actually my second time reading it, and I think being prepared for the very straight forward, direct writing style helped me enjoy it more.

However, once you get used to the writing style, the stories are very enjoyable to read. The cover kind of makes it look like a dramatic and harrowing tale, but the tone is actually quite light most of the time.

There are plenty of funny stories of Sanaaq's kids getting into trouble (I lost count of the number of times Sanaaq's daughter, Qumaq, bumped into things or did things she wasn't supposed to. Actually, now that I think of it, I don't think Qumaq ever does anything she's supposed to...)

There are also a number of stories that are quite suspenseful; a few hunting trips that go horribly wrong, and an interesting story where one character gets possessed by a spirit. And, among these stories are a handful of just simple stories of everyday life for these Inuit people, and what is involved in that - skinning of animals, hunting, sewing up boots, interacting with the Qallunaat when they arrive. As always, I enjoy the insight into the life and culture of a people I don't know anything about, and a glimpse of their perspective on the world.

There is a lot more I could say about this book; that it was only recently translated into English, that it's regarded as one of the first Inuit novels, that it can be used as an anthropological document to understand Inuit life.... I'd encourage you if you did pick up this book, to read through the introduction which gives some background on how the book and translation came to be. I'm sure there's a whole bunch of nuance in the storytelling that I'm missing, too, but I did enjoy following Sanaaq and her family and the adventures - fun and scary - that they get into throughout the book.

Check it out on:
University of Manitoba Press website
Goodreads 
Amazon.ca
Amazon.com

Thank you University of Manitoba Press for providing me with a copy! Check out the rest of my Women in Translation month reviews here.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Review: I Called Him Necktie by Milena Michiko Flasar

I Called Him Necktie by Milena Michiko Flasar, translated from German by Sheila Dickie, is a book about two men - one young man who has been a shut-in for a long time, and one older man who lost his job and can't bring himself to tell his wife. It tells the story of their meeting on a bench in a park in Tokyo, and how they slowly open up to each other about their life stories.



At first, you might think this would be a small, boring story - two men who meet on a bench and talk about life? But the way it is written makes their small stories incredibly significant. The gentle, soulful prose made me want to read on to see what happened next. Will Hiro open up and talk to this stranger, when he hasn't talked to anyone in what seems to be years? Will Tetsu ever open up to his wife about losing his job? Will they be stuck on that bench talking forever?

This supposedly small story of two men of different generations actually ends up being much more than that - a sad, beautiful story about life, death, the pressure of society and mental illness. It's a short book, which is good because I don't think my heart could have taken much more. I think it's the kind of book you should read in one sitting on a gray, melancholy day when you want to cry and have your heart twisted a little bit and ponder the meaning of life.

Even with all the sorrow in this book, it still ends hopeful, which is probably my favourite thing about it. In the end, there is a happy ending, and hope for the world.

Check it out on:
Goodreads
Amazon.com
Amazon.ca

Check out my other Women in Translation month posts here

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