Nirliit by Juliana Léveillé-Trudel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
In Montreal, near McGill University there is a wonderful store called Paragraphe. Every time I am in Montreal, I make sure I stop by and I usually drop around 70 bucks. I’m careful. I make sure I pick up either autographed books or books that are not easily available in the US. This book was one of the ones I picked up this year.
Nirliit was originally written in French (the author lives in Montreal), and it should be noted that the translator is Anita Anand. She deserves praise as way for the book is lyrical. For instance, in describing the town that the she is going to, the unnamed speaker says, “Purvinituq is a plain girl with magnificent eyes that you only discover if you are paying attention.” (16). And in describing the Inuit language, the phrase “rugged poetry” is used”.
The author’s bio at the back of the book tells the reader that Léveillé-Trudel not only works in the performing arts but also taught in the Nunavil region; therefore, it is hard not to see this novel as drawing from life experience and, considering it is two monologues, as something that could be easily adapted to a show along the lines of Anna Deverne Smith.
The speaker is addressing a friend who is missing, who is gone in the first monologue and an unnamed listener in the second. There is an intervening few years between the two monologues, but the settings and characters are the same.
On one hand, the story hits all the issues that people associate with native/first nations/indigenous communities – drinking, violence, spousal abuse. There is a bleakness to the story. You will cry when reading this.
And yet, the story is more than that. It is more than the bleakness.
Part of the book examines solutions, mostly those proposed by the government, and the impact that those so-called solutions have those they effect. There is also the examination of the impact of white people and other societies on Native culture and life, as well as how whites view them, why there is such resentment. It is an examination of what happens long after the culture clash and outrages committed one culture by another.
Because the story is told from an outsider’s point of view, of a woman trapped, to a degree, between the culture she is and the culture she serves. Our narrator is charmed and repealed and confused. Caught between two worlds and even two political philosophies, and I’m not talking about her views on caribou meat. But the book is also about common humanity because while the source of the problems is different, there is also an under lying humanity between peoples that should be noted and embraced.
I cannot do this book justice in any review. I just can’t. The speaker of the book says, “Beauty in the form of a punch to the gut: only the tundra has this, an immense shattering landscape, so lonely with almost no one to appreciate it”. In many ways, those words are an accurate description of this book. This lovely, heart-breaking book.
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