From Virginia Pésémapéo Bordeleau, translated by Susan Ouriou and Christelle Morelli, Freehand Books, 163 pages, $21.95
In Canada, French-language Indigenous isn’t as famous despite its commonalities with counterparts. Visual artist and writer Virginia Pésémapéo Bordeleau, who is of Cree origin, has published several critical works of French literary composing (Ourse bleue; De rouge et de blanc). Winter Child, however, is her first book translated into English. A semi-autobiographical book of a Métis mother’s grief for her son, Winter Child changes between first- and third-person, a system which permits the mother to narrate her loss from both inside and outside herself. The winter child death appears fated from birth. Nevertheless Winter Child is not fatalistic; rather, its logic is of lineage, as much about the mother’s relation to her father regarding her son. How is she to live beyond her child’s death? Poetic and both raw, Pésémapéo Bordeleau’s book is through ceremony, visions and the spouse who’s meant for the moment, about curing and continuance. French Indigenous find its way May.
The Orchard Keepers
By Robert Pepper-Smith, NeWest Press, 362 pages, $22.95
The Orchard Keepers collects and concludes Robert Pepper-Smith’s trilogy of novellas about immigrant families of the Kootenays whose orchards are lost to a 1960s hydroelectric project. This book brings together previously published The Wheel Keeper (2002) and House of Spells (2011), both revised for this edition, alongside the new Sanctuary, which picks up where the previous books left off, in the 1980s. Eighteen-year-old Michael Guzzo travels in search of a lake, followed by Lacey to the highlands of Guatemala, intent on delivering a message. In western Guatemala’s villages the two Canadians witness the violence of the civil war, exacerbated by a mine in the area, which dispossesses communities of their lifestyle of the country. Pepper-Smith writes with surprising concision; Sanctuary feels much fuller than its 150 pages, perhaps owing to its understated, reportage-like style. A book that is quietly but powerfully about uprootedness and connection to the land.
By Terri Favro, ECW Press, 360 pages, $19.95
In 2011, her fans lapsing, Debbie Biondi needs an origin story for her Cold War-era cult comic book series, Sputnik Chick: Girl With No Past. Problem: Sputnik Chick is actually Debbie Biondi, and Debbie’s past is too outlandish even for superheroes. Born in an alternate reality called Atomic Mean Time (a postatomic history skewed from our own) Debbie saved the planet, literally, and by necessity she’s the only person who can remember. Or … there was no Atomic Mean Time, no mutants from nuclear fallout, no time travel or wormholes, only a girl who ran away from small-town Ontario at 13 and showed up in 1979 New York — 10 years unaccounted for. That’s the timeline everyone else. 1 story is definitely more fun to believe (and Sputnik Chick’s origin story is fun — a twist on pop culture and Cold War nostalgia, well paced with zero slack). In any event, Debbie is the girl with no past — a fate that is tragic; but for a character, an interesting place.
Review: Robert Pepper-Smith’s The Orchard Keepers, Virginia Pésémapéo Bordeleau’s Winter Child and the Sputnik’s Children of Terri Favro