4 of 5 stars
The author spent a number of years working in various areas of Canada’s Arctic region and territories and some of those years were spent in the village of Rankin Inlet, located on the northwest edge of Hudson Bay. She knows the region and the people well. Thus, this book feels very true.
The story is about Alison Clark, a Liverpudlian nurse who decided to travel to the Canadian north to work for a couple of years in Rankin Inlet and ended up staying for 30 years. The narrative comes from several points of view, not just Alison’s and through those, we learn quite a lot about Inuit culture, the history of how some of the Inuit came to live in these kinds of towns which were founded by companies like Hudson’s Bay Company and various mining and other companies. These towns were shored up and supported by the Canadian Government, a history that would seem to be a relatively common one to many of the Inuit settlements. We learn of their beliefs, spirituality, customs and challenges.
It’s a way of life that intrigues Alison as she settles in, tries to learn the language, makes friends and even finds love. She marries and has a family and we see the town grow through the eyes of her, her husband, her father-in-law, her brother-in-law and one or two others on occasion. This tells the story from different points of view, where the culture clashes with her own background. For non-Inuit who are not born and raised here, it is often difficult to survive in such an environment let alone thrive. The weather alone is forbidding and the isolation can be difficult but some really do thrive and come to love the land and it’s people as Alison does. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t manage it but it’s fascinating to read and become part of it for awhile.
As with many books that cover a spread of time, the first half of the book is more detailed, while the second half jumps through the years more quickly with catch up entries from the diaries, letters and thoughts of the characters as the north moves towards becoming a new territory, Nunvut, and the old ways fade away as the settlements become towns and even cities. This is progress. It may or may not be a good thing. Struggles to survive off the land may not be there anymore, but the corruption of progress can have devastating effects, too.
It’s interesting to see how some of the children in the family grow up and leave, embracing the modern world and some, while being used to the “modern conveniences” and technology, still look to their heritage to fulfill their lives and livelihoods.
It’s not a traditional happy ending or a sad one, there’s no real event to end the book. The books ends on a “circle of life” or “life goes on” kind of philosophy.
#8 of #20BooksOfSummer
Cross Canada Reading Challenge: Nunavut