Sunday, December 27, 2009

Flint & Feather, The Life and Times of E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake by Charlotte Gray

Originally posted December 10, 2007

Having grown up on the "Legends of Vancouver" and knowing so well the places described therein, having known since a little girl of Pauline Johnson's resting place by Siwash Rock, (I have often visited her grave through the years - Betty), I was thrilled to be able to review Charlotte Gray's book, Flint & Feather, and she does not disappoint! All the passion, determination, sensibility and presentation comes through strong and clear.

The book begins with a lengthy genealogy which some may find a bit tiresome, but to me it brought a vivid sense of history and pride, and I would not have skipped over it for anything. This background is essential to knowing how she and her siblings became who they were. Throughout the book, this pre-history plays a major role in Pauline’s life and destiny and how she handled it. Personally, I was amazed at how much I did not know of Canadian history both Iroquois and British, and how supportive the Iroquois Confederation was of the British in these early times, how civilized, organized and productive their people were, and what an impact they had on our history. In fact, a quick search on the Internet tells me “The Six Nations: Oldest Living Participatory Democracy on Earth”

Charlotte Gray has brought to life so completely Pauline's story that I found myself feeling as though I was there. I particularly enjoyed reading the excerpts of Pauline’s letters included in the narrative. It is incredible to think that she lived in the period 1861-1913, a time in which neither native, nor woman had much say in the world. Breaking into the literary “old boys club” was almost unheard of. Pauline was a trooper, and largely ignored what wasn’t quite “proper” to the British elite. However, she overcomes this as she does every other obstacle. This is without a doubt the best book on Pauline I have ever read. So many names are familiar, how she slips into two personas is absolutely amazing. This book does not only deal with Pauline's extremely unusual and fascinating life, but we learn a lot of history and geography throughout the entire book; not shoved down our throats, but just through the narrative, the poems and the travel. Pauline traveled everywhere... from the elite of London to the tiny mining and logging camps of western Canada. A truly amazing book, entertaining and honest, I highly recommend this read nut just to every Canadian, but the northern US and Britain as well. I am proud to learn of an amazing woman who overcame, in fact embraced, her dual race, one who fought the discrepancies between men and women of the day, and still reached the top! Even the terrible disease she fought to her death she overcame through sheer determination far longer that anyone would have imagined possible. This book is well worth reading about a woman who is endearing and a major force in getting us where we are today. Excellent book! My congratulations and adulation to Charlotte Gray!

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