Saturday, May 8, 2010
Rankin Inlet, a Novel by Mara Feeney
Publisher: Gaby Press
I find it incredible that this is a debut novel, it is so well-written. Mara Feeney has written a wonderful novel taking place in a part of Canada few people know about. The characters and descriptions of life in Rankin Inlet are so real that it is difficult to realize this is a novel and not a true story. Ms. Feeney has personal experience to draw from. The book is written with a very compelling knowledge of life in the isolated north, and no doubt at least some of her characters are based in some small part upon real people, or a combination of individuals she has known or met. To this Canadian reader I felt a connection to this far northern village through this book.
The story begins in 1971 when our heroine, Alison, comes from Liverpool, England to be a nurse in this remote location. After waiting for weather to clear she is on her way north in a small plane flown by a bush pilot, arriving in a village that looks completely alien to her.
The book is written as a diary by Alison, some pages devoted to the stories of the patients themselves, some to the families of patients. The stories are told in the voices of the characters. Historical and accurate, this is the first book I have read of this particularly remote area and am very glad I did. This is a delightful read with the characters bringing us from the old ways via a grandfather talking to his critically ill daughter, and later to his grandchildren. The novel continues to update right through the creation of Nunavut, the newest of the northern Territories of Canada in 1999.
The "first hand" stories of the entire family of Nikmak, the grandfather, give the reader insight impossible to get without an actual non-fiction biographical work. When Alison marries into the family we really begin to see the changes as they occur in the lives of the Inuit. Using the true Inuktitut words in many cases adds to the authenticity of the book. Although explained as the words are first used, there is also a glossary at the back of the book.
It is a tale of hardship, family, lifestyles old and new. The coming of electricity, skidoos, and finally television and computers, while still trying to maintain some tradition in their lives becomes more difficult as time goes on. Children in the old days were sent away to school, later they were able to be schooled in Rankin Inlet. Many of the Inuit children are now able to go on to university in Manitoba and become a part of the evolution of the north while trying to protect the rights of the "people of the land". Alison's own sons and daughters become very active in the environment, the growth, and the government of Nunavut.
I would definitely recommend this book to any age group as a glimpse of the Arctic and its contribution to the development of this country, to the mix of ethnicities of Canada, and among the first peoples of Canada.