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Review: New books from Joy Kogawa, Leesa Dean and Norman Hallendy

Gently to Nagasaki

By Joy Kogawa

Caitlin Press, 214 pages, $24.95

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Once while driving, Joy Kogawa witnessed an eagle in flight, a fish in its talons. Kogawa later recognizes her father in the double-creature: devourer and devoured, a sexually abused young boy who grew up to sexually abuse young boys. Kogawa's interpretation of the eagle-fish and its emblematic status point to the poetic, mystical logic that informs this memoir of the spirit. Gently to Nagasaki eschews chronological linearity for the circularity of a mind and soul troubled by a problem: How to move through the world when one is both eagle and fish? Both daughter of a pedophile and a child unfairly interned? Or, on the scale of a country: when one raped at Nanjing but was burned at Nagasaki? In the spirit of breaking the us/them dichotomy of victimization, Kogawa airs many attitudes with which the reader might disagree. Disagree and read on: Conciliation is the reward for those with the patience to work through their discomfort.

Waiting for the Cyclone

By Leesa Dean

Brindle & Glass, 224 pages, $19.95

Two tempests bookend Leesa Dean's debut collection. In the title story, the Cyclone is symbolic, not a weather system (no spoilers) but a ride at Coney Island in New York. In the last, it's both figurative and literal: A woman witnesses a family blow-up in the aftermath of Hurricane Juan. There are few occasions of physical violence in Waiting for the Cyclone, though plenty of emotional damage, the through-line a gale-like force pushing the narrative in a surprise direction – not a twist ending, but a destination unheralded at the beginning. Departures and arrivals are significant. Most of Dean's focal characters are girls and young women far from being delicate flowers. They are many of them full of candour, but rootless. Each story involves some form of travel, but the travel is always compromised: by death, resentment or lack of money or attachment. The takeaway: Whatever our strength of will, we are buffeted by circumstances outside our control.

An Intimate Wilderness: Arctic Voices in a Land of Vast Horizons

By Norman Hallendy

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Greystone Books, 328 pages, $39.95

Turgavik: "The place where one lives without ever thinking of living elsewhere." This heavily illustrated study of Inuit culture and metaphysics is the fruit of Norman Hallendy's nearly six decades of living among the Inuit of the Cape Dorset region, particularly his interviews with elders about the pre-settlement era. Ethnography has a fraught history in the Arctic, but Hallendy, the foremost non-Inuk expert on inuksuit, approaches Inuit knowledge with humility and respect, his preferred mode to quote elders in long, uninterrupted passages. Still, we might ask: What does it mean to package this knowledge for southern consumption? Many Southern Canadians still regard the Arctic with a particularly qallunaat (white) way of seeing: The Arctic is empty, barren, inhospitable and, therefore, ripe for resource extraction. An Intimate Wilderness turns this view on its head: The Arctic is vast but full, a vibrant place cultured by thousands of years of human history.

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