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The Narrows of Fear by Carol Rose GoldenEagle

The Narrows of Fear, known as Wapawikoscikanik in Cree, was the site of a massacre in 1729 of Cree women and children by the Sioux. The Cree retaliated and killed all but one of the Sioux attackers. This area in northern Saskatchewan near Deschambault Lake is where the story takes place.

We meet an engaging cast of female characters: an elder named Nina who shares the wisdom of generations past; Sandy, a journalist, who is visiting her biological family which she found only the year before; her sister Charlene who has recently lost her husband; and Mary Ann who is struggling with hidden painful memories. Together they are working on healing and rebuilding. Men include the recently widowed Gabriel; his son whose sexual identity troubles his father; and John Wayne who embodies the struggle between good and evil.

“[The Narrows of Fear] is a story of people not merely surviving but surmounting the challenges they face.”

GoldenEagle shares many aspects of Cree culture such as smudging ceremonies, making drums, the pleasures of cooking, and the comfort of Wihkaskwapoy, the wild mint tea. Spirituality and connection to the land are present in almost everything the characters do. A cardinal is a sign someone who loves you is visiting from the spirit world. A man with horns might come to the rescue and Little People keep children from harm. Messages come during the night on hind legs.

Women are key to spiritual connection. Nina makes ribbon skirts which “are considered sacred, a symbol of resilience and survival because they touch the ground and connect to spirit.” Wearing these skirts, the women attend a moon ceremony. They will “sing to Grandmother Moon and ask for guidance.” And reflecting the dichotomy of two faiths, a woman travels with a St. Christopher medal and sweet grass.

There is a recognition that women are the leaders and nurturers. Nina says:

Our men, so many of them, are damaged. It’s our women who rise above. Always have. We are the ones who raise the sons and daughters while these men run away, creating even more children and then abandoning them, too. … 
Fact is, we can no longer wait for the leaders. We are the leaders. We are the teachers. As women.

As befitting its name, this book does not shy away from hard truths. Some passages are difficult to read, especially knowing that they reflect the truth of Indigenous people. These include the impacts of separating families, abuses of foster homes and residential schools, bans on cultural practices such as smudging, loss of language, and the forced relinquishment of Indian Status to obtain education or jobs. Pain plays out in reliance on alcohol, and sometimes rape and other violence. GoldenEagle makes these consequences real in the lives of her characters but also leavens the story with much good-humoured banter.

The book is a story of people not merely surviving but surmounting the challenges they face. Narrows of Fear is an important contribution to Indigenous literature. Highly recommended.

*The Narrows of Fear has won the Indigenous Peoples’ Writing Award for 2021 (Saskatchewan Book Awards).


Carol Rose GoldenEagle is Cree and Dene with roots in Sandy Bay, northern Saskatchewan. She is an award-winning published novelist, poet, playwright, visual artist, and musician. Her works have previously been published using the surname, Daniels. She now chooses to use her traditional name. She is the author of the award-winning novel Bearskin Diary (2015) and the recently published Bone Black (2019). Her debut poetry volume, Hiraeth, was published in 2018 and was shortlisted for the 2019 Saskatchewan Book Awards. As a visual artist, her work has been exhibited in art galleries across Saskatchewan and Northern Canada. As a musician, a CD of women’s drum songs, in which Carol is featured, was recently nominated for a Prairie Music Award. Before pursuing her art on a full-time basis, Carol worked as a journalist for more than 30 years in television and radio at APTN, CTV, and CBC. She lives in Regina Beach, Saskatchewan.

  • Published: October 30, 2020
  • ISBN: 978-1-77133-789-2 – $22.95
  • ISBN: 978-1-77133-790-8 – $11.99
  • Paperback: 240 pages

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This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Patricia Sandberg
Some Rights Reserved  

Outside People and Other Stories by Mariam Pirbhai

Mariam Pirbhai was born in Pakistan and lived in England and the Philippines before emigrating to Canada. She lives in Waterloo, Ontario, where she is an Associate Professor in the Department of English and Film Studies, at Wilfrid Laurier University. Her short stories have also appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. Outside People and Other Stories (2017, Inanna Publications) is her debut collection of short fiction.

“Outside People and Other Stories views the world and humanity through a wide-angle lens. Give it a read.”

Rhoda Rabinowitz Green, author of Aspects of Nature
I am fascinated by stories, fictional or otherwise of the immigrant’s experience in coming to a new country and adjusting to the western way of life. Outside People and Other Stories contains nine expertly crafted works of short fiction about such experiences. Told either from the viewpoint of the person in their new country (Canada, in this instance) or from the point of view of the family left behind, we are given a glimpse, albeit brief into the lives and thoughts of such persons, typically from a woman’s perspective. Ms Pirbhai has us peer into the lives of chambermaids, migrant workers, bankers, factory workers, maids, a cancer victim and a Haitian woman whose sister was a victim of a senseless crime thousands of miles away in Montreal.

The Outside People

Some of Ms Pirbhai’s characters are “outside” as respects being outside their native country (the usual case), and outside of their areas of experience and training, such as is the case with Radha Chatterjee, a woman with degrees in English and Education, who cannot get a position in Canada as a teacher:

She understood that a woman in a sari, a long black plait and a red dot on her forehead was not qualified to relate to a roomful of North American teenagers. She understood that in this country her qualifications were no better than a weight around a drowning man’s neck.

That excerpt is from “Crossing Over” my personal favourite of the nine stories here. It is about two couples, one doing well financially (Krishna and Radha), the other (Tariq and Mumtaz) not so much since coming to Canada.

Their vastly different trajectories to the West filled the space between them [Krishna and Tariq] with epic tension, Krishna looking on their migration with unqualified pride and Tariq looking on his with unqualified resentment.

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Another favourite was “Sunshine Guarantee” which is the story of Lucita, a chambermaid working in a Mexican vacation resort. Her brother has emigrated to Canada, and her son has met a girl from Guyana and may be moving to Europe with her. Lucita lives with her mother who is suffering from dementia. There’s a lot Lucita doesn’t understand, such as what a sunshine guarantee is. Angelica, a front desk staff explains that the “gringos” expect sun, not rain, when on vacation. If it rains, they get something for free, like a day at the spa or a snorkelling lesson.

“You know how much the gringos love free stuff. Mira: people like you think that nothing good comes for free, and working hard is the only way to heaven. But most people think that because nothing comes for free, heaven must be a place where you get more for less. And Mexico is where the gringos come to get more for less. I bet you didn’t know you’re already in heaven, Lucita. Now you can forfeit next Sunday’s confession and live a little.”

Conclusion

Notable is the fact that each of the nine stories are infused with words and phrases in the storyteller’s native language, adding authenticity and realism to the narratives. There is even a Glossary at the back of the book that translates these for those of us not fluent in Spanish, Hindi/Urdu, French, Arabic, Tagalog and island Creoles. Most refreshing is the fact that Ms Pirbhai has felt no need to tell these stories with any unnecessary profanity or unwarranted adult content. I would venture to say Outside People would be enjoyed by mature young adult readers too.

In short, Outside People and Other Stories is an exceptional group of short narratives that are appealing, insightful and a treat to read. Rhoda Rabinowitz Green, the author of Aspects of Nature, says of Outside People: “Outside People and Other Stories views the world and humanity through a wide-angle lens. Give it a read. It will both entertain and enlighten.” I thoroughly agree, and this collection will go on my 2018 longlist for The Very Best! Awards in the short fiction category.

Outside People and Other Stories by Mariam Pirbhai
Inanna Publications

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This article has been Digiproved © 2017 James FisherSome Rights Reserved