Tag Archives: literature

Hispanic Canadian Literature in Translation: No Longer from the Outside Looking In by Luciana Erregue

What a difference a pandemic makes. Seven years ago, Mark Medley published in The National Post an article on literary translation arguing that “Translating great books to reach new audiences is a great idea in theory, but difficult in practice.” In the seven years since, Can Lit is waking up to the reality of literary diversity, and a diverse literary translation practice “Made in Canada.” The Festival of Literary Diversity, is a most successful initiative which thrived on the virtual format during the pandemic, spearheaded by Brampton’s own Jael Richardson. At FOLD, I had the chance to listen to, and moderate literary translation panels where finally the cat was out of the bag. Who is doing literary translation in Canada, and who is reading books in translation? Those questions actively called for the Canada Council and the community at large to think beyond the fact that only native speakers could translate into their maternal language, allowing me to imagine for example, an Argentinian born translator translating works into English.

A Translation Rights Fair was established by the Canada Council for the Arts in 2011. The idea is for publishing companies from Quebec and English Canada to gather under the same roof and work out contracts to translate works in the respective languages. The problem is, these two solitudes exclude the many others left out of the equation, case in point, Hispanic Canadian literature and Hispanic Canadian publishing houses.

Here is a bit of background information on the realities of publishing Hispanic Canadian literature in translation in Canada. In 2020 I set up my own indie press, Laberinto Press, to precisely erase the stigma that there is no market for translated books written by hyphened Canadians living in Canada. Our anthology Beyond the Gallery, upcoming October 2021, will publish Hispanic Canadian authors both in their original language (Spanish) and in English. Laberinto would not have been created had it not been for the effort of other independent publishing houses headed by Hispanic Canadians who came before and deserve larger visibility, the attention, and support of the rest of the Canadian literary establishment like Ottawa-based presses Lugar Común, and Editorial Artística.

Presses like ours must apply under the ‘diversity’ or ‘exploration’ funding initiatives. Multiculturalism is increasingly becoming within the publishing industry a ghetto from where to perennially stand from the outside, looking in. With these debates in mind, when James suggested I begin reviewing BIPOC books for The Miramichi Reader, in particular books by Hispanic Canadians in translation I jumped right in.

“For most Latin American writers, translation remains a monumental stumbling block — a prospect that not only enlarges a work’s renown, but sometimes even dictates the content of the work itself.”

American writer Julia Kornberg

There are numerous writers and translators from underrepresented communities making inroads in Can Lit. Case in point, multilingual literary magazine The Polyglot, headed by Romanian Canadian poet Adriana Onita, whose issue “Unfaithful” contemplated literary translation as an act of pleasure; in the words of Teju Cole, an activity best done with “head and heart.” Translating Hispanic works to North American audiences is still riddled with challenges and stigmas, American writer Julia Kornberg reflects on the intricacies of producing Latin American literature in translation and its legitimacy, “For most Latin American writers, translation remains a monumental stumbling block — a prospect that not only enlarges a work’s renown, but sometimes even dictates the content of the work itself.” This stumbling block is alive and well within our own Canadian literary ecosystem.

What are the traditional preconceptions from the North American perspective as it pertains to Hispanic Literature? Do those limit the dissemination, and reading of Hispanic-Canadian works? Of North American readers of Latin American literature in translation, Julia Kornberg argues that “The market for foreign works is so slim that what gets translated is usually tailored to a particular kind of American reader — one who reaches for Latin American literature to encounter difference.” The reality is that Hispanic literature in translation has been encapsulated within the ‘magical realism’ corset well into the Twenty First century. In its most commercial incarnation Isabel Allende repeats herself over and over in an easy-to-read formula of liberation by magic, and it sells like hot cakes all over North America. We are trapped by these tropes of perpetually ‘exotic’ stories. Illan Stavans reflected in his LARB article of 2016 that in the West “El Boom” is viewed as: “A movement characterized by the aesthetics of what came to be known — and often contested — as Magical Realism (lo real maravilloso), the region’s literary tradition, hitherto obscure and even provincial, suddenly [gone] global by means of quick, accomplished translations of steamy, exotic, politically engaged novels.” Its writers, though, rather than writing from their Latin American outposts, were largely based in Europe. And then came Bolaño, exorcising the ghosts of the Boom in the international book market.

Does hyphenated literature in Canada have to follow the trite formula that allows for the easy digestion of ethnic or cultural ‘difference,’ an even more dumbed down version of Magical realism, or must it be imbued by the trusty crutch of ‘trauma porn’? Indigenous Canadian literature is leading the way with interrogating white audiences with books like Joshua Whitehead’s Johnny Appleseed, Thomson Highway’s Kiss of the Fur Queen, and Anna Marie Sewell’s Humane, which rest on humour, and mythmaking.

Latin American literature in North America, is not the only literature to be thought of as tokenistic, though, as Sanjena Sathian argues in her piece on East Indian diaspora literature “Good Immigrant Novels.” North American audiences reading minority authors for the cultural instruction they could count on, rely on “a publishing ecosystem that elevates a single aesthetic above others and sometimes markets minority authors as cultural tour guides.” Writing, and publishing, as Hispanic Canadians is also about aspiring to the privilege to be singular, to be seen beyond the tropes and the expectations, in the same way white Canadians have been producing literature for decades. Because it is more radical to create stories beyond the markers of blanket cultural differences.

According to the Publishers Weekly translation database, only 79 books written in Spanish were translated into English in the year 2020 — a decline from the 100 Spanish-to-English translations in 2019. Also in 2020, almost twice as many books were translated from French into English. Canada is very much part of the Americas (NAFTA or Latin American migrant workers, anyone?), and yet. The Bleu Metropolis festival has a Spanish and Portuguese language component, thanks to the visionary labour of people like Ingrid Bejerman, but we have yet to see other Canadian literary festivals that will follow suit. I invite festival organizers to follow suit.

As Octavio Paz once put it, thanks to the Boom “Latin Americans were invited to the banquet of Western civilization.” Hispanic Canadian writers, and editors, this time want to invite the Canadian public to our own banquet. In subsequent editions of The Miramichi Reader I will be reviewing some books by Hispanic Canadian writers in translation. Feasting on them, as Derek Walcott wrote, will be an excellent way to “Feast on your life.”

Works Cited:

Image: América Invertida, dibujo del pintor uruguayo Joaquín Torres García, 1943 (Museo Juan Manuel Blanes, Montevideo). Source: Wikimedia Commons

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Luciana Errugue
Some Rights Reserved  

Seeds and Other Stories by Ursula Pflug

In my years of reading and reviewing, I consider Ursula Pflug one of my “finds”, that is, an author that I enjoy reading and want to read everything he/she produces. I was first introduced to Ms. Pflug by her 2017 novella Mountain. Down From (2018), is derived from the seeds of two short stories (“The Dreams of Trees” and “Daughter Catcher”) in this collection of her previously published works from the past decade or so. So, then, Seeds is a fitting title!

“Ms. Pflug’s style is a nice little mixture of literature, surrealism and sci-fi. In short, escapist reading with significance, if you will.”

There are twenty-six short stories in Seeds’ almost 300 pages, and while some are brief (“A Shower of Fireflies”) others are much longer and tell a more complete story averaging about 15-20 pages per story. Ms. Pflug’s style is a nice little mixture of literature, surrealism and sci-fi. In short, escapist reading with significance, if you will. The title story is post-apocalyptic science-fiction that seems a little closer to reality reading it in the midst of a pandemic. “The Lonely Planet Guide to Other Dimensions” has two hotels physically separated by distance, but connected by a portal:

“The hotel is a node. People from another dimension can stay here. The hotel exists in two dimensions at once, and in the other one it’s called The Red Arcade.”

What is fascinating about this story is that Rachel, living in one dimension, is writing a story about Esme, who lives in another, but they manage to meet via this portal. In “Mother Down the Well” a very different type of portal exists deep in a well on a farm in Ontario. Clarissa’s mother fell (jumped?) into it before Clarissa was born and has been living down there ever since.

My mother jumped down the well the day after her wedding to a local settler boy. Everyone thought her young husband must have been awful until a beautiful baby girl floated to the surface nine months later. That would’ve been me. Dave followed a year later although how Pa impregnated Ma once she was living down the well I was too shy to ever ask.
Pa did a fine job raising us. I think he missed my mother a lot and wished he had been able to provide whatever it was she got suckling at the portal down the well, but of course could not. Special as he may have been he couldn’t provide her with whatever other dimensional flavour it was she loved best, for it simply doesn’t exist here on Earth, not now and probably never. Ma never did tell me what it was either.

The above passage is a good example of Ms. Pflug’s pragmatic story-telling style as if things like portals and interdimensional travel are occurrences that are not unusual in themselves, they just transpose that way in the telling, like trying to explain the colour blue to a sightless person.

Is Seeds and Other Stories unusual? Yes. Far-fetched? Maybe, but not unreasonably so, I don’t believe. But this is what I so enjoy about reading Ursula Pflug. “A little bit of escapism with your literature, James?” “Yes, I don’t mind if I do Ms. Pflug, thanks.”

About the author: Ursula Pflug is author of the novels Green Music, The Alphabet Stones, Motion Sickness (a flash novel illustrated by SK Dyment), the novellas Mountain and Down From, and the story collections After the Fires and Harvesting the Moon. Her fiction has appeared internationally in award-winning genre and literary publications including Lightspeed, Fantasy, Strange Horizons, Postscripts, Leviathan, LCRW, and Bamboo Ridge. Her fiction has won small press awards abroad and been a finalist for the Aurora, ReLit and KM Hunter Awards as well as the 3 Day Novel and Descant Novella Contests at home.

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Inanna Poetry & Fiction Series (May 1 2020)
  • ISBN-13: 978-1771337458

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/3hkVNDP Thanks! 

This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Group of Seven Reimagined, Edited by Karen Schauber

There’s a very good reason that as I write this, The Group of Seven Reimagined, Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings is sitting at, or near the top of bestseller lists in Canada (as of this writing, it is currently #3 on the Canadian Art bestseller list at Amazon.ca).  The result is a most attractive book that any lover of art and literature would enjoy, even if they already have more than a passing familiarity with the iconic Group of Seven. All the stories that accompany each image are in the “flash fiction” style, just a page or two in length, a little story that the authors were inspired to write after choosing a particular G7 painting. As editor Karen Schauber states in the book’s foreword:

“Flash fiction writers from across Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia, each with a distinct Canadian connection, have crafted an original flash fiction piece inspired by a Group of Seven painting, a selection of their own choosing, one that speaks to and moves them on a personal level. Each painting singular; each voice, unique.”

The twenty-one pieces of art are beautifully reproduced on high-quality paper stock and preface each story, each image getting a complete page, which art enthusiasts will appreciate. The collection starts off with New Brunswick writer Mark Anthony Jarman (author of Knife Party at the Hotel Europa) and includes other writes such as Carol Bruneau (A Circle on the Surface), Waubgeshig Rice (Moon of the Crusted Snow), Bretton Loney (Rebel With a Cause: The Doc Nikaido Story), Michael Mirolla (author and publisher, Guernica Editions), and editor Karen Schauber (she takes the cover image for her inspiration), just to name a few. Here’s an authorized excerpt from Ms. Schauber’s story, “The Little Island.”

When she first saw the painting [Little Island by Alfred J. Casson], she was gobsmacked; her pale-grey eyes, wild and electric. The Little Island was a paradise.

She imagined herself strolling along its shoreline, warm sand, pebbles, and driftwood. She’d sit a while under the large Beech tree, its pointed buds unfolding. A sudden whoosh, the drumbeat of wings, a sandhill crane crosses the lake, its shadow gracing the pink granite below.

That gives you a little taste of what you can expect from the contents and how they inspire the writer; revealing any more would spoil this particular story! Other writers put the reader right inside the painting. Given the space for a story of just a few hundred words in length to work with, they manage to craft some amazing flash fiction.

Here’s a closer look at the Table of Contents. No doubt there are other writers listed which you will recognize:

  • Contents Continued
  • Contents Page 1

A wonderful idea, perfectly implemented, and as I mentioned at the outset, this is a book that any art and/or fiction enthusiast would enjoy receiving as a gift, but with the caveat that this book is not a critical review of the Group of Seven, nor is it a history of the group. What The Group of Seven Reimagined is though is a perfect melange of art and literature, and no doubt there will be further editions of this type of compilation. In fact, The Group of Seven Reimagined is Part One of a Two-Part program. You can read more about it here: https://groupofsevenflashfiction.weebly.com/ and there’s an interview with editor Karen Schauber here: https://mandyevebarnett.com/2019/08/27/author-interview-karen-schauber/

I am adding The Group of Seven Reimagined to the 2020 long list for “The Very Best!” Book Awards for Best Short Fiction.

“As a disciple of the Group of Seven and an aficionado of Canadian wilderness, every page gives me a little leap of pleasure.” — Robert Bateman

The Group of Seven Reimagined, Edited by Karen Schauber
Heritage House Publishing

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This article has been Digiproved © 2019-2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Why Indigenous Literatures Matter by Daniel Heath Justice

Wilfred Laurier University Press (WLU Press) publishes an Indigenous Studies series of which I have reviewed Rachel Bryant’s The Homing Place, which is one of my “Very Best!” reads of 2018. So I returned to WLU Press’ website to look at their other titles. Daniel Heath Justice’s book Why Indigenous Literatures Matter has been very well received in literary circles, so I thought I would investigate it, as I enjoyed (and was very educated by) The Homing Place.

“This a book about stories, and how and why they matter. It’s about the stories we tell, and the stories others tell about us. It’s about how stories can either strengthen, wound or seemingly erase our humanity and shared connections, and how our stories are expressed or repressed, shared or hidden, recognized or hidden. Stories are bigger than the texts or the bodies that carry them.”

Daniel Heath Justice

Once again, I am amazed at the teaching (not to mention the writing) ability of persons such as Ms. Bryant and Mr.Justice. Both books are path-clearing works that guide the reader to ways of better understanding the Indigenous person, their ways, their beliefs and most importantly for us as readers, their literature. Utilizing Indigenous works of fiction and non-fiction, Mr. Justice employs them to effectively answer four questions (each question is a chapter title):

  1. How Do We Learn to be Human?
  2. How Do We Behave as Good Relatives?
  3. How Do We Become Good Ancestors?
  4. How Do We Learn to Live Together?

From Chapter Two comes this summation on being a good relative:

Humans are only one species among millions, and ours are not the only priorities in the world. There are countless conversations taking place around us, in voices and languages of every form and frequency. Too often we don’t hear them, and when we do we rarely understand them except perhaps in ceremony – or art. Art can help us focus our attention and translate some measure of that experience through imaginative empathy. Story, song, poem, and prayer all serve to remind us of our connections, to human and other-than-human alike. And we are in deep, desperate need of such interventions, to be good kin in a world of unfathomably complex relations.

This is just a sample of the wisdom that Mr. Justice has acquired from years of research. He is of the Cherokee Nation and is currently Professor Of First Nations and Indigenous Studies and English at the University of British Columbia.

“This book simultaneously affirms Indigenous writing, introduces Indigenous readers to the canon of Indigenous writing, and teaches non-Indigenous folks how to read our literatures. That’s impressive, and it’s done in a beautiful, intimate and at times playful way. It is instructional without instructing, grounded, confident, affirming, generous, brilliant, clear and joyful.”

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, author of As We Have Always Done and This Accident of Being Lost

That quote sums up the way I feel about Why Indigenous Literatures Matter: it was a pleasure to read, for I was learning new ways of viewing not only the Indigenous world but discovering new ways of looking at myself (as a settler Canadian) and my relationships with others, Indigenous or otherwise. Highly recommended reading.

Please note if you choose to purchase the book through Amazon using the link below I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks!

This article has been Digiproved © 2018 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Daniel Heath Justice, WLU Press

Some Rights Reserved  

Original content here is published under these license terms:
License Type:  Non-commercial, Attribution
Abstract:  You may copy this content, create derivative work from it, and re-publish it for non-commercial purposes, provided you include an overt attribution to the author(s).
License URL:  http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

New Brunswick at the Crossroads, Tony Tremblay, Editor.

Subtitled “Literary Ferment and Social Change in the East,” New Brunswick at the Crossroads is an attempt to explore the relationship between literature and the society in which it incubates as it pertains to the distinct character of New Brunswick with its bicultural character.

This authoritative reference work examines the literary landscape of New Brunswick and its two dominant peoples, Acadian and English, with the bulk of literature coming out of Fredericton (primarily due to the influence of the University of New Brunswick) and Moncton with it’s Acadian population (and the Université de Moncton).

While these separate regions of the province have produced a rich array of distinct literary and artistic voices, they have also, in their diversity, resisted containment under unifying critical labels. The consequence has been a dearth of critical efforts to understand the province.

New Brunswick at the Crossroads (2017, Wilfred Laurier University Press) attempts to rectify that situation by examining five distinct periods in New Brunswick’s history, each of which occupies a separate chapter:

  1. The Period of Loyalist Awakening (1783-1843)
  2. The Period of Emergent Acadian Nationalism (1864-1955)
  3. The Period of Confederation Awakening (1843-1900)
  4. The Period of Mid-Century Emergent Modernism (1935-1955)
  5. The Period of Modernity and Urbanity in Acadian Literature (1858-1999)

Each chapter is penned by a different contributor whose brief bios appear in the Contibutors page, along with a Foreword and Afterword, as well as Works Cited and Index pages. As contributor Cristl Verduyn asserts in her Foreword:

“New Brunswick at the Crossroads will prove to be enormously important and influential for the evolution of literary analysis both in Canada in general and New Brunswick in particular.”

An ideal book for the literary historian, and anyone with an interest in how particular time periods and events influence the arts, particularly the written word.

New Brunswick at the Crossroads, Tony Tremblay, Editor.
Wilfred Laurier University Press

This article has been Digiproved © 2017 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: WLU Press

Some Rights Reserved  

Original content here is published under these license terms:
License Type:  Non-commercial, Attribution
Abstract:  You may copy this content, create derivative work from it, and re-publish it for non-commercial purposes, provided you include an overt attribution to the author(s).
License URL:  http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

The Widow’s Fire by Paul Butler

The following guest review is by Naomi MacKinnon of the Consumed by Ink blog. She focuses on reading books from Atlantic Canada, but will also read books from other places as well. So you think Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth live happily ever after? Well, Paul Butler wasn’t so sure. He saw a side of Mrs. Smith that the rest of us missed. Is she really the caring, innocent widow that Anne adores, or is she just manipulating us all into thinking she is? I was curious to see what Butler had done with such a beloved classic. Plus it gave me an excuse to re-read Persuasion after almost 20 years!

One thing Butler did not do was change any of what Jane Austen wrote in Persuasion. What he did do was imagine a longer, darker ending to the novel. His story starts as Anne and Frederick become engaged, and from there he brings in characters from the lower classes; those who are all but invisible in Jane Austen’s books. A sinister plot emerges – secrets, blackmail, lies, and murder – and we fear for the happy union of our couple.

Though we will journey into capital crimes and sins of the deepest disgrace known to humankind, love, in all its variations, will remain in our sights. The neatly patterned shell of romance might overturn to reveal the dark underbelly of blackmail and desire, but still love remains. Without love we are no longer living and our story is at an end.

The story is told through the narration of four characters; Mrs. Smith, Nurse Rooke, Captain Wentworth, and Plato (a freed slave who is not seen in Austen’s Persuasion, but was very likely there nonetheless; and who better to see all that goes on than someone who goes unnoticed?).

Each of them dragged around a dungeon of their own choosing. They said that slavery was going out of fashion but it only applied to the kind of slavery recognized by law, the kind that could lead to beatings and manacles. Slavery of the mind and soul was alive and well and would remain so in this country for many years to come.

Did Naomi enjoy The Widow’s Fire? You can read the rest of her review here at Consumed by Ink.

Harbinger: Book 1 of Northern Fire by Ian H. McKinley

New Brunswick’s resident writer of fantastic realism, Ian H. McKinley, has just released Harbinger, Book 1 of his Northern Fire series. It is firmly rooted in Nordic myth and legend, a time of swords, spears, axes, bow and arrow and fearless sea raiders that pillage enemy villages along the coasts and fjords of the Northlands.

“Mr McKinley’s writing style is solid and detailed, yet pleasurable to read. He has concocted a mythopoeic story of the first rank in Harbinger.” 

Four Children of Destiny

Four children are born in the village on Darknight (the winter solstice) marking them as special and destined for greatness, according to the villagers and seers among them. Harbinger (which is the name given to an unusual sword found by one of the children) traces the lives of the four (Lars, Thay, Cairn and Lora) as they grow, learning the ways of the village and the wills of the various gods they worship. Alll learn to handle the various weapons of the day for the village being on the coast could be at the mercy of the Sea Wolves without warning. The Sea Wolves are a little bit pirate, a little bit coast guard in that while they may give protection to a village that provides them with supplies and young men to train, they raid enemy villages and cart off spoil and men to serve as slaves at the oars.

When the four become of age they are given to the Sea Wolves by their parents (some of whom are former Sea Wolves themselves) to train and to become better Fjordlanders. While the Sea Wolves are off on a raiding expedition, the four are left behind to guard the three boats. The raid goes terribly awry and a lone survivor makes it back to the four instructing them to set fire to the boats and escape for their lives:

Lars clenched his teeth, heaved in a deep breath, nodded and hissed, “Aye, I’ll light a northern fire.” An odd look crossed Lora’s face and she said, “It’ll set the world ablaze.”

The four escape in the remaining boat and this is the true start of the adventures to follow as the sea takes them far from home and brings them ashore in a place they had only ever heard of, trying to survive as strangers in a strange land with varying customs, language and a healthy fear of the “Thorn People” as Fjordlanders are known as in these parts. Their fortunes improve somewhat when they come across the outcast Elkor, a bitter and disfigured man falsely labelled by the ignorant populace as a necromancer.


I truly enjoyed reading this book, and while I am not a fan of the wizards and warriors type of fantasy, Harbinger is closer to reality, aside from the place names which are realistic enough in their own right. Mr McKinley’s writing style is solid and detailed, yet pleasurable to read. He has concocted a mythopoeic story of the first rank and one that will have you highly anticipating Book 2 of Northern Fire: The Winter Wars, due in November 2017.

You can purchase copies of Ian’s books directly from his website, which also has coloured maps of the imaginary countries of Harbinger: http://northernfire.net/

Here is the official trailer for Harbinger:

Ian is a career diplomat with Global Affairs Canada who has served abroad in Colombia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and at the Canadian Mission to the U.N. in New York. He speaks English, French, and Spanish, and can say hello in Shona and Swahili. Ian is a proud member of the Writer’s Federation of New Brunswick (wfnb.ca) and the Sunburst Award Society that promotes Canadian literature of the fantastic (sunburstaward.org). Ian was named a Prélude “Emerging Writer” at Frye Festival 2016. His previous book is The Gallows Gem of Prallyn.

This article has been Digiproved © 2016 James FisherSome Rights Reserved