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Book review: Life Among the Qallunaat, by Mini Aodla Freeman

cover-lifeReviewed by Marilyn Herbert

Today I’d like to highlight an Inuit author who has seen a lifetime of change in her own family and in Canada’s Inuit north. If you are not familiar with the Inuit word “qallunaat,” it literally translates as “those who pamper their eyebrows,” but figuratively refers to those who live in the south or in non-Inuit environments.

I have met and come to know many Qallunaat … and learned to be cautious with them. Some are nice and kind, but none want to see or understand my Native culture. Some don’t want to know, some don’t have time, some try but find it too deep to understand or accept. They all want to cover it up with their own ways. They always want me to be different, a novelty, and they refuse to see that I am a plain human being with feelings, aches, hatred, the desire to cheat, lie, love, adore, understanding, kindness, humanity, pain, joy, happiness, gratitude, and all the other things that every other being was capable of having, doing, thinking and acting. (p.219, 220)

Mini Aodla Freeman was born in 1936 in Canada’s north, in James Bay. Her memoir Life Among the Qallunaat, first published in 1978, is a glimpse into her life as an Inuk child within a hunting family. But it is bigger than that: It compares and contrasts her rural life with the urban life of Canada’s south.

Aodla Freeman and her family lived on the land, hunting and fishing and moving from winter lands to their summer lands. They were familiar with the Native Cree tribes and dealt with the Hudson’s Bay Company. She grew up in tents and was in for a major culture shock when she came to southern Ontario for the first time.

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Book review: The Mountain Story, by Lori Lansens

Reviewed by Marilyn Herbert

Mountain StoryMountain climbing and hiking are not for the faint of heart, yet Lori Lansens (author of The Girls) has given us an amazing story to experience vicariously in her novel The Mountain Story. The book’s cover says: “Five days. Four lost hikers. Three survivors.” From the beginning, there are pressing questions.

Wolf Truly is 18 years old when he takes what he believes is his last tram ride up to the mountain located at the edge of the California desert. Once there, he intends to hike to a spot at Secret Lake to take his life. His objective is diverted by first two, then three women who hope to head to the same location, but need his help to get there.

Nola and Bridget decide that Wolf is a mountain guide and offer him money, which he refuses and he resolutely heads off into the bush. Hearing his name in the wind, he turns just in time to see the two women heading off in the wrong direction.

Poor Wolf. Soon afterwards, the third woman, Vonn, catches up to them — there is a swarm of bees, a beetle-infested log, confusion, and nervousness at having to spend a night on the mountain. In trying to clear a sleeping spot, they fell, “lost in the kaleidoscope of rocks and ochre dust and manzanita and sage, conveyed by round, rushing boulders, and silt, and brush, hitting the ground with a thud.”

In an instant, they have fallen down a steep wall at the edge of a cliff overlooking Palm Springs — so near, yet so far. Despite the California location, the weather at the top is extremely cold. Nola has a broken wrist, Bridget is dressed as a yoga instructor and Vonn is wearing green flip-flops. Wolf feels responsible for their well-being and their hopeful rescue.

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Book review: Living Legacies (Volume V), by Liz Pearl

Reviewed by Marilyn Herbert

 LivingLegaciesVThe newest collection of Liz Pearl’s stories — Living Legacies: A Collection of Narratives by Contemporary Canadian Jewish Women (Volume V) — is a welcome addition to the series. As Pearl assembles the thoughts of women in each volume, new ideas and connections emerge.

As Pearl herself admits, she is in her 50s — midway through her life’s journey. With each publication, more of Pearl is revealed to herself and to each of her readers. The usual familiar topics are present: food, tikkun olam, education, family, identity, love, and loyalty. They are bound up with the ribbons of tradition and community. They show a strong bond between the generations and promote one of Judaism’s most loved values — l’dor v’dor — the giving from one generation to the next.

Whether it is blintzes or knishes, everyone’s favourite time is sharing food with friends and family. There are traditional foods eaten at holiday times or for Shabbat, and there are traditional foods that come from a variety of geographical locations. After all, the Jews have been scattered over the globe for centuries and have picked up great culinary tips. These food ideas have been passed down from mother to daughter to granddaughter and will hopefully continue.

Sara Aharon had an aversion to all of her mother’s home-cooked meals, but loved the blintzes that she helped make. These “thin, smooth, white and velvety flat cakes filled with sweet or savoury fillings” kick-started her interest in other foods. When she had children of her own, she enjoyed seeing their interest and love of food, and of course, the one thing she took from her own mother was the making of blintzes with her children as assistants. Blintzes have “become part of our family lore.”

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Book review: The Circle, by Dave Eggers

Reviewed by Aaron Kreuter

When Mae Holland, the protagonist in Dave Eggers’ newest novel, The Circle, is given the opportunity to work at the Circle, the internet and technology company that has replaced Google and Facebook, she is thrilled. Instead of working the dead-end job at her hometown’s power company, she gets to be a part of the company that has revolutionized the internet through TruYou, a program that amalgamates all of your online identities and makes identity theft and anonymity a thing of the past. If it wasn’t for Annie, her college roommate who rose fast through the company ranks and got Mae the job, she wouldn’t be here: “A million people, a billion, wanted be where Mae was at this moment, entering this atrium, thirty feet high and shot through with California light, on her first day working for the only company that really mattered at all.”

The Circle opens with Mae’s first day in her new position in ‘customer experience,’ and she is filled with hope and excitement. And at first it does seem like a dream job: the campus is full of beautiful architecture, sports facilities, cooking classes, musicians-in-residence, almost nightly themed celebrations. The food in the cafeteria is free; everybody is happy; and the health care, which Mae is able to get her MS-suffering dad enrolled in, is excellent.

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