Generations of First Nations in Canada have suffered a history of unthinkable trauma and hardship in the aftermath of European settlement, prompting ongoing attempts at healing and reconciliation. Lee Maracle’s new novel, a work of painful truths and fragile hopes, is the bittersweet story of Celia James’s family, living in a village in Nuu’chalnulth territory in southwestern British Columbia. Narrated by Mink, a shape-shifter, the novel illuminates the harrowing past of Celia’s people and centres on a moment of crisis when one of the village’s youngest residents is brutalized by a member of the community.
Celia first appeared (along with several other characters) in Maracle’s 1993 novel Ravensong as a young seer drifting on the margins of her family. Now a grown woman, she continues to experience strange visions and dreams that distance her from her loved ones – especially her mother, with whom she longs to connect. When five-year-old Shelley, the granddaughter of Celia’s cousin, is attacked and nearly killed, Celia is compelled to find her voice and inner focus, and to reclaim her place in the family circle alongside the other women who assume Shelley’s care. As the village members come together to heal the little girl and her alcoholic, derelict mother, and to deal with the man – a victim himself – who perpetrated the crime, they take strength from their beliefs and deep love for one other.
In gentle yet powerful prose, Maracle underscores the horrifying impact of the Residential School System, the ongoing problem of suicide, and the loss of tradition that continue to plague First Nations communities. She also suggests that alongside death and destruction there is hope for new beginnings. An unexpected child’s birth, a prescient young man’s declaration of renewed conviction, the resurrection of Celia’s ancestral longhouse, and a committed relationship between Celia’s sister and a doctor from “white town” represent opportunities for the village to move forward while also redeeming something inviolable from the past.