Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Another Canadian Family Saga


Confession time: I suck at challenges. I like to join, but have little luck finishing them. Which is why I'm SO far behind in the 2nd Canadian Reading Challenge, there is no hope to finish! That being said, I've already done better than last year, so I guess that is some progress. I just finished Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson (374 pgs, Houghton Mifflin Books, 2000). In the grand scheme of things, since I'm not going to finish the challenge, at least I'm reading quality books!

Six crows sit in our greengage tree. Half-awake, I hear them speak to me in Haisla. La'es, they say, La'es, la'es. I push myself out of bed and go to the window, but they launch themselves upward, cawing. Morning light slants over the mountains behind the reserve. A breeze coming down the channel makes my curtains flap limply. Ripples sparkle in the shallows as a seal bobs it dark head. La'es - Go down to the bottom of the ocean.

As the story opens, Lisamarie Michelle Hill (and yes, she was named after her Uncle Mick and his love of Elvis!) is waiting with her parents on pins and needles for word of her brother, Jimmy. Jimmy took a job on a fishing boat and it has been lost at sea. Her life is told in a series of flashbacks, about growing up in Kitamaat, an Indian reservation 500 miles North of Vancouver, and homeland to the Haisla people.

Lisamarie was always the trouble maker. Dubbed "Monster" by her favorite uncle, Mick, she was outspoken, questioning, headstrong and ALWAYS in trouble. Her younger brother Jimmy was the golden child. With a natural flare for swimming, he made good grades, did what he was told, and was destined for the Olympics.

We meet her Uncle Mick, a Native Rights activist (and all around trouble-maker himself); her Ma-ma-oo, her grandmother and tradition keeper for the family; her parents, who are devoted to their children and try to infuse both the Haisla way with Western ways; and many other family members.

To delve much deeper into the story would be giving much away. But suffice it to say, this is a story that is about much more than just family ties. It's a story about a heritage that has seen the ups and downs of prejudice. It is the story of the unconditional love that being a part of a family entails. But it's also the story of Lisamarie and the visions she has. Part magical realism and part character study, Monkey Beach is a wonderfully funny, yet heart-breakingly beautiful tale. It is the story of love and loss.....and the grieving process. But it's mostly about self-discovery and how grief can affect who you become.

Lisamarie is a hard character to like. On the surface she is rough and abrasive, but underneath it all is just a scared child that you want to hug (even though you know it will earn you a punch in the chops!) Robinson did not compromise at all with this character. She is unapologetic from beginning to end, but you come to appreciate this in her. Jimmy is a sweet kid. But when he suffers his own sort of loss, he just isn't able to accept it. And as much as she claims to hate him, Lisamarie is the first one in line to help out her brother.

It's hard to review a book that is at once funny, superstitious, and take-your-breath-away sad. And I'm afraid I can not do it justice. Even if you don't appreciate the quirky characters, you should read it for the Haisla heritage and folk stories alone. My favorite being the B'gwus (Sasquatches), and the story of Jimmy trying to find one to take it's picture so the family can be rich.

Eden Robinson was nominated for the Giller Award and the Governor's General Award for Monkey Beach in 2000. I would highly recommend this book. Like I said earlier, to say more about the story would be ruining a lot of it for you, dear readers. So do yourself a favor and read it yourself! 4.5/5

13 comments:

Nymeth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nymeth said...

I have been anxiously awaiting your thoughts on this one, Stephanie! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. Your review made me want to read it again.

On a side note, I'd never seen that cover before. I love it.

Debi said...

I have to admit I sort of skipped to the end of your review because I really hope to read this real soon, but I was really excited to see that you enjoyed it so much! I'll be sure to come back and read your whole review later.

Michelle said...

I'll admit that I am intimidated to start a challenge for this very reason. I'll start one sometime.

Literary Feline said...

I am not very good at keeping up with the challenges either, Stephanie. It's sure fun thinking up the books we'll read for them in the beginning though, isn't it? ;-)

I've been wondering about this book and am so glad to see you enjoyed it. I'll have to add it to my wish list.

samantha.1020 said...

Just added this one to the TBR as it definitely sounds interesting. I hadn't heard of it but I'm off to check it out some more :)

infiniteshelf said...

I had never heard of this one, but your review convinced me! It's definitely been added to me list of books to read: I need more canadian books! :)

Kailana said...

I am determined to not bring this back to the library unread. I must get to it very soon! I was looking at it tonight, actually, but I have other commitments that come first!

Teddy Rose said...

Wonderful reveiw Sephanie! I added it to my TBR. BTW, Children's books qualify for the Canadian Book Challenge.

Joanne said...

I really love that the Canadian Challenge made me read more home-grown authors. Monkey Beach looks like a book I'd really get into - thanks for the awesome review :)

Susan said...

Ok, you have convinced me!!!! I'm going to read this now. Not sure how I missed it. How are you doing on the challenge? I've done 3/13 books. I haven't finished this challenge yet. So Monkey Beach will be for the next one, which I will join. One year I will finish this challenge!!! Fabulous review, too, Stephanie :D

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