Holy War: Cowboys, Indians, and 9/11s
University of Regina Press / 8 November 2017

Holy War: Cowboys, Indians, and 9/11s by Mark Cronlund Anderson Published by University of Regina Press Review by Kris Brandhagen $27.95 ISBN 9780889774148 In his academic book, Holy War: Cowboys, Indians, and 9/11s, Mark Cronlund Anderson states that “the 9/11 event and the response to it, collectively the ‘9/11 story,’ are as old as the nation that was born fighting Native Americans.” He is uniquely positioned to take on this bold claim because of the vast extent of research used to back up his claims, and because he is an insider/outsider, being American born, but living in Canada. He asserts that “the media’s 9/11 story also derives from a deep mythical precedent: America’s frontier narrative. Its creation story. It serves up a contemporary retelling of America’s creation myth and serves the invaluable and necessary function of ritual symbolic rebirth.” It follows that school textbooks, the press, and popular culture have solidified the myth by repetition since the frontier wars. Anderson writes, “Americans have claimed divine succor and sanction for 400 years. Accordingly, the nation assumes the right to strike at its enemies with extreme force because the right of self-defense is embraced as timeless and universal.” He further states that…

Decolonizing Poetics of Indigenous Literature, The

The Decolonizing Poetics of Indigenous Literatures by Mareike Neuhaus Published by University of Regina Press Review by Kris Brandhagen $29.95 ISBN 9780889773905 The highly readable academic text The Decolonizing Poetics of Indigenous Literatures by Mareike Neuhaus is meant as a “handbook or manual designed to teach holophrastic reading so that readers may apply this method in their own approaches to Indigenous writing.” Neuhaus thinks of Indigenous poetics “primarily as a way of making sense of Indigenous expressions, as a set of tools that readers may use when they read Indigenous texts.” According to Neuhaus, “Indigenous storytellers working in their ancestral languages may express and event and its participants using a single word.” This is called a holophrase. “Holophrastic reading, on the other hand, is concerned with reading for holophrastic influences in English-language texts by Indigenous storytellers and writers.” Her aim is to guide readers in understanding how “Indigenous literatures grow out of different realities than do Anglo-American literatures.” Oftentimes Indigenous authors record stories with their community as their intended audience, as such, their adherence to standard English is not always the intention. In terms of structure, this book is very well laid out, and surprisingly transparent in its uses. The…

Knowledge Seeker: Embracing Indigenous Spirituality

The Knowledge Seeker: Embracing Indigenous Spirituality by Blair Stonechild Published by University of Regina Press Review by Kris Brandhagen $32.95 ISBN 9780889774179 Blair Stonechild’s background, experience, the extent of his research, and the careful attention with which he presents the ideas make his latest book, The Knowledge Seeker: Embracing Indigenous Spirituality, an important contribution to knowledge. He has been highly involved in talking with elders to compile their oral knowledge; Stonechild summarizes the ideas of the elders, then comments on the ideas presented using his own spare conversational tone. While I am not from an Indigenous culture, community, or spirituality, reading this book allowed me a greater understanding of life, its stages, and its challenges. On an intellectual level, this is the most believable book about spirituality that I have ever read. This is an academic book, not a spiritual text in itself, but it does outline some very basic concepts that I find highly believable, and simple enough to inform understanding and even day to day living. It is not my place to summarize the ideas contained in this book, but I can present some of the basic concepts that I find particularly stimulating: that each person is a…

Burning In This Midnight Dream
Coteau Books / 19 August 2016

Burning in this Midnight Dream by Louise Bernice Halfe Published by Coteau Books Review by Kris Brandhagen $16.95 9781550506655 Burning in this Midnight Dream by Louise Bernice Halfe is a book of poetry contrasted by photographs, centered around the Truth and Reconciliation process. In her preamble, Halfe states that the book is intended to “share more of that truth. Think of all the children, and weep. Children fed to pedophile priests and nuns. Children whipped and starved. Families and communities destroyed […] courtesy of the Canadian government. Courtesy of the Canadian public.” Halfe bravely records her memories, of being at residential school, the effect it had on herself and others, and how those experiences have stained life afterward. She struggles between reluctance and desire to share her knowledge. In the acknowledgements, she writes, “I would not have written this story if it wasn’t for the interest of my children […] and my need to describe a history that remains present.” The poems recoil through time and space, comprising a glimpse as opposed to a complete narrative. “I know this landslide / is hard to bear. I’ve pulled the stink weeds for you / to ingest.” Halfe includes her own trepidations,…

Small Displays of Chaos
Coteau Books / 4 August 2016

Small Displays of Chaos by Breanna Fischer Published by Coteau Books Review by Kris Brandhagen $12.95 9781550506617 Breanna Fischer’s book Small Displays of Chaos is about a girl from Saskatoon SK who develops an eating disorder during her last two years of high school. The main character, Rayanne Timko, assigns herself a fitness goal as part of a grade ten gym class project. She likes this because tracking calories appeals to her. In the beginning, her goal is “eat healthier, exercise more.” She earns the highest score for the assignment, but when it is over, she doesn’t want to stop. Fischer really gets inside the head of her character, juxtaposing action with stark, confessional journal entries. “Today I will count. Today I will starve. I will turn into myself like an imploding star. Just like yesterday.” As her obsession turns into addiction, she becomes her eating disorder. Without it, she doesn’t know who she is. The main focus of the book is what happens in Rayanne’s mind as she starves herself, developing visual, auditory, and tactile hallucinations of Edie (this could be a pun on ED, or eating disorder), taunting, pushing, and demanding that she lose more weight. When her…

Rogues and Rebels

Rogues and Rebels: Unforgettable Characters from Canada’s West by Brian Brennan Published by University of Regina Press Review by Kris Brandhagen $24.95 9780889773981 Rogues and Rebels: Unforgettable Characters from Canada’s West by Brian Brennan provides a survey of some famous, notorious, and little known people who contributed to Canadian history. In Brennan’s profile of Margaret “Ma” Murray (1888-1982), the reader can tell that he is pleased with his subject. As a young lady, Margaret did the books for a saddle company in Kansas City, where she “amused herself by including personal notes with the saddles being shipped to Alberta.” When “some of the cowboys replied and sent photographs of themselves,” she moved to Canada “in hopes of meeting and marrying a handsome cowboy of mythic proportions.” She took a bookkeeping job with a Vancouver newspaper where she met her future husband, the owner of the newspaper. Together they started the Bridge River-Lillooet News, where she “churned out the provocative opinion columns that would become her trademark. Written in what she liked to call ‘flapdoodle vernacular,’ they were sprinkled with such salty expressions as ‘damfool critters’ and ‘that’s fer damshur.’” Brennan’s biography of Ma Murray is insightful and witty, reflecting her…

Fists Upon a Star, Softcover

Fists Upon a Star: A Memoir of Love, Theatre, and Escape from McCarthyism by Florence Bean James with Jean Freeman Published by University of Regina Press Review by Kris Brandhagen $27.95 9780889774070 Fists Upon a Star is the memoir of a determined theatre director, Florence Bean James. It also chronicles the history of her theatre, the Seattle Repertory Playhouse. The book begins with the opening of the Playhouse, establishing a frank and journalistic voice. James establishes a sense of foreboding through the use of elegant foreshadowing right from the beginning. The reader already knows from the cover of the book that the Great Depression and McCarthyism would enter into the narrative at some point. She increases the suspense by backtracking to her upbringing and education. James decides to follow her teacher’s footsteps and pursue a post secondary education in Boston–quite a thing for a woman born in 1892 in Pocatello, Idaho. It was at Emerson College where she met her husband Burton James. Since they became such a dynamic duo, always working together, it is also difficult to separate her husband from her memoir, for the most part it is a memoir of them and their work. Surprisingly, the James’…

The Education of Augie Merasty
University of Regina Press / 22 January 2016

The Education of Augie Merasty by Joseph Auguste Merasty with David Carpenter Published by University of Regina Press Review by Kris Brandhagen $21.95 978-0-88977-368-4 The creation of The Education of Augie Merasty, by Joseph Auguste Merasty with David Carpenter, which describes Merasty’s experience at St. Therese Residential School in Sturgeon Landing Saskatchewan between 1935 and 1944, from the age of five to fourteen, was a labour of tenderness and patience. From the point of Carpenter receiving a forwarded letter in spring of 2001 asking for professional assistance to the completion of the book, the endeavour took over thirteen years. Carpenter took no less than five trips from Saskatoon to Prince Albert to “run down” the elusive memoirist to finally sign the publication contract. Carpenter writes: “by telling the stories of others and connecting them to his own experience, Merasty broadened his range of inquiry, and […] the implications of his sometimes horrific story, a story in which our entire nation is darkly and obscurely complicit.” Whether readers like it or not, untold numbers of people were treated in a dehumanising way at the residential schools. Merasty does not get mired in recounting every small injustice (as if such things can…

Northern Trader
University of Regina Press / 10 December 2015

Northern Trader: The Last Days of the Fur Trade by H. S. M. Kemp Published by University of Regina Press Review by Kris Brandhagen $27.95 9780889773165 Originally published in the 1950s, Northern Trader: The Last Days of the Fur Trade by H.S.M. Kemp is a memoir that begins in 1908 with Harold Kemp in his teens making the trip to Lac La Ronge to ask for a job with the Hudson Bay Company. With romantic thoughts in his mind about what it might be like to be a “company man,” he encountered frozen lakes that made canoe travel out of the question, necessitating a hard suffering walking trip. Unaccustomed to moccasins and snowshoes, under advisement of his native guide, he rubbed bacon grease on his feet every night, and finally reverted back to his patent leather shoes in favor of their hard soles. To travel the northern elements, with cracked feet, in search of a job seems surprising, but that’s how Kemp did it. Northern Trader is written in a very accessible style by a white Prince Albert man originally from England. Through his stories the reader learns that he is no ordinary “company man” in that he prefers to…

Human on the Inside
University of Regina Press / 20 October 2015

Human on the Inside: Unlocking the Truth About Canada’s Prisons by Gary Garrison Published by University of Regina Press Review by Kris Brandhagen $29.95 ISBN 9780889773769 Gary Garrison’s book Human on the Inside: Unlocking the Truth About Canada’s Prisons is a work of nonfiction that expounds upon different aspects of the prison system in Alberta, with some references to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Garrison was a volunteer (and subsequently a coordinator) of a program called M2W2 which places volunteer visitors with prisoners of the same gender. Garrison’s position “as a person with a community agency” is to be impartial, supporting convicts, guards, police, chaplains, native elders, victims, and potential future victims. From this point of view, he must let the reader know where he comes from, what he believes, and where he stands; therefore, in actuality, much of this book is, selflessly, and earnestly, about him. Initially I thought that the book was going to go into gory detail about crime, but that’s not the bent here. There are few crimes that are actually briefly described within these pages. Garrison’s focus is not on the crimes themselves so much as the people involved, how they are affected, and how they go forward in life….