Cree: Words
Canadian Plains Research Center / 29 February 2012

“Cree: Words” / “nēhiýawēwin: itwēwina Compiled by Arok Wolvengrey Published by Canadian Plains Research Center Reviewed by Chris Ewing-Weisz $49.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-127-7 Words tell how people see the world. Not just by the things they’re used to say: words themselves, their history, the way they’re formed, the rules governing their use, speak volumes about the culture in which they originate. That’s one of the things that makes Arok Wolvengrey’s Cree: Words so worthwhile. Its two volumes document the Cree language (primarily Plains Cree) as used by fluent speakers across Western Canada. Although its main function, as a bilingual dictionary, is to help speakers of English and Cree find the right word in each other’s language, it also provides a window into the strikingly different cultural assumptions that first met on this continent several hundred years ago. The idea that the world is a web of relationships is embedded in every word a Cree speaker utters. To choose the right word you must think about whether your subject is animate (alive) or not. Some words, like those for family members, do not stand alone, but must be described in relation to someone else. You also have to consider whether the object…

Getting to Know Saskatchewan Lichens
Nature Saskatchewan / 29 February 2012

Getting to Know Saskatchewan Lichens by Bernard de Vries Published by Nature Saskatchewan Review by Sandy Bonny $ 19.95 ISBN-978-0-921104-26-1   Working between the fields of geology, biology and naturalist fiction, I have spent a lot of time with field guides. These books are tools—a prompt to explore and a means to identify those subtle components of our natural environments that we so commonly overlook. Every now and then a guide appears that bests the beauty of its utility and brings its subject forwards as literature. “Getting to Know Saskatchewan Lichens” is a refreshingly good read—an introductory guide that effuses esteem for the patience and hardiness of its subjects.                  Author Dr. Bernard de Vries is one of Canada’s foremost lichen experts and an enthusiastic advocate for the protection of rare lichen species. “Getting to Know Saskatchewan Lichens” has been complied as a tribute to de Vries’ favorite flora and, with his broad experiences in public science education (as a teacher, university lecturer and botanical museum curator), novice naturalists are in skilled hands. Growing as symbioses of photosynthetic microbes and fungi, lichen work nutrients from wood, soil or stone, and draw water from the air. The guide’s introduction provides an…

The Ditch Was Lit Like This
Thistledown Press / 29 February 2012

The Ditch Was Lit Like This by Sean Johnston Published by Thistledown Press Review by Kris Brandhagen $17.95 CAD 978-1-897235-94-2 Right from the beginning, I could glean that The Ditch Was Lit Like This by Sean Johnston is about those in-between times when we are focused on getting wherever it is we are going, and about what we leave behind, as well as what we lose altogether. The first poem ends with the apt question, “Are you ready?” Figuring that I was, I eagerly turned the page. This poet associates night with travel; even when at home, stationary, the night is a journey. What I really like about this book is that there seem to be poems within poems. And what is refreshing is that Johnston addresses the problem of language. These pages are complex and beautiful, exploring binary concepts like joy/discomfort. The strongest point of this body of poems is how Johnston includes the reader on the journey, exploring the more delicate and philosophical points of family, and romance: “…the response is either love returned or love withheld—that is, of course, if something has been risked, and the real invitation is this: birth, eyes that behold beauty, hearts that…

Nothing Sacred
Thistledown Press / 29 February 2012

Nothing Sacred by Lori Hahnel Published by Thistledown Press Review by Andréa Ledding $16.95 ISBN 978-1-897235-63-8 Lori Hahnel’s collection of 21 short stories, including the title piece “Nothing Sacred”, skillfully navigates through a working woman, city-gritty, dust devil tour of life rooted in the Canadian prairies and western foothills. Hahnel populates the pages with believable and provocative characters and situations with a strong sense of place, grounded solidly in the exceptional everyday. She questions and probes societal norms, values, and conventions with perception, humour, and sensitivity. Her language is direct and simple; she is a master at the art of “showing, not telling”. The alternating perspectives of mother and daughter in “The Least She Could Do” demonstrate this knack, or the complex depths of loss in the simple statement of a character in “Blue Lake”: “The body must have a memory of its own. I remember things about you I didn’t know I’d forgotten.” Her cast of dozens, almost exclusively female leads speaking in the first person, act as both personal tour guide and societal magnifying glass: examining relationships, roles, and institutions. Each story is an encounter where connections are made, secrets are shared, and insights sparkle out in an…

A Large Harmonium
Coteau Books / 29 February 2012

A Large Harmonium by Sue Sorensen Published by Coteau Books Review by Michelle Shaw $19.95 ISBN 9781550504606 Sue Sorensen’s debut novel introduces us to forty-two year old English lecturer Janey as she navigates her way through life as a mother, wife and academic. Janey, aka Dr Janet Erlicksen, is deeply in love with her music lecturer husband, the sexy Hector, and frequently bewildered by her adored toddler, the strong-willed Little Max. Although she’s fairly proficient at juggling the demands of the academic year, less academic pursuits have a disconcerting habit of distracting her, such as the urge to write a murder mystery with her mother-in-law as the victim when she should instead be deciding on a viable research topic. Sorensen deftly introduces us to the multi-faceted characters that fill Janey’s world including Hector’s best friend Jam, a charming French horn virtuoso who travels around Canada playing with various brass quartets and sleeping with women in all ten provinces… he’s still working on the territories. Then there’s the grim Beatrice Haight, one of Janey’s fellow lecturers, who is organizing a conference on twenty-first century notions of decadence (the thought sends Janey into gales of laughter) and the “fabulous” Blanche Grimm, a…

Nobody Cries at Bingo
Thistledown Press / 29 February 2012

In Nobody Cries at Bingo Dawn Dumont shows us the ups and down of life on a Saskatchewan reserve. I came to this book not knowing much about life on the Rez, hoping to learn. But after reading Dumont’s stories about a prairie girl who loves to read, I realized that I’d come to understand more about our similarities than our differences.

The Knife Sharpener’s Bell
Coteau Books / 29 February 2012

The Knife Sharpener’s Bell by Rhea Tregebov Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $21.00 ISBN 978-1-55050-408-8 Recommendation: if you buy The Knife Sharpener’s Bell, by Saskatchewan-born writer Rhea Tregebov, budget your time accordingly, because you’ll not be able to put this gripping historical novel down. Where to begin? The plot? The story starts in Winnipeg, 1935, with the narrator, Annette, age nine, reluctantly seeing her idealist father off at the train station. He’s returning to Russia, the homeland, because he sees capitalism failing in the west amid the chaos of the Great Depression, and he believes “a planned economy” is “the only rational approach;” because it’ll make his shrewish wife happy; and because the Soviet Union is “a good place for the Jews.” After the visit, he’s convinced that his family must make their home in the east. Once back in Europe, however, the parents stay in Odessa and Annette and brother Ben continue to Moscow, where it’s safer. Except it isn’t. Or perhaps I should speak of the writing: Tregebov’s novel is literature. When she paints the scene of Annette in the middle of a war zone, among a river of people trying to get to…

Racing Home
Coteau Books / 29 February 2012

Racing Home By Adele Dueck Published by Coteau Books Reviewed by Jessica Eissfeldt Price $8.95 ISBN: 978-1-55050-450-7 Author Adele Dueck skillfully weaves Norwegian culture and heritage into this coming-of-age story set during the Prairie pioneer days near Hanley, Saskatchewan. Intertwining the soul of the Prairies with the determination of thirteen-year-old Erik Bekker, this tale clearly shows how the human spirit prevails. Arriving from Norway, Erik at first is disappointed in the new province. No tall trees, no mountains and no ocean. Worse yet, he sees no way to get to his goal of becoming a farmer like his grandfather. And with a new stepfather named Rolf, Erik wonders how he can possibly adjust. But adjust he does. He even grows to appreciate the prairie beauty while he learns to build a sod house, thresh wheat and build a fence. He even plants trees. But just as he’s settling in to his new prairie life, his half-brother Olaf seems to become more and more mysterious – slipping away at odd hours and having little to do with his father, Rolf, Erik’s stepfather. Though it’s a tale of true pioneering spirit aimed at middle-grade readers, children of all ages are sure to…

Bone Coulee
Coteau Books / 29 February 2012

Bone Coulee: a Novel by Larry Warwaruk Published by Coteau Books Review by Leeann Minogue $19.95 ISBN-13: 9781550504590 The plot of Larry Warwaruk’s Bone Coulee centers on a heinous crime committed more than sixty years ago. Mac Chorniak, a retired farmer with a passion for Ukrainian poetry, is still haunted by the senseless crime he and his friends committed against a young First Nations athlete when they were teenagers. There was no punishment at the time, but Chorniak can’t forget the senseless violence. He doesn’t know that the First Nations woman who’s moved into the house next door was part of the same incident, and has a score to settle. Throughout the novel, history grates on the present as characters try to decide what should be celebrated and what should be forgotten. The small-town residents stage a celebration to commemorate an old-time wagon trail, but also witness the destruction of the town’s last standing grain elevator. Landowners near Bone Coulee hunt for native arrowheads and display them in their basements, but have few personal relationships with real-life First Nations people. A young First Nations woman whose mother was sent to residential school learns her people’s traditions at university. As well…

Rear-View Mirror
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 22 February 2012

Rear-View Mirror by Eleanor Moline Sinclair Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by William Wardill $19.95 ISBN 978-1-894431-64-4 Eleanor Moline Sinclair isn’t a social historian. Instead, she is a keen observer of history as she has lived it. In a memoir written for grandchildren who were living in Taiwan at the time, she identifies herself as the daughter of Swedish and German immigrants, the eighth in a family of ten children, student, nurse, farmer’s wife, and mother. Her slice of history begins with what she knows of her grandparents and continues with the stages of her own life to 2010, when, although more comfortable with a simpler lifestyle, she makes use of the products of technology’s headlong race. Sinclair is not an academic making clinical conclusions. She has been, and still is, a participant. Her colloquial account is touched by love and tinged with longing. In the Epilogue, she writes ( for her grandchildren): “Survival, rigour, grit and determination brought us to what and where we are today. Life has dictated that. But we won’t be going back …Grandpa Mac and I Grammy El, are 70 years old now, and hope that reading this story will provide you with…