Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Thomas King, "The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America" (2013)

At times humorous, at times bitter, King's exploration of the history of indigenous North American's struggle to co-exist with European settlers up to the 21st-century is concurrently pleasurable and disturbing read.

More to follow.

James DeMille, "A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder" (1888)

De Mille is a Canadian classical historian, teacher, and perhaps most famously, a fiction author who focused particularly on adventure stories. His biography is available at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

This particular story of De Mille's is enjoyable, although sometimes seems a bit heavy compared to contemporary work. Essentially, the plot of A Strange Manuscript... runs thusly: A seagoing ship of educated and leisured men - prone to rather annoying preaching and showy displays of arcane knowledge - discovers a copper cylinder in which is sealed a lengthy manuscript detailing a fantastical story of a man's adventure in a previously undiscovered region of the world that seems to be hidden somewhere in the vicinity of the South Pole. The narrative of the manuscript is occasionally interrupted by the crew of men debating the merits of the story, the veracity of the tale, and the perspective of the storyteller.

The story within the discovered narrative offers an intriguing critique of capitalist society, and the morals such a system is based on. The lost seaman, who is at first adrift with a shipmate, encounters adversities posed by nature - from storms to volcanoes - as well as hostile indigenous peoples who seem bent on eating him and his partner. Only one escapes these pursuers, and ends up in a verdant, productive society hidden within a ring of mountains at the South Pole. The society operates according to values completely contrary to those that seem to operate in the rest of the world, however, idealizing poverty, death, suffering, and servitude as the greatest good for all individuals and society as a whole. Within this world, the paupers, the jailed, those about to be sacrificed are the highest figures, and those to be punished are the wealthy, the selfish, and those who live in the sunlight. Unsurprisingly, our discoverer/narrator struggles to learn about and understand this society, falls in love, confuses his hosts, and seeks to arrange his escape from their overly helpful hands that aim to do him the highest honour of sacrifice and cannibalism.

The entirety of the story can be read and/or downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg.

Friday, 15 November 2013

John Clearwater, "Canada's Nuclear Weapons" (1998)

Subtitle: "The Untold Story of Canada's Cold War Weapons."

More to follow.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Mary Janigan, "Let the Eastern Bastards Freeze in the Dark" (2013)

The subtitle of this book is: "The West versus the rest since Confederation."

The "West" Janigan refers to here is essentially Canada west of Kenora, and south of Great Slave Lake. This history she tells, somewhat surprisingly, does not focus on the National Energy Plan, or even the resource control crisis of the 1970s. What she narrates is the lesser-known foundation for these two conflicts: the struggle between the federal and Western provincial governments over with whom should reside the right to control (and ideally to benefit from) the natural resources within the provinces' boundaries.

Janigan's narrative begins with the Metis rebellions of the 1870s and 1880s, which essentially led to Manitoba's creation and entry into Confederation, and closes with the 1930 Constitutional amendments that granted resource control to Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. Discussion of the 1970s and 1980s conflicts is included as a rather brief epilogue.

She has managed to weave a compelling story, tying together long-overlooked or under-studied events. She pays due attention to archival documents, publicly available information as well as personal correspondence. She creates a fulsome sense of the persons involved, with consideration for their professional and individual personal lives. Unfortunately, this degree of detail sometimes drives the momentum of the story - a story that due to its often legalistic intricacy is prone to lose readers anyway - off into unproductive and questionably helpful lay-bys. For instance, discussion of the travails of settlers learning to build sod houses is no doubt interesting, and provides some context for Western development, but is hard to fit against the intricate and looping to-and-fro of federal-provincial policy negotiations.

Additionally, the book would have greatly benefitted from a closer connection between what was presented as the critical 1918 Dominion-provincial conference, the 1930 Constitutional amendment, and the conflicts of the 1970s and 1980s. I think that the author's intention was likely to focus on the first two, but the addition of the latter was included in part as a means to "sexy up" the book for a wider audience. If this was the case, more was needed for the discussion to not come across as an afterthought. Given the importance of Janigan's story for rethinking the more recent conflicts, the book seems to have missed a really important opportunity.