Leanne Simpson, Islands of Decolonial Love

I'll let Lee Maracle have the first word here about Leanne Simpson's collection Islands of Decolonial Love, which Maracle blurbs: this "is the sort of book [she has] been looking for all [her] life."

One reason for this, is that this isn't a readily accessible book if you don't have the secret handshake, and Maracle has it. Marilyn Dumont, a terrific writer herself, has some advice for the less connected:
"Some readers may take exception to Simpson's unconventional approach to story structure, characterization, and European literary aesthetic, but her use of Indigenous rhetoric when working in the English language exposes the power imbalance inherent in the colonizing effects of English, which undermined our stories as legend and our songs as entertainment. Through her moving stories and credible characters, Simpson reasserts and honours Indigenous forms of expression."
In other words, this isn't standard CanLit, and its relations to works produced from within a broadly European literary tradition aren't overly recognizable. More specifically, the book's tissue of references and allusions, that foundation underlying every text's identity, have everything to do with Anishinaabe culture, with settler Canadian culture visible only as caricature, only rarely, and generally either ignorant or villainous. Settler readers have to get over themselves if they're going to enjoy a book like this, but if they don't know the references, good intentions won't take them very far.

And so I'm not able to say very much about this book. When it comes to reading Indigenous story, nothing good comes from faking it.

Having said that, I thought "she told him 10 000 years of everything" was stunning, this very short story about recognizing yourself in someone else, feeling immediately that all of history has led to this one moment. These people are meeting for the first time, but they're also ancient individuals, as ancient as Anishinaabe culture, wandering mostly alone among settlers, and so the intensity even of just their conversation highlights the poverty of romantic writing. Or maybe it illuminates just how deeply we're missing such intensity in our lives? Either way, this aren't characters whose lives we can simply imagine our way into. It's phenomenal writing, in every sense.

Some other highlights for me were "binesiwag," "this beautiful disaster," and "jiimaanag," but one of the greatest things about this book is simply that you can listen to Leanne Simpson perform parts of it. This is story that you need to engage with, and that without compromising, is prepared for you to engage. Remarkable, remarkable stuff!


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