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In Fond Remembrance of Me: A Memoir of Myth…

In Fond Remembrance of Me: A Memoir of Myth and Uncommon Friendship in the…

by Howard Norman

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This is a tidy little memoir that covers only a couple months of the author's life. In 1977, Howard Norman went to Churchill, Manitoba, to record and translate Inuit folk tales told by an elder, Mark Nuqac. Norman had only a rudimentary grasp of the Inuit language or the methods of gathering folktales, and to complicate matters he and Mr. Nuqac never quite hit it off. His saving grace, however, was the presence of a woman who was engaged to do basically the same project, collecting Mr. Nuqac's stories and translating them into Japanese. Mr. Nuqac not only liked Helen, he was entranced with her; she was older, more experienced and just plain better at what she was doing than Norman. She was also terminally ill and determined not to give an inch to her "goddammed disease" until absolutely necessary. In spite of what Norman described as a "difficult friendship" he and Helen Tanizaki became close enough that she asked him to disburse her ashes among the sea birds off Cape Freels, Newfoundland, after she had gone home to Japan to die. Norman's memories of his time in Churchill are interspersed with 11 of Mr. Nuqac's "Noah stories", all variations on a theme that has an almost Cosby-ish feel to it. Noah's ark drifts into Hudson Bay just as winter is coming on, and there it sits, frozen in the ice, an object of intense curiosity to the native people. A typical exchange goes like this:

Villager: Hey, you up there? What's your name?
Noah: Noah.
Villager: What do you call this boat?
Noah: It's an ark.
Villager: What's that awful smell?
Noah: I have a lot of animals below decks.
Villager: Well, push some of them out here. We need the meat. We'll take you to our village and keep you safe through the winter.
Noah: No.
Villager: What do these animals taste like?
Noah: We don't eat them.
Villager: Well let us tear some boards off your ark for a fire.
Noah: No.
Villager: Do you know winter is coming? That means a lot of cold. A lot of snow. A lot of wind. You and your family should come with us. We'll keep you warm and teach you to hunt seals and to fish through the ice.
Noah: No. We'll stay here on the ark.

Oddly enough, reading eleven different versions of this story did not get monotonous. The memoir portion of the book was moving without being sentimental or maudlin. An odd little volume that I'm very glad to have read.
Review written in 2010 ( )
  laytonwoman3rd | Jun 26, 2015 |
This was an interesting look at an Inuit culture and their retelling of the Noah story set in the Arctic. I liked how Norman reflected on his conversations with Helen and her maintaining a sense of dignity in spite of adversity. ( )
  krin5292 | Apr 8, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0865476802, Hardcover)

Howard Norman spent the fall of 1977 in Churchill, Manitoba, translating into English two dozen "Noah stories" told to him by an Inuit elder. The folktales reveal what happened when the biblical Noah sailed his Ark into Hudson Bay in search of woolly mammoths and lost his way. By turns startling, tragic, and comical, these inimitable narratives tell the history of the Arctic and capture the collision of cultures precipitated by the arrival of a hapless stranger in a strange land.

Norman himself was then a stranger in a strange land, but he was not alone. In Churchill he encountered Helen Tanizaki, an Anglo-Japanese woman embarked on a similar project--to translate the tales into Japanese. An extraordinary linguist and an exact and compelling friend, Tanizaki became Norman's guide through the characters, stories, and customs he was coming to know, and a remarkable intimacy sprang up between them--all the more intense because it was to be fleeting; Tanizaki was fatally ill.

Through a series of overlapping panels of reality and memory, Norman recaptures with vivid immediacy a brief but life-shifting encounter and the earthy, robust stories that occasioned it.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:52 -0400)

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The author recalls his experiences among the Inuit of Alaska as he attempted to record and translate their "flood" narratives into English, working with an Anglo-Japanese woman who had come to Alaska independently to accomplish the same task.

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