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Sanaaq: An Inuit Novel (Contemporary Studies…
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Sanaaq: An Inuit Novel (Contemporary Studies of the North)

by Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk

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Wesleyan missionaries created syllabics to advance the conversion of Canadian Cree, who had no writing system of their own. Eventually this syllabic alphabet was adapted to the Inuit language of the territory now known as Nunavut. Nappaaluk was a well-respected, admired resident of the area who was asked to assist in creating an Inuit/French dictionary in the 1930s. Father Robert Lechat provided her with notebooks and asked her to write some sentences and terms from daily life when she had some free time. Obviously Nappaaluk found this boring, and instead she created a fictional community of Inuit families with Sanaaq, a young mother, as the main character, possibly a self-portrait. The translation to French was a lengthy process, and although it was published in Inuktitut syllabics in 1984, it was not until 2002 that the French translation was published. It was translated to English in 2014 by Peter Frost. For someone who had never read a novel, never read anything in fact, Nappaaluk's book is enthralling. Nappaaluk earned an honorary PhD from McGill University in 2000 for helping advance the teaching of the Inuit language and culture.

The day-to-day Inuit life that Nappaaluk portrays is unfeigned, and clearly describes the difficulties of living in the Arctic. The writing style is almost childlike in its simplicity, covering disastrous occurrences such as the death of a young person, or accidentally losing an eye, in the same tone as mundane events like filling in holes in the igloo. It's frequently necessary to refer to the glossary at the end. This was a difficult book to rate. While the writing is unpolished, frank and plain-spoken, it's very existence is an amazing achievement, and Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk's creative talent is evident. ( )
5 vote VivienneR | Jul 7, 2017 |
i am having a hard time rating this book. its importance to the literary canon makes it a 5-star, necessary work. but i felt like there were oddities within the translation, and these kept pulling me out of the book. and, not that it is worth quibbling over, i would not necessarily label this as 'a novel'. it felt much more like each chapter was a vignette, as nappaaluk offers various scenes and activities of inuit life. so it did feel more like reading connected short stories.

a bit of background: in high school i was very fortunate to be able to spend time in a small inuit community on victoria island. though my timing and location are quite different from those of nappaaluk's book, much felt so familiar to me and was quite relatable -- the cadence of the language, the importance of family units, the normal day-to-day of life and existence in a challenging environment, community working together, caring for one another. sanaaq created some wonderful reminiscences for me while i read. one difference though, which i would like to note, concerns the dogs. in the book, they are necessary but often mistreated and disparaged. in my experience, though the animals were work dogs and usually housed outside, i witnessed no mistreatment. the animals were all well cared for and lovely. energetic and loud, heh, but great animals.

and yet i come back to the translations...inuktitut, to french, to english. the foreword to this edition offers a terrific overview of the process, effort and time; the undertaking was no small feat. but something is sitting oddly for me, and keeps me wondering if the authenticity from nappaaluk has been truly conveyed in appropriate english language (if that even exists?), or altered a little bit to be digested by southern readers? (and to be clear: this is not an issue throughout the book. there is the inclusion of a lot of inuit words, with a list of translations at the back. but every now and then a word or phrase would be used and i would think whatever was originally expressed had been anglicized, and meaning or feeling was lost.)

so i am going to sit on 3½ -stars for now... i did quite like the read, but maybe i just need to process it further, or even read it again? ( )
2 vote Booktrovert | Jan 27, 2016 |
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Book description
Sanaaq is an intimate story of an Inuit family negotiating the changes brought into their community by the coming of the qallunaat, the white people, in the mid-nineteenth century. Composed in 48 episodes, it recounts the daily life of Sanaaq, a strong and outspoken young widow, her daughter Qumaq, and their small semi-nomadic community in northern Quebec. Here they live their lives hunting seal, repairing their kayak, and gathering mussels under blue sea ice before the tide comes in. These are ordinary extraordinary lives: marriages are made and unmade, children are born and named, violence appears in the form of a fearful husband or a hungry polar bear. Here the spirit world is alive and relations with non-humans are never taken lightly. And under it all, the growing intrusion of the qallunaat and the battle for souls between the Catholic and Anglican missionaries threatens to forever change the way of life of Sanaaq and her young family.
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