Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Reader's Diary #317- Markoosie: Harpoon of the Hunter (FINISHED)

According to McGill-Queen's University Press, Harpoon of the Hunter is "the first novel by an Inuit written in English."

First off, it's not a novel. At only 81 pages, written in large font and scattered with illustrations, it probably fits the definition of novella much better. Second, it should be Inuk, not Inuit. "Inuit" is the plural form.

But these are issues with the publishers, not Markoosie's writing. The book itself, isn't a bad read. It's certainly an exciting tale of survival: a group of hunters decide to track a rabid polar bear and before long, Kamik, the hero finds himself all alone.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects for me was the scarcity of figurative language. I counted only three or four similes in the entire book, one of which was used twice ("the little sack on his back seems to weigh a hundred seals"). Likewise for metaphors. Oddly, this isn't a criticism of the book- in fact, I think it lent itself well to the urgency of the story and the setting.

And there were plenty of other literary merits. The imagery was quite strong and I enjoyed the balanced changes in perspective (at one point even getting in the mind of the bear).

It wasn't a flawless book, however. Sometimes the dialogue felt overly rigid and fake (ex. "There are many people and much meat in Kikitajoak. They will not go hungry.") Plus, there's a love story at the end which feels as tacked on and unbelievable as any Hollywood tripe.

Fortunately, the fast pace and excitement of the story easily overshadows any issues I had and I enjoyed it a lot.

Markoosie was born in Inukjuak (aka Port Harrison) on the Northern shore of Quebec. This marks my 6th book read for the Canadian Book Challenge.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I'm glad you have reviewed this, as I imagine there are not many books like this available. Do you know of many books written in Inuktituk?

John Mutford said...

This one was also printed in Inuktitut. As for others, I know of a few. Michael Kusugak has some children and young adult titles available in English and Inuktitut (including one with Robert Munsch). And I know of a few more children's books. As for novels (or novellas), I don't know of many.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I'm glad to hear there are some books available in Inuktitut. Do you speak or read it at all?

John Mutford said...

Barbara: Sadly, I can't speak or read it much at all. I've taken three rudimentary courses in it, but my knowledge still only runs to maybe 50-100 Inuktitut words and a few suffixes here and there. When I taught grade 3 in Rankin Inlet I even went to Inuktitut classes with the kids (had my own little chair and everything). I enjoyed learning to read the syllabics actually.

However, the dialects are quite different in Rankin than here, so lots of the stuff I learned there only helped minimally here. To say it's very different than English is an understatement. I've taken French too, and trust me, it has much more in common with English than Inuktitut. But, it's very easy to find excuses not to learn the language in Iqaluit- it's not the more traditional of towns as you can imagine. Perhaps if I lived in one of the smaller places, I would have made the effort. The thing is, without practicing it, all the courses in the world aren't going to help, and in Iqaluit it's totally convenient to speak just in English. Sad as that might be and shame on me for not trying harder, I guess.