Saturday, March 03, 2012

Reader's Diary #806- Michael Kusugak: The Curse of the Shaman

Back when we first started teaching in Rankin Inlet, Debbie and I met another teacher originally from Ontario but whose first teaching stint was in Japan. We later learned that she was quite a lovely person, but initially we just found her, or more precisely, her endless Japan stories, annoying as all hell. Japan. Japan. Japan. You'd think she was the first Canadian to ever set foot on Japanese soil.

Flash forward to 10 years later, and after a short holiday in Japan, we've become the annoying ones. Only worse. Not only do we prattle on about the charm of Japan, but every other conversation begins with "back in Rankin Inlet..."

Back in Rankin Inlet was when I first met Michael Kusugak. As far as local celebs were concerned, it was Jordin Tootoo, closely followed by Kusugak who was perhaps best known for his Robert Munsch collaboration A Promise is a Promise. I've been loyal to Kusugak ever since, reading all of his output with the exception of The Curse of the Shaman, his first young adult novel. I'm not sure why it's taken this long to get around to it, especially considering it's subtitled "a Marble Island Story."

Back in Rankin Inlet, I only visited Marble Island once. It's 40km away but many local Inuit still make the trek in the summer for its hunting grounds. Tourists, as we were, visit to see the quartzite rock formations (not marble as the name would suggest), and mostly to hear the history of doomed explorers and Hudson Bay Company whalers, many of whose graves are still visible there today. What I remember most is arriving at the island only to have to crawl on our elbows for a short distance as a sign of respect for an Inuit legend. (More on Marble Island here.)

In Kusugak's The Curse of the Shaman, a quick-tempered shaman curses a young named Wolverine to be banished when he is of age to begin a family. The shaman eventually calms down and even agrees to an arranged marriage between his own daughter and the boy. However, when Wolverine comes to a certain age, he goes hunting on Marble Island only to find he cannot leave. The shaman's unfortunate curse has come back to haunt them all.

The Curse of the Shaman is a wonderfully told story, filled with Inuit folklore and a compelling plot that Inuit and non-Inuit alike should be drawn into. Determination and reconciliation are two of the more heavily explored themes. But what I liked most was the time setting. I haven't read a lot of historical fiction involving aboriginal Canadians, but what I have usually always revolves around point of contact with Europeans. While that topic is certainly interesting, I'd like more written about pre-contact, just like The Curse of the Shaman.


Heather said...

I loved this one. I read it during the 2nd Challenge, which was the first year I participated. Will add a link to your review. Thanks.

Perogyo said...

Oh I am so the Japan Japan Japan type at home, but in Japan I am all Canada Canada Canada. It's amazing I have any friends left.

I just ordered this and some other North-related books. You've inspired me. ;)