- Lake Sagaris (Author)
Bone and Dream. Vintage Canada (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Niema Ash (Author)
Travels with my Daughter. Dundurn Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Melanie Kolbeins
Travels with My Daughter and Bone and Dream are both memoirs by women travelling across dry land, but they are very different in approach. Ash, a career traveller and music promoter, describes her encounters with Canadian writers in Canada and Morocco in the early 1970s. Lake Sagaris’s memoir of her travels in Chile’s mountainous Atacama desert examines the effects of copper mining, the nitrate industry, religious practices, Spanish conquest, and archeology on the land and its people. Ash’s narrative begins by explaining that her daughter’s birth resulted from an unplanned pregnancy that she was unable to terminate while travelling. Because "The Road" is her "university, church, [and] true love," her memoir focuses on travel. However, Ash also writes to "refuse the charge of irresponsible mother." She initially depicts herself as a danger to newborn Ronit. In the worst instance, sleep-deprived and socially isolated, she throws her crying daughter. Ash trusts her readers to set judgement aside and to recognize her physical exhaustion and lack of community at a time when her "only assistance came from the printed word." Ash and her husband open The Finjan, a folk club that brings musicians such as Bob Dylan and John Lee Hooker to Canada and launches the careers of, among others, Leonard Cohen. She credits this "travel substitute" with better parenting. When travel to Morocco emerges, Ash interprets it as a healing journey for her friend (named Rachel in the memoir) and Rachel’s son, David. As a result, she describes conflicts between Rachel and Irving Layton and their literary circles in more detail than she does Morocco. Irving Layton and Scott Symons are shown reading and analyzing poetry together in Symons’s Moroccan home, and there is an account of Layton’s attempts to arrange for an Arab-Israeli cultural conference. Readers may want to compare Ash’s account with David Layton’s in Motion Sickness and Elspeth Cameron’s in her biog- raphy of Layton.
Rather than positioning Ash as an expert on a complex culture in which she frequently describes herself as clumsy, her memoir combines apology with celebration. At times, it relies heavily on readers’ sympathy and interest in literary circles. It would be easy to criticize many of the actions Ash describes herself as taking. Nevertheless, Ash’s memoir, written from the unusual point of view of a woman travelling with her young daughter, offers a fresh look at the members of the literary circles she admires.
Lake Sagaris insists that "in the open reaches of the Atacama, you must define your own form or go to pieces, dissolve in a handful of bone, blown sand dust of glass, sparkling and arid, but silent under the glaring sun," yet her own movement across Chile with her husband and son primarily serves to connect the various voices and span of time that she addresses. The extensively researched Bone and Dream defines her as a social historian, political activist, and poet. For Sagaris, this is an effect of the desert, which "turns you outward, stretches you beyond your skin." Imagining the voice of a once-living woman who witnessed many of the major social upheavals in the desert allows Sagaris, a self-described "gringa," entry into the culture of the Atacama. Huillac Ñusta is based on Sagaris’s historical research on the Incan creation of the culture of Tiwanaku. Ñusta escapes ritual sacrifice to become a prisoner of Diego de Almagro but escapes again to form her own colony, earning the title of La Tirana and a Catholic festival (with Incan roots) in her honour. Sagaris addresses Ñusta directly, comparing her own responses to the desert. The invocation of Ñusta becomes a rhythmic refrain. By the end of the memoir, Huillac Ñusta speaks and sings in first person through Sagaris’s own poetry. Bone and Dream imagines the Atacama as a "living book," in part because the salt desert preserves the past in a very literal sense by mummifying those who once lived there. Some of the dead record Incan ritual sacrifice, conquistadors’ greed, or brutal dictatorship, while others simply recall fatal weather. Sagaris has past historians, priests, explorers, and striking miners speak for themselves rather than interpret- ing them as museum exhibits. The history of foremen, workers, and their families comes to life through their songs. Sagaris envisions their daily lives alongside those of Atacamenians currently living. Sagaris’s memoir resembles an animita, the roadside shrines that she describes on her journey. The animita honour violent deaths and emphasize the importance of past lives. Such shrines caution, seek justice, or magically offer protection to passersby. Similarly, Bone and Dream allows the dead to take their place in history. It remembers, for example, the miners who "disappeared" from the Pisagua prison camp during Pinochet’s rule. Their bodies emerge preserved from Sagaris’s memoir to accuse their persecutors just as they did in the "living book" of the desert. Bone and Dream, like the animita, effectively acts as a warning against such negative forms of human impact.
- Colouring the Nation by Sujaya Dhanvantari
Books reviewed: MÃKA Diasporic Juks: Contemporary Writing by Queers of African Descent by Debbie Douglas, Courtnay McFarlane, Makeda Silvera, and Douglas Stewart, Against an African Sky and other stories by Farid Karodia, and "...but where are you really from?": Stories of Identity and Assimilation in Canada by Hazelle Palmer
- From Child to Adult by Leslie Harlin
Books reviewed: Bambi and Me by Sheila Fischman and Michel Tremblay, For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again by Linda Gaboriau and Michel Tremblay, and L'autre côté du monde: Le passage de l'âge adulte chez. Michel Tremblay, Réjean Ducharne, Anne Hébert et Marie-Claire Blais by Robert Verreault
- Blaze of Glory by Tanis Macdonald
Books reviewed: Blazing Figures: A Life of Richard Markle by J. A. Wainwright
- Jewishness and Memory by Batia Stolar
Books reviewed: A House of Words: Jewish Writing, Identity, and Memory by Norman Ravvin and We Who Can Fly: Poems, Essays and Memories in Honour of Adele Wiseman by Elizabeth Greene
- To the New World by Bryan N. S. Gooch
Books reviewed: The Desire of Every Living Thing: A Search for Home by Don N. S. Gillmor and Gentlemen Engineers: The Working Lives of Frank and Walter Shanly by Richard White
MLA: Kolbeins, Melanie. Desert Books. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 23 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #181 (Summer 2004), (Wiseman, Livesay, Sime, Connelly, Robinson). (pg. 103 - 104)
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