The Soul of the World
- Roger Dunsmore (Author)
Earth's Mind: Essays in Native Literature. University of New Mexico Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Gloria Bird (Editor) and Joy Harjo (Editor)
Reinventing the Enemy's Language: Contemporary Native Women's Writings of North America. W.W. Norton (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Catherine Rainwater
The thirteen essays included in Dunsmore’s volume are original, poetic and instructive. Dunsmore sets out to explain to his audience some of the differences between Native and Western peoples’ ways of thinking, but in the process he achieves much more. Dunsmore’s writing is lyrical and mind-expanding. He not only explains what it means to have a mind attuned to the earth; for some readers, hi sessays
might also become the first step toward learning how to hear the subtle voices of the rocks, the trees, and the stars.
Each of these essays insists in its own unique way that the universe is vaster than any single human being’s, or any particular culture’s conception of it. Dunsmore cultivates humility in his readers (especially his Eurocentric readers), while finding successful ways of bridging the gap between Western and Native world views. In his essay, "Fusion," for example, the author undermines the Eurocentric tendencyto read indigenous peoples’ descriptions of the world as naive. When Kalahari Bushmen report that the stars say,"Tssik" and "Tsa," we must not respond with condescending disregard, butwe must go out and sleep under the stars until we transcend our learned deafness.
When Native people speak of the Star People, the Tree People, or the Animal People, again we should not assume their philosophical naivete concerning categories ofbeing,but attempt to shake off the "gargantuan self- importance of modern man" that blinds us to the many life forms with whom we share the planet. This deliberate war against our own ignorance is the only way to acquire a mind of earth.
Throughout this fascinating book, Dunsmore explores and illuminates for the reader a variety of writings by Native people including Leslie Marmon Silko, Simon Ortiz, Nicholas Black Elk, and Chief Joseph. All readers—from those for whom Dunsmore’s book is their first acquaintance with Native writings, to those who have read extensively in the area—will learn from this book and, even more significantly given Dunsmore’s aim, will come across insights so perfectly articulated that even familiar ideas seem freshly renewed.
Reinventing the Enemy’s Language is likewise a difficult book to put down once we have taken it up. Editors Harjo and Bird have assembled an impressive collection of works by eighty-seven Native women writers, some well-known and some published here for the first time. The volume includes poetry, fiction, prayers, memoir, and personal narrative by writers representing an array of indigenous cultures from over fifty nations. Though none of the writers comes from natively English-speaking groups, many of them (like Harjo herself) have spoken and written only English—the "enemy’s language"—throughout their lives. The editors believe that to speak in any language is to choose power over powerlessness, and in putting together this anthology, they have selected voices that seem to them to "reinvent" the English language, to "decolonize" and "transform literary expression." All of the writers represented have, according to the editors, "directly experienced being Indian in their everyday lives."
This collection of writings contains much to please a variety of readers. The works are organized thematically to suggest "the cycle of creation" from birth, through struggle and transformation, to death. After the introduction by Harjo and Bird and an invocation by Navajo author, Grace Boyne, Gloria Bird has the first word with "In Chimayo," and Harjo the last with "Perhaps the World Ends Here." In between are selections by widely known authors such as Silko, Louise Erdrich, and Paula Gunn Allen (some of these reprinted from other sources) as well as pieces by newcomers. Some of the authors have published before, primarily in other fields. The autobiographical statements that precede each writer’s contribution are frequently works of art themselves and greatly reward the reader’s attention. Overall, this volume affords an excellent opportunity to learn much from Native women writers about how they see the world and how they have known it to see them. More importantly, we may better understand how writing can open our eyes to see beyond mundane appearances to the soul of the world, to a world transformed and improved by a revolutionary vision. As one contributor, Inés HernÃ¡ndez-Avila, writes, "To be revolutionary is to be original, to know where we came from, to validate what is ours and help it to flourish, the best of what is ours, of our beginnings, our principles, and to leave behind what no longer serves us." If this is truth, then certainly Harjo and Bird’s anthology is an intensely "revolutionary" statement from and about Native women.
- Angry (Nice) Young Men by Len Falkenstein
Books reviewed: Martin Yesterday by Brad Fraser, Cherry Docs by David Gow, and alterNatives by Drew Hayden Taylor
- When the World Was New by George Blondin
Books reviewed: Trail of the Spirit: The Mysteries of Medicine Power Revealed by George Blondin and Tales from Moccasin Avenue: An Anthology of Native Stories by Morgan Stafford O'Neal
- Making Associations by Jennifer Andrews
Books reviewed: Truth and Bright Water by Thomas King and Crazy Dave by Basil H. Johnston
- Short Story Studies by Elaine Park
Books reviewed: The Oxford Book of Stories by Canadian Women in English by Rosemary Sullivan and Reading Mansfield and Metaphors of Form by W. H. New
- Whose Canada? by Carole Gerson
Books reviewed: The Museum Called Canada by Sara Angel and Charlotte Gray
MLA: Rainwater, Catherine. The Soul of the World. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 23 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #161-162 (Summer/Autumn 1999), On Thomas King. (pg. 197 - 198)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.