Alissa McArthur

Bearskin Diary

By 
Carol Daniels
Nightwood Editions, 253 pages, $21.95
2016
Reviewed by 
Alissa McArthur

From the 1960s to the late ’80s, the Canadian government forcibly removed over twenty thousand Indigenous children from their families, sending them to be fostered or adopted by white middle-class families. As with the residential school tragedy, the children taken in the “Sixties Scoop” grew up severed from their Indigenous families and culture. In Carol Daniels’s debut novel, Bearskin Diary, Sandy Pelly, a survivor of the Scoop, embarks on a career as a news reporter in 1980s Saskatchewan. As she connects to local Indigenous people through her reporting, Sandy begins to yearn for a deeper connection to her Cree heritage.

Daniels, a former journalist and Canada’s first Indigenous national news anchor (as Carol Morin), portrays the broadcasting world as a noxious environment for a young Cree woman. But Sandy’s fierce desire to tell stories draws her closer to the Indigenous communities she was cut off from as a child. Daniels convincingly conveys Sandy’s struggle to cover stories about Indigenous people with compassion while battling racism from coworkers and her own internalized prejudices. Thrust into the role of cultural mediator in a largely white newsroom, Sandy finds herself being treated as a “cigar-store Indian, here for show but expected to stay silent.” When Sandy meets an elder named Joe, who encourages her both to investigate the disappearance of local Indigenous women and to explore her own cultural identity, she finally begins to meaningfully engage with her community.

However, most of the novel’s characters aside from Sandy are flat, especially the antagonists, who are portrayed as irredeemable villains. And though Daniels juggles many intriguing storylines, she grants a lot of space to a melodramatic love story that ultimately fizzles. As a result, some of the novel’s most engrossing aspects—such as Sandy’s reunion with her family and her investigation into the missing women—are given somewhat short shrift.

As well, the novel is hampered by Daniels’s decision to write extensively in the present tense. While it lends a sense of immediacy, the use of the present tense clutters the narrative with ponderous details of the characters’ daily lives. Furthermore, the frequent shifts from the present to Sandy’s memories in the past tense are clunky and become tedious to read.

Still, Daniels has created a compelling character in Sandy, and does not shy away from depicting her weaknesses. Though the writing doesn’t always support the many narrative threads Daniels explores, Bearskin Diary is a humane, unflinching portrayal of a woman asserting her voice and claiming space in an often hostile nation.

50 Books Written By 50 Canadian Women of Colour

More often than not, when Roomies gather, we talk about books. Books we can't put down, books we couldn't put up with, and books that make us talk. For this reading list, eleven of us got together and discussed novels, short story collections, poetry, memoirs, and comics that we have read and loved which happen to be written by Canadian Women of Colour. A few of these are well-known classics, a few are upcoming releases. There are stories set locally and abroad, and also include one in dystopian Toronto. Writing from the Women of Colour perspective is not a genre, but instead a multitude of voices, stories, and experiences coming together. And even though we are honoured to feature a handful of these writers are in our upcoming anthology, we know that this is just a starting point, and by no means a comprehensive list of books written by Canadian WOCs. At Room, we recognize that there is work to do, and we are already working on a part two.

Shelfie Post #7: Rachel Thompson

Getting a peek of an avid reader’s bookshelf is one of life’s simple pleasures. If you’ve ever shown up to a house party and gone straight to the host’s bookshelf, you know how satisfying it is to snoop through other readers’ libraries. The editors of Room love reading (obviously), and we’re giving you a glimpse of our shelves and sharing how we get the most out of our sacred reading time.

Shelfie #6: Cara Lang: Room Editors Show Off Their Reading Spaces

Getting a peek of an avid reader’s bookshelf is one of life’s simple pleasures. If you’ve ever shown up at a house party and gone straight to the host’s bookshelf, you know how satisfying it is to snoop through other readers’ libraries. The editors of Room love reading (obviously), and we’re giving you a glimpse of our shelves and sharing how we get the most out of our sacred reading time.

Shelfie #4: Navneet Nagra: Room Editors Show Off Their Reading Spaces

Getting a peek of an avid reader’s bookshelf is one of life’s simple pleasures. If you’ve ever shown up to a house party and gone straight to the host’s bookshelf, you know how satisfying it is to snoop through other readers’ libraries. The editors of Room love reading (obviously), and we’re giving you a glimpse of our shelves and sharing how we get the most out of our sacred reading time.

Shelfie #3: Lisa Xing: Room Editors Show Off Their Reading Spaces

Getting a peek of an avid reader’s bookshelf is one of life’s simple pleasures. If you’ve ever shown up to a house party and gone straight to the host’s bookshelf, you know how satisfying it is to snoop through other readers’ libraries. The editors of Room love reading (obviously), and we’re giving you a glimpse of our shelves and sharing how we get the most out of our sacred reading time.

Shelfie #2: Chelene Knight: Room Editors Show Off Their Reading Spaces

Getting a peek of an avid reader’s bookshelf is one of life’s simple pleasures. If you’ve ever shown up to a house party and gone straight to the host’s bookshelf, you know how satisfying it is to snoop through other readers’ libraries. The editors of Room love reading (obviously), and we’re giving you a glimpse of our shelves and sharing how we get the most out of our sacred reading time.

Chow by Janice Wong

We are getting so excited and inspired (and hungry) watching your submissions roll in for our upcoming Food issue! In the spirit of the food theme, we put together this collection of Roomies’ favourite cookbooks for writers. These books all feature recipes, but also include fiction, memoir, and other literary elements.

Shelfie #1: Kayi Wong: Room Editors Show Off Their Reading Spaces

Getting a peek of an avid reader’s bookshelf is one of life’s simple pleasures. If you’ve ever shown up to a house party and gone straight to the host’s bookshelf, you know how satisfying it is to snoop through other readers’ libraries. The editors of Room love reading (obviously), and we’re giving you a glimpse of our shelves and sharing how we get the most out of our sacred reading time.

Pages

Currently on Newsstands

  • Room 39.4, This Body's Map
    Edited by Chelene Knight

    In this issue:

    Marianne Apostolides, Kate Balfour, andrea bennett, June Beshea, Tatiana Bobko, Nicole Breit, Logan Broeckaert, Claire Caldwell, Lizzie Carr, Nicole Chin, Deirdre Daly, Samantha deVries-Hofman, Chantal Gibson, Jane Flett, Jónína Kirton, Jen Sookfong Lee, Cyndi MacMillan, Catherine Mellinger, Sylvia McFadden, SheLa E. Nefertiti Morrison, Lindsay Nixon, Ezi Odozor, Melanie Pierluigi, Natalie Wee, Kobina Wright, Beni Xiao

    .

Subscribe to Alissa McArthur