Book Review: Blue Bear Woman by Virginia Pesemapeo Bordeleau

I picked up the novel Blue Bear Woman by Virginia Pesemapeo Bordeleau to read for the Toronto Public library challenge. Even though it is suitable for the category of a book written by an indigenous author, I chose it to be a book that is under 200 pages.

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Indigenous

Blurb:

Blue Bear Woman is the first novel in Quebec written by an Indigenous woman. The story of a young Cree woman’s search for her roots and identity, this is also the author’s debut novel, originally published in 2007, and it will be her second book to be published in English. The novel has been described as a “texte de resistance”, showing contemporary Indigenous life and the impact on the Cree of the building of the Eastmain dam in northern Quebec, posited as “virgin” territory, yet which has actually been part of the Cree traditional territory since time immemorial. In search of her roots, Victoria takes a trip to the country of her Cree ancestors with her companion, Daniel. It is a long journey to the north along the shores of James Bay. Colours, smells, and majestic landscapes arouse memories that soon devolve into strange and haunting dreams at night. In bits and pieces, uncles, aunties, and cousins arrive to tell the story of Victoria’s family and bring with them images of her childhood that are tinged both with joy and sadness. Guided by her totem, the Blue Bear, she returns home to make peace with her soul, as well as release the soul of her great-uncle, a hunter who has been missing in the forest for over twenty years.

My thoughts:

The novel, for me, was an interesting one in that it showed me a culture that I am not too familiar with. It was for this reason that I was eager to read the story.

However, I found the beginning of the novel to be confusing when the character Victoria moves from the present to the past; and from the dream state to reality. Often I was unclear as to what state she was in and found myself rereading paragraphs to clarify the story in my head.

I also found the writing of the text choppy at times. I remembered that the novel had been translated from French and have wondered whether the fluidity of text was lost in translation. There are moments in the novel when the text does flow beautifully thus cementing my thought that the translation may not always have been sophisticated.

This short novel gives a snapshot of Cree traditions and their way of life. Mention is made of the alcoholism that is rampant on the reservations, as well as the teenage pregnancy issue. The story is not an easy read despite it being short as the topics referred to in the novel and its format means the reader has to take time with the words.

Blue Bear Woman contains pockets of beautiful imagery – especially the second half of the novel which encouraged me to feel emotional. It is for this reason that I gave the novel three stars instead of two.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 8th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

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