Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Inconvenient Indian

The Inconvenient Indian: a Curious Account of Native People in America / Thomas King
Toronto: Doubleday Canada, c2012.
288 p.

Like many others, I really love Thomas King. In fact I once went to a reading he was giving that started late because there were so many people they had to move us to a bigger room. He is a charming man, a funny and brilliant writer, and very convincing as well.

This is his explanation of Native life in the Americas from first contact onwards. Although his wife, Helen, told him he shouldn't start with Columbus, he does anyhow. And he goes into some detail explaining how he chose "account" rather than "history" for the title; history is too serious and comprehensive, while he just wants to have a bit of a conversation here. He does -- his tone is wry, amusing and yet so, so serious. As shared recently on twitter, at King's reading as a nominee for the Trillium award:

It's true, he uses his trademark humour to get across a serious point; the lightness and wryness of his narrative make it easier to absorb the details, they slip under defenses or denials before a reader realizes it. And there is much to absorb here. Although he begins in the Columbus years, he then quickly sketches out how what happened in the beginnings of colonization affects the present, and heads right into the 20th and 21st century.

His ironic tone when it comes to white society, to aboriginal groups themselves, to his own biases and preoccupations, carries the book. He is able to see things from a remove, noting the ironic juxtaposition of tourism, politicking, land claims, images of the Indian throughout North American history, and more. The book informs, entertains, and also pricks the conscience. Really? Did that really happen? Was that history completely made up? Did no-one ever pay for that crime? Were -- are -- conditions really like that? These and similar questions kept arising as I was reading. And I have a BA in Canadian history, one in which this book would have been extremely illuminating, and for which it should be a required text now.

I did know many of the facts and stories he shares, but I knew them intellectually and from one perspective. I think that the strength of this book lies in both its tone and the intimate knowledge of the author of both the facts and the feelings behind the examples he shares. He is exacting in his recounting of the factual record, at times inexorably so. Yet he also insists upon the primacy of the more amorphous motives, emotions, and lived experience of these events. It is a powerful blend, and makes this a necessary read.

8 comments:

  1. It's time for me to familiarize myself with Thomas King. Native history and culture is so very rich and interesting, isn't it? And I've always figured there was more to it than what the history books would have us believe. An author who can relay this with a sense of humour is wonderful indeed.

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    1. It's a great way to dig into this topic -- Thomas King is brilliant, and also very accessible.

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  2. My book club at work is STOKED about reading this. We don't get to it until February of next year, sadly, and I doubt I'll have time to read it before then myself, but I'm looking forward to it enormously.

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    1. Jealous! There will be lots to discuss from this read...

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  3. Don't usually read non-fiction but this sounds like my kind of book. Enjoyed your review and I want to read it now.

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    1. Hope you will give it a try. Thomas King really does make reading nonfiction about important issues very easy to do.

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  4. I wholly "enjoyed" this. Even thought much of the subject-matter is necessarily grim, there were times when I could not put the book down; I wanted to have more of it in his voice. If you haven't already heard it, there is a great extended interview with Shelagh Rogers and him online: you'll love it.

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    1. His voice is wonderful. Shelagh is so great, always more info on any author! But I haven't listened to his interview yet, must remedy that :)

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Thanks for stopping by ~ I hope you will leave your comments and reflections to let me know what you think!