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Rudy Wiebe

Edmonton, NeWest Publishers, 1989. 160pp, paper, ISBN 0-920897-63-0 (cloth) $22.95, 0-920897-61-4 (paper) $12.95. CIP

Reviewed by Cornelia Fuykschot.

Volume 17 Number 5
1989 September

In scarcely more than a hundred pages the author bemuses mainly three topics: the Franklin expedition lost in its search for the Northwest Passage; the identity of a man named Albert Johnson, alias Nelson; and some omitted details of Vilhjalmur Stefansson's Arctic diaries. He discusses these topics with surviving Inuit, and records the conversations, along with his own musings and numerous lengthy quotes from sources ancient and modern. The ostensible purpose of the exercise is to solve some of the Arctic's many mysteries - murder and cannibalism during the Franklin expedition, a dead man's identity, and, who was Fannie? The real purpose is to provide a hat rack for the author's thoughts and meanderings, which are presented as profundities and new insights, but which are in fact neither new nor deep. It has long been known that white justice is much harsher for the native than for the white man himself, that the only way to travel the Arctic is the Inuit way, living off the land, and that the Inuit concept of space differs from ours. Unfortunately, the author fails to show in what way this fact is significant to his story.

The three chapters originated in lectures presented at Trinity College in Toronto, in the fall of 1987. This may explain various repeats and overlaps, but it does not excuse them. The author's references to his other works are intrusive to the reader, probably more so than they may have been to the listener. One is left with the impression of an author who should have been saved from himself by a good editor, and who should have reworked his material from a contemplation to a single, well-wrought essay that sets out to make some points and then, in a "linear" fashion, makes them. As it stands now, the quotes are better than the connecting prose.

The book is well bound and has a sensitive cover design. Recommended only for the true aficionado of the Arctic.

Cornelia Fuykschot, Gananoque Secondary School, Gananoque, Ont.
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