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Penny Petrone

Don Mills (Ont.), Oxford University Press, 1990. 213pp, paper, $16.95
ISBN 0-19-540796-2. CIP

Grades 9 and up/ Ages 14 and up
Reviewed by Joan Skogan.

Volume 19 Number 1
1991 January

Penny Petrone documents the voices of Canada's first nations from the legends and songs of oral cultures to the plays of Tomson Highway. The intro­duction, which might well have been expanded, establishes Petrone's consist­ent and valuable placing of eighteenth-and nineteenth-century recorded narratives and more recent written work in both the native cultures producing this literature and the western European culture judging it. She reminds the reader: "The translation risks are so many that one is apt to question not only the accuracy and quality of transla­tion but also the validity of the entire translation process. One can only guess what subtleties of thought and style have been lost through translation."

Alongside the continuing strength of song and myth is a literature of protest. Native Literature in Canada provides, and gives context for, the "shrewd reason­ing, cruel truth, poetic imagery, leader­ship, past history, loyalty, determina­tion, and dignity" of leaders from Tecumesh to Louis Kiel. The words of less well known native men and women, writing and speaking passion­ately about the roots of every current native protest, are recorded with some biographical and historical comment.

Autobiographies, many now out of print, are noted in the 1970-1979 and 1980-1989 chapters of the book. This form, from Tom Boulanger's My Life as a Trapper in Northern Manitoba (Peguis, 1971) to Lee Maracle's I Am Woman (Write-on Press, 1988), offers an espe­cially accessible way for non-native Canadians to begin to understand part of the native experience in Canada. Petrone includes notes on a number of autobiographical titles.

The last sixty pages of Native Litera­ture in Canada are rich with the names, and excerpts from the work, of the many native writers now producing poetry, plays, short stories, novels and children's literature. This contemporary section of the book could have benefited from the addition of some reviews of the work, as well as an indication of the native community's responses to its writers.

Native Literature in Canada: From the Oral Tradition to the Present is a fine companion for several recently pub­lished anthologies of native writing. Recommended.

Joan Skogan, Vancouver, B.C.
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1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995


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