I received an Advance Readers Copy of this book. All opinions are my own. It is on sale September 1, 2020
I finished this book a couple of weeks ago and have been sitting on it since then, attempting to formulate my thoughts around it. I was initially drawn in by the subtitle: “The Cure for White Ladies” (being a white lady myself), as well as hearing Simpson lauded by Alicia Elliott whose essay collection A Mind Spread Out on the Ground I greatly appreciated.
In truth I struggled with this book and in the end the conclusion I’ve come to is that this book is not for me. I don’t mean that in a negative way; I mean this book is not written for me and that is a good thing. Noopiming is a book by an Indigenous author written for an Indigenous audience. That isn’t to say it can’t be read by others but my impression in the end was that the book seeks to fill a void in Canadian history and story-telling. To tell the stories of Indigenous people that have too often been told by white people.
“Noopiming” is Anishinaabemowin for “in the bush”, a callback to Susanna Moodie’s memoir Roughing it in the Bush. I haven’t read Moodie’s work and I don’t know how well known she is outside of Canada but Roughing it in the Bush is often considered a Canadian classic, depicting life in Ontario in the mid-19th century. In response, Simpson depicts life in Ontario in the 21st century. She does so through a variety of characters, full of references to Indigenous mythology and language.
These references and language are a big part of what made the book hard for me to read and I can fully claim that as my own failing, not the book’s. For a reader unfamiliar with Anishinaabemowin or the Anishinaabe people, some background study would no doubt aid in your reading.
The story here is told in segments, both short and long. We meet characters living on the fringes of society, characters struggling to fit in (some wanting to more than others). There is a profound sense of disconnect from their own history and the wounds that come with this. Some of the characters are older and more learned when it comes to language and history but struggle to impart this understanding to the younger characters while the younger characters struggle to identify this lack they feel.
The natural world is central to every word of this book. Birds, trees, water – all become characters themselves until, at times, it’s hard to tell if we’re reading the perspective of a person or an element of nature. This brings to life the world of Ontario and the ways people have also changed the natural world around them.
This is a unique book. Though it might be one that requires more thoughtfulness for some readers (white ladies like myself), I believe that work is worth doing.