Book Review: Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies – Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (Anansi, 2020

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.

8 thoughts on “Book Review: Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson”

  1. I’ve got this book on my shelf and am excited to read it, although now I know it’s going to take some serious (slow) reading on my part now that I’ve read your review! I’m not surprised this book isn’t written for us white ladies based on the title alone, but that’s an interesting observation to make, I think it sort of applies to her last book that I read too.

    1. I haven’t read any of her work before so I went into it kind of blind, bringing it with me on vacation. It’s definitely not an easy, read-at-the-beach kind of book. It got me thinking about how most books are for me (in one way or another) and how startling it felt to not be the audience. It’s good to be shaken up like that in my reading sometimes!

  2. Maybe it sounds like an excuse, but when a book describes a time or place too foreign to me, I always see if there is a movie version to help me picture it. Of course, only super famous books get that treatment. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier comes to mind — I could not picture Manderlay without Hitchcock. Chocolat by Joanne Harris is another — Hallström brings to life the magic surrounding Vianne’s shop.

    1. That’s not a bad idea! I could see that being really helpful, especially with period pieces. This book is set in and around Toronto which I’m actually pretty familiar with. My struggle was more with the language and keeping the characters straight. All of the characters are referred to as “they” and some of them are animals/trees and the sections move between perspectives quite a lot so I struggled to keep track in places.

  3. Great review! Sometimes having to work a little harder to make sense of a book is worth it in the end, though this one does sound like a challenge. I’m really intrigued by the possibility of bringing nature so much to the forefront that there are moments when it’s unclear whether the perspective in focus is human or more elemental, though. That sounds like some very skilled writing must be involved. And of course, it’s also just great that books like this are becoming available for audiences that are too often overlooked!

  4. I’m curious about this book, partly for the reasons that make it more of a challenging read for some of us. You did a nice job of reviewing a book that sounds hard to review!

    1. Thank you! I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading this book, just to go in prepared that it isn’t quite your typical read.

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