Archive for the ‘indigenous people’ Tag

Culture Theft   2 comments

In Stolen Ann-Helene Laestadius’ coming of age novel, Elsa is nine-years old when she witnesses the murder of her reindeer, part of the family’s herd. Threatened by the killer, Elsa remains silent, despite others’ suspicions regarding his identify.

It’s only one incident endured by the Sami in this far northern region of Sweden. Despite entreaties to authorities, nothing is done to quell tensions endured by the indigenous people whose livelihoods depend on the reindeers.

Ten years later, little has improved for Elsa’s family and the Sami community. Reindeer, which have cultural significance, are still tortured and slaughtered. When Elsa takes it upon herself to speak out, she and others are terrorized. Despite being haunted by her childhood memory and the overhanging threat, Elsa is a strong, intelligent woman with dreams of one day overseeing her own herd. This, however, is yet another battle in her male dominated world.

Disregard by the authorities, xenophobia, personal demons, Sami culture and familial relationships are all addressed. Laestadius is Sami and provides a unique perspective to all the above. She deftly describes the frigid, beautiful landscape as well as the joys and traumas shared by the Sami villagers. The disregard by non-Sami supported by an apathetic police force is heart breaking.

It’s not just the animals that are lost when they’re killed. In Elsa’s case she was also robbed of her childhood. For other characters, beyond what the herds mean as their occupations, their hopes and mental health are also at stake.


Four bookmarks

Scribner, 2021

384 pages


Disappearing People   Leave a comment

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Julia Phillips’ descriptions of the Kamchatka Peninsula in eastern Russia as lonely and cold are vivid in her novel Disappearing Earth. The title is fitting given the geographic isolation and the way the people move in, then away from the plot.

Beginning with the abduction of two young girls, the narrative features a range of characters with strong, tenuous or nonexistent ties to the victims. What they share is the locale and an awareness of the missing girls.

The first chapter is called August. Subsequent chapters/months represent the passage of time and introduce another situation involving others. The result is a disconnect more suggestive of a short story collection than a novel since there’s often no resolution for the problems or experiences described. Issues range from a young woman in college with a manipulative boyfriend, to a lost dog, from ethnic traditions to dissolution of friendships or family estrangements. Nonetheless, most chapters are captivating. These are interesting people, and the rich writing of each situation only begs for more. The list of main characters included to keep track of who’s who helps.

The investigation of the missing girls is initially a priority for the police, but eventually loses momentum. By contrast, a young indigenous woman who previously went disappeared was barely acknowledged by authorities.

The novel’s greatest strength lies in the setting; it’s a character unto itself. The weather, the light and the landscape, which includes rocky beaches, densely-wooded forests and looming active volcanos, are austere – like its people.

Disappearing Earth
Four Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2019
256 pages