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Review: Tanya Talaga's Seven Fallen Feathers, Lydia Kwa's Oracle Bone and Guillaume Morissette's The Original Face

Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City

By Tanya Talaga

House of Anansi, 376 pages, $22.95

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Seven Fallen Feathers is journalist Tanya Talaga's investigation into the deaths of seven Indigenous teenagers, all of whom died in Thunder Bay after being sent there to receive educations. Talaga uncovers a track record of cursory police work that, paired with the city's high incidence of hate crime, including racism within the police force, suggests these deaths may not have been accidental. What is happening in Thunder Bay is particularly destructive, but Talaga makes clear how Thunder Bay is symptomatic, not the problem itself. Responsibility for the funding gap that separates Indigenous children from their non-Indigenous peers lies with the federal government. The residential-school system was an act of cultural genocide. What should we call it when the government doesn't adequately fund schools on many reserves, forcing parents to consider sending their children away, weighing the value of education against possibly their children's lives? Recently shortlisted for the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction, Talaga's is a book to be justly infuriated by.

Oracle Bone

By Lydia Kwa

Arsenal Pulp Press, 304 pages, $19.95

Followers of Lydia Kwa's work will remember her 2005 novel The Walking Boy, originally published by Key Porter Books. Set during the Tang Dynasty in seventh-century China, Kwa's latest, Oracle Bone, is The Walking Boy's prequel in what is a planned trilogy. (Arsenal Pulp Press will publish a new edition of The Walking Boy in 2018.) Although these novels are historical, Kwa emphasizes they are not meant as historical realism. Rather, Kwa works within the tradition of the chuanqi tale, a literary form that emerged during the Tang Dynasty. "Chuanqi" translates as "transmitting the strange" and it is to this purpose Kwa works the historical material, though she is also subverting the form. Where traditionally the male-dominated chuanqi tales would demonize women, in Oracle Bone it is the Daoist god of literature that is the demon; the misfits (a nun, an orphan, the first female emperor and a gay monk) the heroes. I wanted more of each character's interiority, but I look forward to learning how Kwa resolves the arc of her strange tales.

The Original Face

By Guillaume Morissette

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Esplanade Books, 224 pages, $19.95

Guillaume Morissette's second novel opens in 2013, with cash-strapped 29-year-old internet artist Daniel Kerry leading an increasingly monastic existence, one pared to the essentials: girlfriend, cat, computer, shelter, food, water, air. After moving from Montreal to Toronto in search of a work/life reset, Daniel encounters the Zen Buddhist concept of the Original Face, "the face you had before you were born, before your parents were born." Another writer might hold this material against the backdrop of the internet to suggest an original/simulacra duality. Morissette does something different. It isn't that Daniel's online life is wholly positive: He sometimes feels overwhelmed and sapped by social media and he knows the internet has a different texture for him as a man than it does for his friend and artistic collaborator Eloise. What makes Morissette's novel different is how Daniel's online life is the content of his real life, not its opposite, and how Morissette conveys this as worthy of the novel's attention, without gimmicks. It's also very, very funny.

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