February 04, 2017

Tears in the Grass - Lynda Archer

Dundurn Press, March 18, 2016.

Four Stars

In 1968, Saskatchewan Cree artist Elinor is 90 years old. Although her daughter and family live nearby, she prefers to live alone in her rustic cabin, communing with nature and creating artwork based on the flora and fauna surrounding her. At 90, Elinor is sometimes confused about the details of her life, but there is one memory she will never forget – a child that was stolen from her many decades before.

As a young girl, Elinor was forced into a residential school, where she was raped by an older man in a position of power. The resulting child was taken away from her and put up for adoption in another province, where Elinor would never see her again – but now, at the end of her life, she is determined to find the daughter she lost. Making her search more difficult is the fact that the daughter she raised knows nothing about her missing sister.

Elinor feels that her family has forgotten their Aboriginal heritage, and her thoughts explore a history of trauma, racism and ultimately survival. As she grows weaker in body, Elinor finds the strength and courage to open up about her past to a family that is living firmly in the present, neglecting their traditional beliefs. Elinor’s desire is to bring her entire family home, to embrace the Cree beliefs that have been forgotten by so many.

Meanwhile, Elinor’s daughter Louise and granddaughter Alice have secrets of their own. They find it difficult to communicate with each other, but are inspired by Elinor’s willingness to share her past before it is too late. Although the author is clearly trying to draw parallels between these three women through their traumatic secrets, the whole thing is wrapped up a bit too neatly. However, I don’t think that matters because I see this more as a parable for indigenous women in Canada today – Elinor is symbolic of all women of her circumstances, and this novel shows how their past affects their descendants for many generations to come.

This is a story of mothers and daughters, and of the continued discrimination towards women – Aboriginal women in particular. Louise ran away from her home on the reservation and turned away from her roots, and Alice must hide her relationship because of her sexuality. Their shared secrets create connections between the three generations, as well as exploring the complex issues between the women. Elinor’s story is emotional and heartfelt, yet it never slips into the realm of melodrama – it is told in a clear, unsparing voice. The novel is well-written, with a strong message, giving a voice to the many women who were treated in the same way as Elinor in our shared past.

I received this book from Dundurn Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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