Hello all! Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson is my choice for the indigenous main character square in the diversity December bingo.
Five hundred miles north of Vancouver is Kitamaat, an Indian reservation in the homeland of the Haisla people. Growing up a tough, wild tomboy, swimming, fighting, and fishing in a remote village where the land slips into the green ocean on the edge of the world, Lisamarie has always been different.
Visited by ghosts and shapeshifters, tormented by premonitions, she can’t escape the sense that something terrible is waiting for her. She recounts her enchanted yet scarred life as she journeys in her speedboat up the frigid waters of the Douglas Channel. She is searching for her brother, dead by drowning, and in her own way running as fast as she can toward danger. Circling her brother’s tragic death are the remarkable characters that make up her family: Lisamarie’s parents, struggling to join their Haisla heritage with Western ways; Uncle Mick, a Native rights activist and devoted Elvis fan; and the headstrong Ma-ma-oo (Haisla for “grandmother”), a guardian of tradition.
This is not an easy read. (That’s probably the understatement of the year.) Dark and gritty, Monkey Beach deals with the death of family members and the slow decline of an indigenous culture. There is rape and domestic abuse and alcoholism. (I wish I’d known some of this before I read it.) However, it is not an entirely grim experience. Tucked between generations is an intense love for family, near-forgotten traditions, and the land upon which they live. Ghosts only haunt Lisa when someone she loves is in danger – and I think that says a lot about her character.
This is yet another indigenous novel that italicises the traditional language. However, other than that, I thought that there was a lot of discussion about traditional customs. These are casually referenced, but still explained to non-indigenous readers. The way Robinson explained local customs and foods felt incredibly natural. There’s a particularly wonderful section about Lisa learning how to make Oolichan grease, a local speciality that is used to flavour many foods. It really immersed me in the culture, and took the edge off the harsh realities that Monkey Beach often discusses.