Book Review: Issues in Canadian Literature

Review by: Niloy Mukherjee

Research Scholar (English), Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow.

Issues in Canadian Literature
Alka Singh (editor)
Publisher: Yking Books, Jaipur
Year: 2016
Price: ₹ 725.00
Northrop Frye in his The Bush Garden: Essays on the Canadian Imagination (1971) writes “(For) the traveler from Europe…, to enter the United States is a matter of crossing an ocean; to enter Canada is a matter of being silently swallowed by an alien continent.” Much has changed since then, particularly post the 1970s, when the borders of Canada were opened for the Asian immigrants, and subsequently, they made their voices heard in Canadian writings, making contemporary Canadian literature reflect a complex cultural mosaic. The anthology Issues in Canadian Literature compiled and edited by Dr. Alka Singh presents a set of eleven research papers and an interview, all of which deal with different trends and patterns in contemporary Canadian literature.   
Arun Kumar Yadav’s paper “Recurring Issues in Canadian Literature” provides an insight into Canadian literature as a whole, “discussing the issues that are vital to the study of literature and humanities in Canada.” The paper elaborates on some leading Canadian authors and the seminal issues in their works. Kulwant Singh’s “Ecocritical Reading of Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing” notes that “a questioning stance towards the patriarchal hegemony in the universe can be observed throughout Surfacing.. Having rejected the male construction of the “feminine” woman, the surface changes into a “natural woman” who will possibly subvert the social order in order to protect the environment/mother-earth/women. Shubham Singh’s “The Ubiquity of Visual Component in the Poetry of D. G. Jones” argues that the visual component of Jone’s poetry is ubiquitous and serves a two-fold purpose. “Firstly, it emphasizes the theme of his poems and outlines the idea of wilderness as the key feature in contemporary Canadian verse. Secondly, it communicates the poet’s response to his immediate environment and how the reflections come to colour the imagination of the perceptive reader to create an everlasting impact.” Shubham Singh’s next article “Gender Roles in Alice Munro’s Fiction” analyses the short stories of Munro to infer that, in her works, “the dynamics of gender relations establishes an order where even though a woman feels she wields power, she is in fact, essentially a pawn on the imaginary chessboard and is, time and again, required to move in accordance with the wishes of the man.” Sushma Rani’s paper “Exploration of Self in Margaret Laurence’s The Diviners” deals with “the feeling of isolation and alienation” of the female protagonist Morag in one of her Manawaka novels, The Diviners. The paper analyses how Morag frequently confronts her “ancestral history and individual past” on her path of personal development, thereby achieving “the deeper understanding and fuller appreciation of life that culminate in the development of survival ethic.” Deepshikha Karthik’s “Oral Tradition and Mythology: A Reading of Maria Campbell’s Little Badger and the Fire Spirit” observes that “Maria Campbell and other native authors have presented their philosophical and spiritual perspectives” about the world through their tales that highlight traditional oral literature or storytelling practice in Canada, thus enlightening the younger generation with their vision and wisdom. Vineet Kumar’s article “Reading First Nations in Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water” analyses King’s work to assert that an optimistic attitude and a winning mentality rather than a pessimistic attitude and victim mentality will build the native community of the First Nations, and “that the Native Nation will build its future with successive small but eloquent victories that will nurture an assertiveness.” Arpit Katiyar’s paper “Aboriginal Issues in the Plays of Marie Clements” deals with the “mainstream dismissal and degradation of missing and murdered aboriginal women” and investigates the major issues of “identity crisis (of aboriginal women) with special reference to the plays of Marie Clements.” The paper explores “governmental policies disenfranchising aboriginal women and enforcing the removal of aboriginal children into residual schools and white foster homes.” It further establishes Aunt Shadie as a maternal metaphor and argues that Clement’s play offers a “maternal counter-narrative to dominant discourses of Aboriginal womanhood as promiscuous and alcoholic. Bhashkra Charya’s article “Quest of Gratification through Transgression in Patrick de Witt’s The Three Brothers” examines the narrative style of the author that makes his protagonist an endearing character “despite his actions, no matter how terrible”, and makes the reader empathise with the Sister brothers even as they undertake the most gory missions. Alka Singh’s “Badlands: In the Alleys of Postmodernism” traces the patterns of postmodernism in Robert Kroetsch’s Badlands as revealed through the field notes of William Dawe and the narratorial voice of Anna Dawe. The analysis infers that “in the deconstructive enterprise, the new land, like language itself, is still used to construct meaning; but at the same time, it must re-enter the discourse as precisely that which, endlessly and inevitably, subverts meaning again and again.” Mohd. Tariq’s paper “Reading Nostalgia in Uma Parameswaran’s “Trishanku: A Cycle of Voices”” observes how the South Asian Canadian diasporic writer Parameshwaran offers “an out of India experience” in her poem, relating diasporas and homeland through an element of nostalgia. This nostalgia “becomes a kind of connecting link between the source culture and the target culture” and helps trace “the complex relationship between immigrant and homeland.” The interface of R. P. Singh with Allison McWood on Canadian drama is simultaneously informative and entertaining, providing the readers an insight into the playwright’s own works and her personal views and perspectives about Canadian drama, its yesterday and tomorrow.

The omission of an article mentioned in the introduction - “World War II and the Struggle of Women in Gabrielle Roy’s The Tin Flute” by Shazia Khatoon - irks the reader.  The papers by Deepshikha Karthik, Bhashkra Charya and Mohd. Tariq are more descriptive than analytical. However, as a whole, the book is a good read for those hoping to get acquainted with different facets of contemporary Canadian literature and is recommendable for personal reference and libraries.

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