Book Review – Kiss of the Fur Queen – Tomson Highway
- Book: Kiss of the Fur Queen
- Author: Tomson Highway
- Genre: Modern Literature
- Year of Release: 1998
- Read 310-page hardcover edition in January 2015.
After winning the Trappers’ Festival Dog Sled Race in northern Manitoba in 1951, Abraham Okimasis and his wife Mariesis give birth to two sons, Champion and Ooneemeetoo. However, after growing up to the young age of six in their Cree community, and learning about life in their cultural context, the two boys get sent to a Catholic residential school, where their hair is cut, names are changed, Cree language is forbidden immediately, and where horrific sexual abuse occurs. Both boys are forever changed as a result of their experiences in residential school. As adults, they eventually move to Winnipeg, and outwards in some cases. They encounter racism while dealing with scars of the past. At the same time, the mysterious and legendary fur queen, that their father encountered back in 1951, seems to come in and out of their lives at critical moments.
This novel by Manitoban and Aboriginal author Tomson Highway was excellent in its ability to analyze and speak about a variety of diverse, yet inter-connected topics, some of which were very explosive, but do so in a way that was not overbearing or take away from the construction of multi-faceted, complex characters. The novel went through some of the harsh realities of the abusive, torturous Catholic residential school system that was in place in Canada for much of our history, with the goals of politicians to wipe out all traces of Aboriginal culture and community in this country. The racist, prejudicial system, often which led to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, was defined very well by Highway, although he did keep things at a fairly high level, choosing to focus the majority of the novel on the experiences of both main characters as adults rather than kids at the school. Yet the time Highway took to explain what happened, and then how it impacted their lives going forward, was done thoughtfully, allowing us as readers to have our hearts pulled by the situation.
Varied themes of loneliness in urban settings, sexual abuse, residential school systems, relations with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians, alcoholism, lgbt issues, HIV/AIDS issues, generational issues, and the changing face of Aboriginal community, language, and culture were all explored by Highway throughout the novel. Overall, he did a fairly good job of interconnecting these varied themes where applicable, bringing together an expansive work into a fairly tight narrative.
One challenge in the novel was the telling of the fantasy and mythological components, with the stories around the Fur Queen and other mythical characters. Although sometimes these were clear and made sense to the reader, at times the inclusion of the imaginative sections were confusing and placed inside other parts of the text that were the “reality” segments. This led to some confusion and awkwardness in places.
Overall however, this is an important novel that explores Aboriginal issues and topics in Manitoba and Canada, and it is telling an important truth in novel format, which more Canadians need to be exposed to.
Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars