Synopses & Reviews
In 1922 an Irish-American adventurer named Robert Flaherty made a film about Inuit life in the Arctic. Nanook of the North featured a mythical Eskimo hunter who lived in an igloo with his family in a frozen Eden. Nanook's story captured the world's imagination.
Thirty years later, the Canadian government forcibly relocated three dozen Inuit from the east coast of Hudson Bay to a region of the high artic that was 1,200 miles farther north. Hailing from a land rich in caribou and arctic foxes, whales and seals, pink saxifrage and heather, the Inuit's destination was Ellesmere Island, an arid and desolate landscape of shale and ice virtually devoid of life. The most northerly landmass on the planet, Ellesmere is blanketed in darkness for four months of the year. There the exiles were left to live on their own with little government support and few provisions.
Among this group was Josephie Flaherty, the unrecognized, half-Inuit son of Robert Flaherty, who never met his father. In a narrative rich with human drama and heartbreak, Melanie McGrath uses the story of three generations of the Flaherty family the filmmaker; his illegitimate son, Josephie; and Josephie's daughters, Mary and Martha to bring this extraordinary tale of mistreatment and deprivation to life.
"In this riveting tale of Canadian bureaucracy and cultural arrogance, British journalist McGrath (Motel Nirvana) tells how in 1953 a handful of Inuit families were coerced from Hudson Bay's eastern shore and relocated 1,500 miles north to bitterly rocky and icy Ellesmere Island the world's ninth-largest island. Sold as a humane attempt to provide a livelihood for the Inuit when fox pelt prices plummeted, the scheme was, in fact, callously political. Canada wanted to plant the flag and some people on the uninhabited and largely impenetrable island, over which Greenland, Denmark and the United States had territorial aspirations, particularly as the Cold War intensified. A compact history of northern life adds context to the story of horrific exile, which McGrath humanizes by focusing on Josephie Flaherty, the mixed-race son of an Inuit mother and of American director Robert Flaherty, who created the cinematic sensation Nanook of the North in the 1920s. McGrath's account of inhumane deprivation is based on contemporary documents and astonishing interviews with survivors, who after decades of pleading to be repatriated to their homeland finally forced public hearings in 1993 that shocked Canadians and culminated in the 1999 creation of Nunavut, the world's only self-governing territory for indigenous people." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"McGrath is a gifted, passionate and sensitive story-teller, and through her the authentic voice of the Arctic, not the clarion call of great white explorers, rings loud and clear.... Her research is meticulous, her touch is light.... Her play with language is disarming and original ... fresh, illuminating and heartbreaking." The Sunday Telegraph
"McGrath... has a wonderful feel for landscape and so the Arctic itself assumes the life of a character... The language is lovely. Modulated, lyrical and beautiful as the stark nature it describes, it makes McGrath's book more than a fascinating and instructive read. It makes it a joyful one." Evening Standard
In 1953, the Canadian government forcibly relocated three dozen Inuit from the east coast of Hudson Bay to the high arctic. There the exiles were left to live on their own with little support and few provisions. McGrath brings this extraordinary tale of mistreatment and deprivation to life.
About the Author
Melanie McGrath's first book, Motel Nirvana, won the John Llewelyn Rhys Prize. Her third book, Silvertown, was short-listed for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Biography. She is a regular contributor to The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph, and the Evening Standard. She lives and works in London.