Friday, April 06, 2007

Books and Islands


I assigned myself a little extra credit work for our discussion of Louise Erdrich's Tracks and read her Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country, a nonfiction account of her journey through Southern Ontario to visit sacred rock paintings, and other connections between the land and reading and writing. In the book she reflects on her study of Ojibwe language. You can get a taste of this from this New York Times article, Two Languages in Mind, But Just One in the Heart,
How do you go back to a language you never had? Why should a writer who loves her first language find it necessary and essential to complicate her life with another? Simple reasons, personal and impersonal. In the past few years I've found that I can talk to God only in this language, that somehow my grandfather's use of the language penetrated. The sound comforts me.
The language geeks amongst us may wish to explore this Ojibwe Language website. It will remind you of the Mohawk chapters in Mark Abley's Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages.

Of further interest to our Loyal Readers, Erdrich takes W.G. Sebald's Austerlitz, with her for pleasure reading on her travels, the novel's theme of the search for identity paralleling her own journey. Here's some of what she says about the book,
Page after page is about how history sinks into the mind, tormentingly sometimes, and what arrests and disturbances truth causes until finally the human heart can accept its sorrows, heal itself by enduring the unendurable and go on beating...

Like Austerlitz, I too feel as though I've seen the vanished people walking, felt their eyes upon me, and that when I stare down into the opaque water, they are somehow calmly looking up from their ordinary tasks, which they have carried on, below us, for thousands of years. (p. 96-7)
The traces of a vanished people evident in the photo at top come from looking up from the water to a cliff face, from a canoe actually, in Ojibwe country very close to the Minnesota/Canadian border.
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