Book Review: Death in I'Acadie: A Kesk8a Story by Sherrill Wark
March 10, 2016
After we pass on, we do not fade away into nothingness. We’re still alive. The people that encountered us on our life’s journey will forever carry a memory of us with them. They will remember who we are, what we did, and how much of an impact we made in their lives. For as long as there is someone to speak or write of us we are still alive in some way. Sherrill Wark explores this way of being alive through the memories of others in her novel Death in I’Acadie: A Kesk8a Story, wherein an efflorescing female storyteller in Acadia immortalizes both the pure as well as the evil of heart in her village.
When the Fathers write Keskoua’s name down, they write it as “Kesk8a”, because her name has a unique way of being pronounced. Keskoua wants to be a storyteller. She can tell you of how one man in her village lost an eye and every single thing that led up to that unfortunate moment as well as how a Frenchman named Claude came to be in Acadia. She can tell you of many people. She can tell you of herself as well, for her own story involves a man who people genuinely assumes to be the least likeliest to do something awful. This man is a priest. Keskoua will forever remember him as something else.
Sherrill Wark becharms readers with clean-cut prose and does Acadia justice with this well-researched and entertaining read.
King Louis the 14th rules Acadia, a colony of France in the late 1600s, the time in which this novel is set. Keskoua lives in a village and through her, readers will get to enter dwellings that she knows as wikuoms as well as envision a rock that everyone in Keskoua’s village knows simply as The Bear. Being a native of Acadia, Keskoua and her people from the Mi’gmaw tribe refer to things like age and months differently than a Frenchman in that particular time might’ve done. Words from their own language are also abundantly used and often clarified. The Bear is like the Mi’gmaw version of the Statue of Liberty, so readers can expect to visit this landmark often.
Keskoua is not like other girls her age and it’s not just because of her desire to be a storyteller. She prefers spending time with older people instead of people her own age. It’s obvious to the reader that a girl like her silently mocks the Newcomers and their religion. While they pray to God, she prays to Kiji Niskam, translated as Great Spirit. She doesn’t like that her people’s ways and traditions are on a fast track to being forgotten. As a storyteller, she is more of an observer, often silent, yet sometimes she cannot stop herself from uttering something that she shouldn’t or blatantly laughing at someone.
One of the things that readers won’t forget is a shadow of a man named Paul Le Putois. His first appearance in the book is in the beginning when Keskoua tells the story of a man named One-Eyed Joe and his wife Young Rabbit Woman. Everyone knows that Paul is a coward, but people fear him because the people he doesn’t like often end up being dead. After Keskoua tells his story, Paul becomes more like a ghost than a person living in her village. People rarely, if ever, see him with their own two eyes. He is fascinating to say the least, adding more depth to a novel that would only have been well-founded if it wasn’t for him.
There are a few instances when the author informs readers about something that could’ve been mentioned earlier. Keskoua’s blossoming mental bank of Newcomer words are thought to her by the mother of Paul Le Putois, but this gets mentioned only after Keskoua, being the narrator and all, decides to do so. Readers meet Keskoua’s brother Gi’gwesu almost halfway into the book. In the beginning, Keskoua relentlessly teases a girl who is two winters older than her named Feather. When the wheel of karma turns at a later stage and Feather teases Keskoua, the author doesn’t write anything about Feather getting Keskoua back for being such a pain in the beginning.
Sherrill Wark becharms readers with clean-cut prose and does Acadia justice with this well-researched and entertaining read. The diversity of her characters, when seen together from an outsider’s eyes, is what makes this novel as brilliant as it is. I recommend this book to the reader who would like to see the colonized world through the eyes of a young female North American native. Readers will connect with the protagonist. They will remember her amazing story. As fictitious a being as she is, she will not fade away into nothingness. Whether it is in fiction or in real life, death is not the end for anyone. Read it, believe it.
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