Sanaaq was written in the 1950s by Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk, a young Inuit woman living in arctic Quebec, at the behest of Roman Catholic missionaries needing language instruction. But Nappaaluk persevered, and, somewhere along the way, her language lessons became a story. It was published in 1987 in syllabic Inuttitut, translated into French in 2002, and now in English.
Since its release this month, Sanaaq has attracted national attention.
The Montreal Gazette’s Monique Polak wrote a review that appeared on January 10 :
“Sanaaq is an unusual novel by an unlikely author. It consists of 48 short chapters, the dialogue is flat and there is a lot of repetition. Yet this simply told tale captures the stark and sometimes brutal reality of life in the Far North.”
Polak, a YA author who has made six trips to Nunavik, ends her review by saying “In his foreword, Saladin d’Anglure explains he is working on bringing us more of Nappaaluk’s stories. Readers can look forward to these tales, and to those by contemporary Inuit storytellers who will carry on the work she began.”
The Winnipeg Free Press’ Barry Craig was next, with a reviewed entitled Northern Magic.
“The novel is made up of 48 episodes, including descriptions of hunting, gathering, the dangerous ritual of collecting mussels, laughter, violence, birth and death, the spirit world, relationships, conflicts between Roman Catholic and Anglican missionaries, sexual relationships with non-natives and, doubtlessly to the surprise of many, the stability and peacefulness of their everyday lives way up there. Sanaaq is worthwhile both for pleasure and to combat the bombardment of misconceptions outside their environs these native northerners have had to tolerate forever.”
CBC Montreal’s All in a Weekend radio show called after the reviews appeared. Since author Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk passed in 2007 and translator Bernard Saladin d’Anglure is in France, Christopher Trott, the editor for UMP’s Contemporary Studies on the North, was interviewed by Sonali Karnick.
Here’s a snippet from the story that accompanied the audio clip: : “Sometimes the story behind a book as good as the story itself. Case in point: Sanaaq, the first novel written in Inuktitut. The book was written by Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk, an Inuk from northern Quebec. It was published in 1987, but is only now available in English. Sanaaq is the story of an Inuit family whose way of life is changed by the coming of the traders and missionaries from the South. Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk’s encounter with some of those missionaries in the 1950s actually got her writing in the first place. An anthropologist from Laval University also played a part.”
That same day, Keavy Martin’s article on Inuit literature, featuring Sanaaq, appeared in the Globe and Mail.
On Monday, 49th Shelf made Sanaaq the lead title on this month’s edition of On Our Radar, featuring books with buzz worth sharing.. The piece quotes Keavy Martin’s article on Sanaaq, specifically this section:
“It may be understandable, then, that southerners exhibit a tendency to read Sanaaq (in French and now English) primarily for its ethnographic qualities—that is, for its ability to provide authentic access to the realities of Inuit life. Yet at certain moments, the novel also seems to resist this kind of transparency, as it makes use of both language and plot twists that may baffle its new English-speaking audience. For instance, the ease with which Sanaaq’s cousin Aqiarulaaq is able to persuade her relative Ningiukuluk to give up her middle daughter may surprise readers unfamiliar with Inuit adoption practices, while the episode in which the young Maatiusi—heartbroken after his fiancée conceives a child by the chief factor at the trading post—becomes dangerously entangled with a nuliarsaq, or invisible wife, might also leave southern readers scratching their heads. Yet rather than attempting to draw large (and largely inaccurate) conclusions about Inuit culture, southern readers might instead try to enjoy this humbling state of non-understanding. After all, Sanaaq belongs to a literary tradition, both ancient and adaptive, that is very different from those that shape most high-school curricula in the south.”