An Inuit Novel

Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk (Author), Bernard Saladin d’Anglure (Translator)

Sanaaq is an intimate story of an Inuit family negotiating the changes brought into their community by the coming of the qallunaat, the white people. Composed in 48 episodes, it recounts the daily life of Sanaaq, a strong and outspoken young widow, her daughter Qumaq, and their small semi-nomadic community in northern Quebec. Here they live their lives hunting seal, repairing their kayak, and gathering mussels under blue sea ice before the tide comes in. These are ordinary extraordinary lives: marriages are made and unmade, children are born and named, violence appears in the form of a fearful husband or a hungry polar bear. Here the spirit world is alive and relations with non-humans are never taken lightly. And under it all, the growing intrusion of the qallunaat and the battle for souls between the Catholic and Anglican missionaries threatens to forever change the way of life of Sanaaq and her young family.

About the translation:
In the early 1950s, Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk was asked by a priest working in Kangiqsujuaq in northern Quebec to write down some Inuttitut phrases to assist him in the study of the language. At the age of twenty-two, Nappaaluk began writing but did not stop at mere phrases. She invented a group of characters and events and, over the next twenty years, wrote the first Inuit novel, simultaneously reinventing the novel form.

Due in part to the perseverance of French anthropologist Bernard Saladin d’Anglure, Sanaaq was first published in syllabic Inuttitut in 1987. His French translation appeared in 2002. This English translation now brings this cornerstone of Inuit literature to Anglophone readers and scholars.

University of Manitoba Press is pleased to partner with Avataq Cultural Institute on the publication of this book.

Audiobook narrated by Tiffany Ayalik.


  • WINNER, Mary Scorer Award for Best Book by a Manitoba Publisher, Manitoba Book Awards (2015)
  • SELECTION, Jackets & Covers, the Association of University Presses' Book, Jacket & Journal Show (2014)


“Despite being a figure of great literary and cultural importance, Mitiarjuk and her work are almost entirely unknown in English-speaking Canada…. Sanaaq may be read as an ethnographic or historical document, but to do so would be to miss the skill and complexity of the storytelling. The novel is a creative and critical intervention into the process of representing Inuit experience.”

– Keavy Martin, Studies in Canadian Literature

“This is a beautiful novel, whose value to the non-Inuk may be more anthropological than fictional. To non-Inuit readers, Sanaaq may show the Inuit worldview, and the readers may imagine the living in the Arctic and early Inuit life. To Inuit readers who have little to no experience with Inuktitut or life on the land, this book is a private conduit to discovering blood memories. No matter your background, it urges readers to surrender themselves to it and to engage with the emotional geographies of the North.”

Pitseolak Pfeifer, Nunatsiaq News

“This Inuit novel is an Elder’s gift from the young woman who wrote over the span of her lifetime, to educate and inspire those who have long passed, those of us in this present moment, and those not yet born.”

– June Halliday, The Malahat Review

“As a novel, the book will delight and startle readers, but as a scholarly resource it is essential—it is difficult to overstate how remarkable this work is and what a great advantage it is to finally have it readily available in an affordable English translation for the general reader, scholars, and classroom use.”

– James Gifford and Lindsay Parker, The Year’s Work in English Studies

Sanaaq begins abruptly and ends with a spiritual release, and everything in between carries the reader along the life journey of a small community tangling with the paradoxes, juxtapositions, and day-to-day realities of northern colonialism while also re-affirming the livelihoods and knowledge that people use to assert local ways of knowing upon colonial actors. This novel, now available in English, is important reading for anyone wishing to better understand the trajectories and ironies of mid-twentieth century state projects to furnish “welfare” to Canada’s northern peoples, and to understand how Inuit actors approached these new realities.”

Zoe Todd, University of Aberdeen, The Goose

“It is not up for debate whether or not an Inuk woman has written what non-Inuit may call a novel; it is not up for debate whether or not Inuit knowledge has vanished. This is a book filled with tradition, the tradition that still lies within the blood of every Inuk in Canada. It is a book about the strength, courage, and love of family by one Inuk woman and how each of these traits were passed on by her own community, uninterrupted and with tenderness, allowing other Inuit to follow along the path Sanaaq has broken for us all.”

– Norma Dunning, Etudes/Inuit/Studies

Sanaaq is an unpretentious collection of fictional vignettes depicting Inuit family life in the 1950s Canadian eastern arctic. The author wrote at the request of an anthropologist attempting to learn Inuktitut and seeking to understand the context of specific words and terms. Ms. Nappaaluk offered him stories that, together, form a ‘novel’ – beautiful gem-like tales, told so naturally as to reflect her innate storytelling talent. The book could be viewed as a snapshot of Inuit ‘dailiness.’ It also shares a powerful perspective on life in the land. This is one of the most wonderous and charming pieces of writing I have read in years. I consider it a national treasure.”

– Laurie Meijer Drees, First Nations Studies, Vancouver Island University

“This simply told tale captures the stark and sometimes brutal reality of life in the Far North.”

Monique Polak, Montreal Gazette

Sanaaq explores life in the Arctic from an Inuit perspective. The publisher mounted an effective national campaign that resulted in a surprise best-seller.”

– Melanie Brannagan Frederiksen, Coralie Tremblay, and Susan McIntosh, Judges, The Mary Scorer Award for Best Book by a Manitoba Publisher, 2015 Manitoba Book Awards

About the Authors

Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk (1931 – 2007) was an educator and author based in the northern Quebec territory of Nunavik. Dedicated to preserving Inuit culture, Nappaaluk authored over twenty books, including Sanaaq, the first novel written in syllabics. Among her many accomplishments, Nappaaluk also compiled an Inuttitut encyclopedia of Inuit traditional knowledge, translated the Catholic prayer book into Inuttitut, and helped to develop curriculum materials for the Kativik School Board. In 1999, Nappaaluk received the National Aboriginal Achievement Award in the Heritage and Spirituality category. In 2000, she was awarded an honorary doctorate from McGill University and in 2004 was appointed to the Order of Canada.

Bernard Saladin d’Anglure first began his work among the Canadian Inuit in the 1950s, when he was a young student from France. He later became a professor of Anthropology at the University of Laval, where he taught until his retirement.

Book Details

Purchase Online

Related Titles