Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Coppermine - Keith Ross Leckie

What an absolutely intriguing read Coppermine was! It's a period piece, set in 1917 Canada. Jack Creed of the Royal North West Mounted Police (RNWMP) has just returned from patrol in the far north to boom town Edmonton. Having barely arrived, he volunteers for what will be at the least, a year long assignment even farther north, up to the area known as Coppermine. Two priests hoping to convert the Eskimos haven't been heard from in two years. Creed is to find them or find out what happened to them. If it's foul play, he is to bring the perpetrators back to Edmonton to face charges.
 "It's never been charted. No police posts. No credible maps at all beyond the mouth of the Dease River, except for a few sketches from Franklin. He's the last white man we know of to get up there."
Accompanied by Angituk, a young Inuit interpreter, he strikes out. Discovering the bodies of the priests, he apprehends two Copper Inuit and strikes out back to Edmonton. It is over a year later when he and his prisoners finally arrive.

Keith Ross Leckie has lots of experience in writing historical screenplays and it shows in Coppermine. He's done a phenomenal job of bringing this time period and setting to life. I found myself looking up early references to the Coppermine River and it's bloody history and discovering they were all fact based. I then discovered that the entire book is based on actual events in Canadian history.

They mystery of the death of the priests is slowly revealed once the foursome returns to Edmonton and the two Inuit are put on trial. I was keen to know the reasons for the priest's death and the outcome of the trial, but it was the interaction between all the different players that really drew me in. Jack and his relationship to the north - the passages describing the peace he feels travelling in the wilderness are affecting. Angituk is of mixed race - half white, half Inuit.  I found the burgeoning relationship between the two especially well drawn.

But it is the two Inuit - Uluksuk and Sinnisiak who completely captured me. Their beliefs and approach to life was engrossing. Again - lots of facts woven in. Leckie has vividly depicted the union between man and nature. Seeing Edmonton and 'civilization' from Uluksuk and Sinnisiak's view  and Edmonton society's perception of them was no less eye opening.

I found the following discourse by one of the Mounties worth quoting here. It's long, but says a lot.

"You see, the Eskimo is a nomadic hunting society while ours is a stationary accumulative society. They are polar opposites, no pun intended. In our society is it the accumulation of material goods and land and currency which is the measure of a man's success. And then this system then requires government and taxes and banks, the creation of class structures, competition, suppression of the poor and of women. But in Eskimo society, success comes from a productive hunt and to do that they require mobility, adaptability, skill and planning, and an intuitive understanding of land and sea conditions, animal behaviour and weather patterns.  And it has always been the case that settled culture seeks to change nomadic hunting cultures, to make them stop and stay in one place and embrace their brand of civilization, but it is the very egalitarian nature of the nomadic society that defends against that. They have no real leaders as such. No organizations! Each Eskimo makes his own decisions. The best hunter leads by example. Others watch. No questions are asked. No one tells anyone else what to do. If anyone tried to give orders, it would be considered rude and improper. And you see, this individualism is an effective barricade against organized domination by one man, one class, or by an outside civilization like....ourselves."

Leckie has successfully combined history, mystery, adventure and yes, romance along with some thought provoking ideas to produce a memorable read. Very much recommended.


Anonymous said...

Sounds intriguing. I haven't read much about this part of the world - this books sounds like a good place to start!

Nikki in Niagara said...

I have this coming up in my tbr pile. Good review! It's the first I've seen for the book so far.

bermudaonion said...

I love it when you review Canadian books! This one sounds so good!

Teena in Toronto said...

I tried to like this one but didn't so couldn't finish it.