How can we travel to other places without leaving our homes? Worldwide Fictional Travel is an escape I use to learn about the world, by reading books of fiction based in different locations; stories told from all corners of the globe. I built this map from Google Maps to mark all the physical locations where each of these books were located in. The goal? To learn about the world through empathy, and perhaps to read one from every country.
Close your eyes and picture in your head what you think the apocalypse will look like. What did you see? Zombies? Another global pandemic? An asteroid hurtling towards Earth?
Moon of the Crusted Snow is based in a fictional Anishinaabe reserve in Northern Ontario, Canada.
Waubgeshig Rice pictures it a little differently, from his own perspective as an Anishinaabe writer and novelist. Rice sets this dystopian thriller in an indigenous reserve located in Northern Ontario belonging to an Anishinaabe tribe; specifically, one which is more technologically sophisticated than the cliche versions which we tend to see on TV. The protagonist, Evan Whitesky, is an everyman character who finds himself with one foot in the past (trying to connect with his Anishinaabe roots through traditional hunting rituals, language and storytelling) and one foot in the present (often returning to his wife at home to find her watching sitcoms on a flatscreen TV monitor).
A question we should ask ourselves, however, is exactly what kind of "present" does Evan live in? The novel draws attention to many of the technological advancements which the white man brought to the reserve which Evan and his small community all live in. Some have improved the lives of its members, while others have caused them to lose touch with the traditional ways. We see this first hand when the electricity which powers the entire reserve is cut off, leading its people to panic in a fall which is rapidly approaching a seemingly harsh winter. When the supply-chains which the community has grown reliant on are cut off, many realise that they are unable to hunt or collect the firewood necessary to support themselves.
I feel inclined to say that this community is one which finds itself in "transition", but upon completing the book I realised that this is far from the case. Rice does a great job of painting the reserve as one which tries to reflect the lives of modern Anishinaabe living in Canada. They talk about Hockey and listen to a varied array of musical genres while driving diesel-powered four-wheel drives. There is no case of past and future, the tribe just is. For someone who was keen to read this book to learn more about First Nations in Canada, I'm pleased to have come away with many shattered notions of indigenous life in the 21st century.
Digression aside, what I think is important to recognise, is the context. An unforgiving winter where the community has no power and limited options to hunt marks a dystopian apocalypse for the reserve. For others living in the West, this might sound bad, but not bad enough to be categorised as a disaster. The reserve certainly feels its disastrous effects, however, as they struggle with the many challenges this throws in their way. Their way of life, values and humanity are all tested as winter approaches, revealing how this Anishinaabe tribe responds to such challenges.
Without revealing too much, I think that the strongest theme of this book is certainly that of the cause-and-effect relationship of struggle and resilience. The Anishinaabe as people have faced hardships as Southerners have tried to oppress them in the past, including a ban on their language and the theft of their land. Nevertheless, they continue to survive, though their limits are tested amidst this harsh winter. This is encapsulated by the reserve's response to a white refugee named Justin Scott who asks to join their community.
In summary, the book is very hard to put down. It's as gripping as it is educational. There are a few things in particular which Rice comments on in this book which I really enjoyed; love in small communities, homesickness when entering a world so different to that of your own, the epidemiology of suicides, alcohol and drug abuse, trust in white southerners, the scarring legacy of residential schools and the oppression of Ojibwe language.
If you have six hours on a cold snowy day and want to feel something different as you sit comfortably on a warm sofa seat in a well-lit living room, I couldn't recommend this book more.
Moon of the Crusted Snow is available for purchase on Amazon.