Saturday, December 18, 2010

Review: White Raven

White Raven
by Deborah Cannon
Trafford Publishing (2006), Paperback, 256 pages

White Raven tells about three themes:
a man, Jake Lalonde, searching for his Haida heritage and parents;
the fight between loggers and environmentalists;
the legend of the Seawolf.

Jake Lalonde was abandoned in foster houses when he was a child, now as an adult is searching for his parents. Jake has just one clue: a photo of a totem pole that bonds him to the Haida heritage.
Jake’s searches open the Pandora’s Box in a small village on Pacific Coast.

In this village loggers and environmentalists fight each other: ‘It’s a complicated situation. Some people, Native and White, want logging under provincial legislation. Others want Native autonomy, the right to do with the forests as they will, to log or not lo log, … Environmentalists want to halt the industry altogether. Each has good reasons depending on whose viewpoint you take …’ (p.233)

The novel is surrounded by an atmosphere of myth: the Haida’s legend of the Seawolf.
Haida is an indigenous nation of the Northwest Coast of North America. I liked the Haida’s description of Diamond Jenness: Haida as the Indian Viking of the North West Coast.
Seawolf legend: a man found two wolf pups on the beach. When the pups had grown they would swim in the ocean and kill a whale for the man to eat. But the wolves killed so many whales and the meat began to rot. The Great Above Person saw this waste meat and punished the wolves, so they had to remain at sea and became Sea Wolf (Killer Whale or Orca or Grampus). ‘A great white wolf transformed itself into a killer whale while retaining its white markings and the habit of traveling in packs.’ (p.32)

From the beginning of the novel Deborah Cannon describes to the reader the atmosphere of the Pacific Coast scenery: ocean’s smell, noises of lorries carrying logs, and the omnipresent magical world of ancient myths.
‘The smell of wet cedar filled the air … Jake imagined the village as it might have once been: smoke spiralling out of the roofs of the houses, fires ablaze on the beach to light the fishermen’s return journey, and a captain who called the island home,’ (p.50)

All together White Raven is a good book, although I preferred more descriptions of the Haida’s world and their legends. In the last chapters of the novel, the hideous Thomas MacPherson prevails and the book becomes a thriller losing the original idea.
‘Be patient. A dance is just a dance and spirit masks are spirit masks. You can’t absorb a hundred years of Haida heritage in one night …’ (p. 2)

A brief guide of the characters:
- Jack Lalonde and his girlfriend Angeline, and his friend Damon Spencer (both archaeologists).
- Thomas MacPherson (the logger), and his wife Susan (Susie), and their daughter Lucy.
- Jimmy Sky (the Sgua-ay) was married with Tilley.
- Henry Moon and his wife Leona, and his mother-in-law Flora.

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