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Candace Savage's A Geography of Blood is a personal examination of the area around the small Saskatchewan town of Eastend. The author and her husband came to live in Eastend on a whim - after first visiting it on a trip, they later booked a two week stay in the Wallace Stegner House and then bought a place. The more time they spend there, the more they fell for the prairie landscape and the more Savage wanted to explore it. Initially she sees it as most people see a place - the features, the climate, the wildlife, etc. But history quickly seeps into everything she sees until it is clear that the past is part and parcel of the modern day. This is especially true in considering Wallace Stegner:

" occurred to me that Stegner had been engaged in a kind of literary and historical stratigraphy. As he compared the heroic myth of the pioneer era with the equivocal data of his own childhood, he had detected evidence of unconformities, gaps between the received version of the settlement story and the reality he had lived. Part of his purpose in writing Wolf Willow, I suspected, was to take a stand against this erasure - to backfill the legend with truth.

I love the whole notion of "historical stratigraphy".

There is much around Eastend and across Saskatchewan to consider, from the conflicts that arose among First Nations members, immigrant Canadians and the French fur traders (and their descendants who were neither the settlers nor the tribal members but something completely different and also part of Canada's story) to the Hudson' Bay Company, the military and more. There have been clashes (hence the "blood" of the title) and conflicts, pain and sorrow. It is a not geographical history of brightness and joy but Savage is far less political then you would expect and more intrigued by how all that history continues to affect us today.

Something I couldn't name seemed to be urging me on, challenging me to pay attention and remember. The imperative seemed to emanate from the hills themselves, with their treasury of bones and stones and narratives. Something in me had decided to honor this land and its stories as best I could...

Savage won the $60,000 Hilary Weston Prize for A Geography of Blood and it is well worth reading for a look at the truths we tell and those we hide. (And also a must read for Stegner fans - so much of who he was comes from his time in Saskatchewan.) I found it endlessly interesting and gave me much to think about. I'm not sure how much we can or should dwell on events from centuries before but Savage makes a powerful case for how we can not let myths overpower fact. This is something that is very true in the Eastend and also, as anyone who watches reality tv knows, happening right now in Alaska.

Yep, not hard to see why this book resonated so much with me.

[See more on A Geography of Blood at The Globe and Mail and The National Post.]


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