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Facts And Fictions
by Carole Giangrande

BOTH LEE MARACLE`s account of growing up Native on Canada`s West Coast and her more recent collection of short stories show us the growth of a gutsy survivor, a woman who tackles adversity like a tough weed pushing through concrete. Read them in tandem: the first for its toughedged picture of Native realities, the second for the maturity and insight that years of living and writing have added to Maracle`s earlier experiences. Bobbi Lee was written in the `70s; for students of contemporary Native issues, it stands as a valuable document of the period. For the general reader, however, Sojourner`s Truth is a less disjointed read and a far better piece of writing. It provides us with a welcome introduction to the work of a talented Native storyteller. Although Bobbi Lee begins with an updated preface from last summer`s peace camp at Oka, political involvements hover at the edges of her story, not the centre. Yet it is, in the broadest sense, a political tale, as Maracle struggles to understand the purpose of her own life in its larger context of poverty and racial oppression. Maracle was raised by a hardworking mother and an irascible, mostly absent father, and her determination to live a useful life helped her survive a catalogue of troubles: family chaos, (mis)education, her growing perceptions of racism, and her struggle to come to terms with her hatred of whites. The book documents Maracle`s physical and spiritual drifting across a continent during the `60s (she lived with California farmworkers and later became part of Toronto`s rough hippie/drug scene). An epilogue updates a rambling story already overloaded with detail; it`s a tribute to Maracle that she manages to emerge from editorial neglect as a warm and likeable human being. Her story collection, Sojourner`s Truth, is an effort to meld Native oral form and the European "linear" story. At its best, the technique conveys freshness and immediacy, leaving the reader with the sense of moving through a story as if it were a place; life will continue there after we leave. At other times, orality doesn`t translate well, and the strong presence and central role of the oral storyteller lands on the page as intrusive narration and jarring shifts in point of view. Yet Maracle`s writing has vitality and richness; the stories are wise, occasionally funny, and sometimes disturbing. Often they deal with journeys toward a lost home, a theme with painful resonance: a Native woman is set adrift from her old life on the reserve; a child`s escape from a residential school has tragic results. Maracle includes a retelling of a wonderful Native tale, wryly titled "World War I," which is an unsentimental account of the origins of violence and law in the animal kingdom. And her metaphoric story about a white woman writer who suffers from agoraphobia ends with the narrator`s imagining that the two may one day be friends, "trudging along the mountains of my birth" in sunlight. Like Maracle`s blend of oral and written words, her vision of human empathy has been too long in coming.

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