#4 – Into The Heart of The Country – Pauline Holdstock

Set in eighteenth-century Canada, this compelling new novel takes the reader deep into unexplored territory. Appearing only fleetingly in the historical record of the Hudson’s Bay Company are the Native women who lived at the company’s Prince of Wales Fort and served as companions to the European traders — and whose survival was bound, for better or worse, to the fortunes of those men.

Across more than two centuries, the mixed-blood woman Molly Norton, daughter of Governor Moses and personal favourite of the explorer Samuel Hearne, speaks to us from her dreams. As the story of her liaison with Hearne unfolds, we move toward its tragic consequences. When their small society is torn apart, Molly and the other women find themselves and their children abandoned by their British masters. Now — in one of history’s cruel ironies — they must fend for themselves in the harsh country from which their own ancestors sprang.

Unflinching, powerful and rich in moral ambiguity, Into the Heart of the Country explores a tragic meeting of cultures that still reverberates in the present day. – Publishers Website

Wow, what a book ! Set in the desolate and often mostly un-inhabited northern areas of Canada during the 18th century, Pauline takes us into the wilds of Northern Manitoba during the time the English and French came to search for animal pets, work and settle.

The Norton’s, in particular the head of the settlement for the Hudson’s Bay Company sits in almost ambiguity as the Governor of the Prince of  Wales Fort. His family – a mix of English and Native people from the surrounding areas is uncommon as it was common to drink tea in Britain.  His daughter Molly undeniably half-blood, unprepared, under-dressed, and forbidden to learn the skills her Mother has learnt from her ancestors.

She is fearful of her father, even more fearful of the harsh wilderness that is right outside.  His tyrannical rule even spreads farther outside the desolation of the lands they trade furs.  He doesn’t trust anyone, ever.   Even more so as one of their Native acquaintances – Matonabbee; the head of the tribe that conducts business with the Governor from time to time.

At a time where Canada is being inhabited by people from Britain as well as France, this particular fort is forced to face the most dubious of forces.  Where there is an almost certainty of being double crossed, promises made that are  broken, or upheld amidst the harshest of circumstances.

How far would you go to protect, or destroy something that is in your way?  How far would you go to get what you wanted?  Is there anything you would do to get it and destroy the people in your way?

I was completely astonished in the way(s) that some people would do or say to get what they ultimately wanted.  The harshness of the wilderness that surrounded these people, the wish and will to survive.  Even now, in present day, the Native people of this country are still fighting for what they believe in.  They were the ones that were here first, only to have their lands and beliefs as well as to be good people stripped away from them, then and now.  This, is a story of not only tragedy, but of resilience, hope, love, and sadness.

I really enjoyed Pauline’s writing.  The book does go from past to present in mostly Molly’s voice as the story unfolds;  but also told from the perspective from other characters in the plot.  All I could think of while reading this book was how people, not only the natives who suffered, but also the people who came to begin a new life in Canada among the harshest of circumstances, the people who taught them how to survive, at all costs, wasn’t enough for some.

Into the Heart of the Country was long-listed for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize.  Pauline was also a finalist for the 2004 Giller Prize for her book Beyond Measure, as well as the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the City of  Victoria Butler Book Prize.  She won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize that same year.

Pauline’s Website – Facebook – Goodreads – Canadian Bookshelf – Browse Inside 

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