October 14, 2008

Inuit in The Cage

The Cage (Hardcover)This riveting, assured first novel about a nature photographer who joins an all-male expedition to record polar bears on the Canadian tundra is difficult to classify. Part survival story, part coming-of-age tale, the narrative mixes rich characterization with detailed observation of the natural world and crisply described action, and the effect is startling and memorable. The only child of older parents, Beryl Findham is a small, weak, fearful woman who is ill at ease with most people. She lives alone in Boston, photographing animals in zoos, imagining a diminished future world where her size will be an advantage. Chosen to join the expedition because she fits inside the cage designed to let a photographer get close to the deadly bears, Beryl soon realizes that the trip will test her in ways she can hardly imagine. As the setting moves from Boston to Churchill, the small Manitoba town on the shore of Hudson Bay where the expedition assembles, to the frozen wilderness where Beryl will confront the bears, Schulman artfully builds suspense with details of chilling authenticity, cohesively streamlining a compact, efficient narrative. Some of her scenes are truly terrifying, conjuring up the spine-tingling feel of a bear's breath on the back of the neck. People will talk about this book.Comment:  This novel isn't about the Inuit per se, but Jean-Claude the guide is half-Inuit, so I can mention it here. It's a superior book. Rob's rating: 8.5 of 10.

For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Books.

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