REVIEWS FROM DECEMBER 2000
of the latest books, audio,
video, and software.
Nora Marks. Life Woven with Song. Tucson: Univ.
of Arizona Press, 2000. 140 pp. ISBN 0-8165-2005-4, $29.95 (cl);
0-8165-2006-2, $16.95 (pb).
Lukaax.ádi (Sockeye clan) woman from Alaska invites us
to feast on "slices" of herself in the form of prose, poetry,
and plays elegantly and skillfully carved to nourish our spirits.
The girl shaped by the territory near Hoonah "feeds" us slices
of her life as daughter, grandchild, mother, lover, friend, grandma,
writer, and culture worker steeped in Northwest Coast Tlingit
tradition, living today. Her offerings, from the loving dedication
to the striking pose on the back cover, are organized with passion
prose plays with the definitions of "salmon": the fish, the clan,
and the woman. The "Egg Boat" subtly conveys the girl-child’s
initiation into cultural agency and empowerment by her elders.
The autobiographical essay anchors her simultaneously in mythical,
historical, and contemporary relations. Her spirit soars in the
poetry. In it she is freed to regale us with insights, longings,
jarring juxtapositions, tantalizing tastes, emotions, sights of
distant places, people, and events that situate her work in a
very special juncture of time and place. While the "real life
work" of this Tlingit speaker has been the faithful translation
of stories from the Elders, the Raven plays included in this collection
were crafted as performance showcases. She animates Raven, the
"negative," the "amoral re-arranger" in three plays as the final
verse of this outstanding weave of "songs." I highly recommend
Atleo _(Ahousaht First Nation, Nuu-chah-nulth)
of British Columbia
Amitava. Passport Photos. Berkeley: Univ. of California
Press, 2000. 290 pp. ISBN 0-520-21816-7, $48.00 (cl); 0-520-21817-5,
constructs what he terms a "forged passport" in opposition to
"that which is demanded by the state and . . . the traditional
academy." Defining aspects of "immigritude," Kumar searches for
a "new poetics and politics of diasporic protest" and writes about
immigration in two ways. First, he returns the metaphor of the
border to what he terms "the material reality of barbed wire fences,
entrenched prejudices, and powerful economic interests" that regulate
immigration. Second, he argues for a refinement of the metaphor,
a transformation and creation of "new assemblages" of form, readers,
in postcolonial theory, fictional narratives, photographs, illustrative
poems, and valuable critical insights, Kumar’s book explores a
number of issues. He ruminates about how names can and have become
detours, on how our origins are not quite fixed, on the politics
of naming, on the political geography of postcolonial history,
on borders that distance and discriminate, and, most importantly,
on a truth that emerges not from words spoken or books read but
from "the lines of chalk around dead bodies."
Photos captures well the personal lived experience of immigrants.
Kumar’s style, however, sometimes distances the reader. For example,
by labeling illegal immigrants "the bravest," the prophets who
know "the reality of our world decades before the Californian
suburbanite will ever get the point," or insisting that whenever
Indians identify their culture, the non-Indian always utters "curry,"
Kumar ironically does what he critiques: He overgeneralizes and
narrows the account. Even his conclusion seems a broad assumption.
Kumar cleverly documents the questions posed by symbolic migration,
but offers few answers.