Steve Bell’s review of George Kenny’s book, Indians Don’t Cry
It seemed appropriate to be reading George Kenny’s Indians Don’t Cry on Holy Saturday—that “time between times” that places solemn distance between the death-dealing events of Good Friday, and the astonishing resurgence of life on Easter Sunday.
Kenny’s collection of elegant, though piercing poems, mixed with his shining, short stories, in some ways remind me of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon Days in that their striking cultural and geographic particularity pulls the reader into a unique and boundaried experience. However, rather than trading in the cozy nostalgia and humor famous to Keillor, Kenny’s work is charged with an indigenous resilience which somehow manages to generate grace and beauty from the ugly crush of a colonial press, which has wrought relentless sorrows upon First Nations people for many generations. Particular to this book are the Ojibwe people of Lac Seul, Ontario, Canada.
Indians Don’t Cry was first published in 1977, and then again in 1982 to include an additional eight poems and two stories. This most recent version, published in 2014 by University of Manitoba Press, falls under the imprint First Voices / First Texts which aims to reinvigorate “unjustly neglected texts,” reconnecting contemporary readers with “the most important Aboriginal literature of the past, much of which hasn’t been available for decades.”
New to this edition is the book’s parallel translation into the Ojibwe language by Patricia Ningewance—herself a resident of Lac Seul—whose accompanying notes reveal intriguing insights into the challenges of translating contemporary experience into archaic language. Also included in this edition are illustrations from Anishinaabe artist Ahmoo Angeconeb (also a resident of Lac Seul), and a short biographical sketch of the author by literary scholar Renate Eigenbrod.
Each contributes to this unassuming “gem,” but ultimately it is the quality of Kenny’s storied wordcraft that gives lift to the otherwise dark and heart wrenching tales artfully mined from the experience of his people. For although the book prophetically harrows grim histories, there is, throughout, the unmistakable glimmer of dawn.
I once wrote that Jesus was mistakenly tried and executed by a ruthless, colonizing power as an insurgent, when really… Jesus was a resurgent. It strikes me on this day that George Kenny is also a resurgent, giving his text the surreal quality of a Holy Saturday; that time between times that is the measured, but ultimately hopeful span and link between the Good Fridays and Easter Sundays that make up humanity’s long pilgrimage from Lent to Love.