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Kiss of the Fur Queen Paperback – Sep 14 1999
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Following the phenomenal success and critical acclaim of Tomson Highway's two plays, The Rez Sisters and Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing, his first novel, Kiss of the Fur Queen, similarly infuses stark realism with the "magic" of Cree culture and blends tragedy with raucous comedy.
The novel opens in 1951 with Abraham Okimasis's victory in "The World Championship Dog Derby," a major dog-sled race. Part of his prize is a kiss from the winner of a local beauty pageant, a young white woman with the title of Fur Queen. This touch of white culture indelibly marks the lives of Abraham's sons, Jeremiah and Gabriel, who grow into acclaimed artists attempting to work within white, European traditions while retaining the influence of Native culture. The novel follows the boys from the idyllic innocence of their Cree childhood through a forced relocation to an abusive residential school to their lives as young artists attempting to discover how far their natural talents can take them. Highway frankly depicts the abuse of Native students at the hands of the Catholic priests who run the residential schools, but falls short of overt condemnation. This startling material is tempered, in a remarkably skilful manipulation of prose, by an almost complete lack of editorial intrusion by the sympathetic narrator.
Kiss of the Fur Queen ultimately deserves to be a few hundred pages longer. Highway's discussions of racism, homosexuality, and cultural awkwardness toward the end of the novel would seem less like sociological set-pieces if he took more room to fully explore the complexities of these issues, which, in turn, would add even more life to two already compelling characters. Kiss may fall short of the near perfection of Highway's acclaimed plays, but it is a remarkably good first novel. --Jonathan Dewar
"Tomson Highway's prose is beautiful, lyrical... Emotionally complex, witty, symphonic and sad, Kiss of the Fur Queen is a remarkable novel, filled with blood and guts, life and love." —The Vancouver Sun
"Kiss of the Fur Queen is a novel of affirmation ... a novel that dances with life." —The Globe and Mail
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Top Customer Reviews
FUR QUEEN tells the truly sad tale of Champion and Ooneemeetoo Okimasis, Cree brothers growing up in Northern Manitoba. At an all-too-early age, Champion and Ooneemeetoo are torn from their magical life, thrust headlong into Canada's then-enforced policy of subjecting native children to Catholic residential schools. They are renamed Jeremiah and Gabriel, force-fed a life of Christian beliefs, subjected to monstrous acts by the priests, and removed from any conception of their people's history, language, and traditions. Slowly maturing into young men, Champion (Jeremiah) begins a career as a concert pianist, while Gabriel pursues a life in dance. As they struggle to cope in a world that increasingly alienates them from their past, their heritage re-enters their lives in unexpected and sometimes tragic ways.
Highway is a gifted writer, as evident from the multitude of awards he recieved for his plays THE REZ SISTERS and DRY LIPS OUGHT TO MOVE TO KASPUSKASING (both incredible plays, by the way). His presentation of the realities of Native-Canadian life has been lauded for its sense of humanity in the face of horror, as well as for showing a world that many people would rather ignore, or refuse to believe exists. So it is with FUR QUEEN. Highway's slow evolution of the narrative is masterful, travelling from the nostalgic remembrances of a child's idyllic life to the brutalities that face Native-Canadians in the 'evolved' city of Winnipeg.Read more ›
The writing and descriptions are over-the-top at times, which gives the book almost a meta-fiction feel. It reminded me think of Kundera's _Unbearable Lightness of Being_ for example (although in ULB the author actually states outright that his characters aren't real people). Still, the two books share a style I can only think of as "gentle" - a kind of unassuming spirituality that radiates compassion. Both stories feel like they are told by a master, who uses a light tone to address the darkest issues of the human heart, and whose characters emerge transcendent.
Just read it. You won't regret it.
Most recent customer reviews
Must-read for any Canadian-what an amazing Canadian author. We are blessed!Published 10 months ago by C. M.
Tomson Highway has written a book that tries to give the reader an idea of some of the horrible experiences aboriginal children experienced in residential schools. Read morePublished on June 16 2010 by A. Kromm