Tanya Talaga’s new publication All Our Relations is as much a must read as her award-winning debut with both delivering power and beauty in fine balance. (Daniel J. Rowe, The Eastern Door)
When a writer takes the plunge and completes their first book, it’s a monumental achievement in itself. When that writer’s first publication is incredible, engaging and relevant, it’s even more impressive.
However, when the writer can continue their body of work with a second book that doesn’t a) lean too heavily on the first, b) says something unique and interesting and c) shows a continued ability and style, that writer is one to watch.
Tanya Talaga followed the Shaughnessey Cohen Prize-winning Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death and Hard Truths in a Northern City with the recently released All Our Relations: Finding the Path Forward (House of Anansi Press, $19.95).
Both are must-reads.
Whereas her first book centres on Thunder Bay and northern Ontario communities, her second work is a broad-ranging chronicle of the alarming rise of youth suicide in Indigenous communities across the globe including Canada.
Talaga starts in northern Ontario, and travels to Nunavut, Norway, Brazil, Australia and other communities on Turtle Island, as she explores the troubling trend asking why young people are taking their lives at such lopsided numbers?
It’s a tough question to explore, but one that Talaga does with sensitivity and bravery.
Though reasons vary slightly, Talaga finds the causes of Onkwehón:we suicide rates are disturbingly similar: separation of peoples from their lands, separation of families and separation from traditional ways of life.
“All children struggle to find their identity, to discover who they are and where their place is in the world,” she writes, citing work from the First Nations Caring Society. “But Indigenous youth are particularly weighed down by an inability to reconcile their personal and collective pasts, thus mitigating any sense of a viable future. Without cultural or personal continuity with the past and the community, ‘life is easily cheapened and the possibility of suicide becomes a live option.’”
Some of the stories she recounts are truly heart breaking, as families work to recover from the shock and loss of their loved ones at such a young age.
There is, however, hope in addition to despair.
The book shows the work groups and communities are engaged in to prevent suicide and reconnect cultures with their traditions, lands and roots. It is Talaga’s ability to bounce between what can seem like bleak despair to hope or at least constructive momentum that makes her such a fine writer.
She is a master at showing, not telling the reader what the problem is, what are its roots, and what are some possible ways the issues can be addressed.
The book is collected from the CBC’s Massey Lectures in October and developed after Talaga was chosen for the 2017-18 Atkinson Fellowship in Public Policy.
Talaga’s dogged research and ability to connect with subjects is blaringly apparent in both her books. The humanity in the characters highlight the plights they are in, and help bring a greater understanding to some very hard truths.
Reporting on Onkwehón:we youth suicide is a daunting and monumental task, and her dedication to that work shows throughout the pages of her book.
Talaga is to be commended for her work.