Allison's Book Bag

A Stranger at Home by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

Posted on: July 1, 2014

A Stranger at Home is the third true story by Christy Jordan-Fenton about the impact which residential schools had on her mother-in-law Margaret Pokiak-Fenton. It’s also my favorite thus far in the series. A Stranger at Home poignantly portrays the struggles which Olemaun faces as she attempts to rediscover her place within her Inuit community and even within her family, both of which Olemaun has been apart from for two years.

Although Olemaun had been desperate to return home, she now finds herself just of much of an outsider among her own people as she had been at the church-run school. When her parents pick Olemaun up to take her home, Olemaun finds the Inuit language strange to her tongue. Her mother assumes Olemaun will be hungry and so she brings a package of what used to be Olemaun’s favorite foods. However, two years of eating only the white man’s food have taken their toll on her body and the food which once brought Olemaun comfort now sicken her and cause her nose to crinkle. When the family finally reach their canvas tent, the family dogs almost take Olemaun’s hand off because they no longer recognize her scent. Nothing feels the same anymore, not the hour her family rises or the games her sisters play or even the clothes everyone wears.

On some levels, because of my relocating from Canada to the United States, I relate to Olemaun’s attempts to hold onto her heritage. The minute I cross into my home province of Newfoundland, after being away for a year, I start soaking up the unique accent. I also start searching out local foods. There are also naturally changes in family. Although my dog whom I left with my parents is now gone, the first year I returned home after a long absence, he growled at me. Moreover, my siblings were in primary school when I initially left home, which means every year I return being less and less connected to their world. Hence, part of the appeal of A Stranger at Home is that whether one has moved simply from a town or whether one has taken the bigger step of embracing a new culture, everyone will find common ground with Olemaun and will be subsequently moved.

What compounds Olemaun’s struggles is that her family has decided not to return to Banks Island, where they normally spend most of their year. Moreover, they are feeling the pressure of needing to adapt to the white man’s world. Olemaun’s father is picking up extra work as a special constable to the RCMP, who rely on his skills to help them adapt in an environment colder that what they are familiar. Olemaun’s mother doesn’t understand the store clerks who speak English, which means she is often charged for goods that she didn’t purchase. Last, the government is continuing to encourage Inuit parents to send their children to school. While Olemaun had to years ago convince her parents to send her away, now they want her sisters to attend because they need not just the wisdom of their people but also the knowledge of the outsiders. I have not read many stories about those who both want to hold onto their heritage, while embracing that of an alien culture, and so this is another positive about A Stranger at Home. It helped me understand how challenging the situation can be and should resonate strongly with immigrants who do face this dilemma.

Years ago, Thomas Wolfe made popular the sentiment, “You can’t go home again”. While the end pages of A Stranger at Home make clear that many Inuit children such as Olemaun have proved this phrase wrong, Olemaun’s story also shows how hard of a fight it was to reclaim their heritage. Today Aboriginal people are trying to provide support through classes in traditional language, instruction by elders on customs, and celebration of culture through powwows, traditional arts and crafts, and stories like those told by Christy and Margaret. A Stranger at Home is an amazing story about the resilience of a special Inuit girl.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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Summer Reviews

Books can take connect us with strangers, take us to unique places, and introduce us to new ideas. They can also offer hope in a chaotic world. And so I must share what I read!

Each week, I’ll introduce you to religious books, Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, or diversity books. Some I’ll review as singles and others as part of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Joni: The unforgettable story of a young woman’s struggle against quadriplegia & depression by Joni Eareckson
  • The True Story of the World’s Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary by Samantha Glen
  • Brothers in hope : the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan–refugees by Mary Williams
  • The Inner Life of Cats by Thomas McNamee

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