Review by Rachel Carlson In 1975, Lee Maracle published her autobiographical novel, Bobbi Lee: Indian Rebel, and became one of the first Aboriginal authors printed in Canada. Since then, Maracle has continued her fight against colonialism and patriarchy with several works of poetry, fiction and non-fiction.Her latest novel, Celia’s Song, is an unflinching account of one family’s experience of intergenerational trauma and healing.
The novel opens as the shape-shifting narrator, Mink, watches a two-headed serpent slither from its post above a forgotten longhouse door.The snake’s heads, Loyal and Restless, battle for supremacy as they make their way along the coast of British Columbia and through Nuu’chalnulth territory. Restless grows strong on the lingering aftermath of colonialism, while Loyal stokes the fire of resiliency. Their dual influences of discord and harmony shape the lives of Celia James and her family.
Celia’s family and community tend the still open wounds left by systemic poverty, European epidemics, near cultural erasure and the residential school system.Nobody but Mink knows the healing song Celia carries within herself, but she is a reluctant visionary. She drifts on the margins of her family’s complex relationships and remains lost in the aftermath of her son’s suicide.But, as Restless’s influence grows, a terrible tragedy strikes one of the community’s youngest members. Ultimately, Celia, her family and her village unite against Restless’s voracious appetite and begin to suture the wounds of colonialism.
Like the healing process, Celia’s Song is by turns painful, funny, traumatic and joyful.It is a narrative with strong, imperfect women at its core.They are both healers and arbiters of justice. They become the elders who reimagine stolen traditions and reclaim the songs that make life worth living:
“Without song, the body cannot grieve the dead, send them off to another dimension, cannot work or love.Without song, the body cannot recover from loss, from divorce, cannot express its yearning, and cannot dream.Four generations of men and women have not been allowed to sing.Without song, all that is left is the thinnest sense of survival.”