As she races along Canada’s Douglas Channel in her speedboat – heading toward the place where her younger brother Jimmy, presumed drowned, was last seen – twenty-year-old Lisamarie Hill recalls her younger days.
A volatile and precocious Native girl growing up in Kitamaat, the Haisla Indian reservation located five hundred miles north of Vancouver, Lisa came of age standing with her feet firmly planted in two different worlds: the spiritual realm of the Haisla and the sobering ‘real’ world with its dangerous temptations of violence, drugs, and despair.
From her beloved grandmother, Ma-ma-oo, she learned of tradition and magic; from her adored, Elvis-loving uncle Mick, a Native rights activist on a perilous course, she learned to see clearly, to speak her mind, and never to bow down. But the tragedies that have scarred her life and ultimately led her to these frigid waters cannot destroy her indomitable spirit, even though the ghosts that speak to her in the night warn her that the worst may be yet to come.
Length: 386 pages
Publisher: Open Road Media
I read Monkey Beach for a university module, and I’m so glad I found this book. I don’t know if I’d ever have come across it by myself, which would have been a shame.
Monkey Beach follows two timelines. In the framing timeline, Jimmy is missing, and Lisamarie is waiting for her parents to keep her updated on news from the search for him. She’s restless, and she starts thinking back through her life. So Robinson takes us back into the second timeline, into Lisamarie’s childhood. We see her community through her eyes as she grows up and deals with the issues in the Haisla community, which are a result of the trauma of residential schools.
I knew about residential schools before reading this book as a result of reading American Indian Stories, Legends and Other Writings by Zitkala-Sa. I didn’t know they had existed in Canada as well as the USA though. Also, I knew the schools were damaging, but after reading this book and doing research around it for my essay, I now appreciate just how damaging they were (as much as a white British person can).
The atmosphere in this book is quiet and melancholy. It is filled with sadness, yet tinged with hope. As Lisamarie sifts back through her memories, moments of anger filter through. In particular the times she rebelled against who society told her to be. I really liked those moments.
Monkey Beach also deals with the environmental degradation that is an ongoing issue in the world. It is rendered especially poignant in the book though, as we are seeing it through the lens of a people who are more connected to the natural world than white westerners. The character of Ma-ma-oo, Lisamarie’s grandmother in the book, really embodies this sense change and loss. She is the last generation of Haisla who speak the language fluently, who remember the old stories and the old ways. Lisamarie mourns this loss of knowledge, and yet she culturally belongs to the western world. She cannot turn back the clock any more than humanity as a whole can. We cannot recover what we have lost through industrialisation.
The writing in Monkey Beach is beautiful. Robinson tinges Lisamarie’s narration with anger, sadness, and sarcasm. Her voice bleeds into every description. It’s easy to imagine you are reading her own personal thoughts, rather than a novel.
Money Beach is a reflective story that moves slowly, but with intention. I really enjoyed reading this book. It has helped to open up my mind even further to the injustices minorities have experienced, and still do. I would highly recommended it to fans of slow, quiet books that confront you with hard truths.