SONG OF RITA JOE by Rita Joe

SONG OF RITA JOE

Autobiography of a Mi'kmaq Poet
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 The too-modest yet moving life story of a Canadian Indian writer, a member of the Mi'kmaq tribe. The youngest of seven children, Joe was born in 1932 on Cape Breton, in eastern Canada. Her parents were poor but happy; ``everybody was soft-spoken and gentle,'' she writes, ``even though we had such a sad lot.'' Joe does not say much about her home life, apart from quietly recalling that her grandmother blamed her for her mother's death, when the author was five, on account of Joe's difficult delivery. She touches only in passing on the foster homes she subsequently lived in (though she does note that a man in one of them sexually abused her). Nor do we learn much about the Indian Residential School she attended for four years; such schools proved traumatic experiences for generations of Indians. Indeed, Joe's memoir is shot through with a curious reticence, and it is clear that the author is not entirely comfortable with telling us about her experiences, good or bad. She admits, but with considerable reserve, to having been a battered wife for many years of her long marriage; as her husband drank more and more, she writes, ``the beatings he gave me became a more frequent part of my life.'' (Those beatings stopped when a Mi'kmaq elder shamed Joe's husband- -whom the author recalls with nothing but love and forgiveness-- into quitting his abuse.) Joe is more forthcoming about her almost accidental success as a writer: She began to write in her late 30s, after bearing nine children, contributing humorous columns to a Mi'kmaq-language newspaper, and has since produced several books of verse that are well known in Canada. ``You cry too much,'' an Anglo editor once complained of Joe's writing. One wishes that she had cried a little more in this spare memoir, in which so much goes unspoken. (photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Aug. 5th, 1996
ISBN: 0-8032-7594-3
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1996