Friday, January 8, 2021

Freeform Friday: A Review of Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land - Toni Jensen


Summary: A powerful, poetic memoir about what it means to exist as an indigenous woman in America, told in snapshots of the author’s encounters with gun violence.

Toni Jensen grew up around guns: As a girl, she learned to shoot birds in rural Iowa with her father, a card-carrying member of the NRA. As an adult, she’s had guns waved in her face near Standing Rock, and felt their silent threat on the concealed-carry campus where she teaches. And she has always known that in this she is not alone. As a Métis woman, she is no stranger to the violence enacted on the bodies of indigenous women, on indigenous land, and the ways it is hidden, ignored, forgotten.

In Carry, Jensen maps her personal experience onto the historical, exploring how history is lived in the body and redefining the language we use to speak about violence in America. In the title chapter, Jensen connects the trauma of school shootings with her own experiences of racism and sexual assault on college campuses. "The Worry Line" explores the gun and gang violence in her neighborhood the year her daughter was born. "At the Workshop" focuses on her graduate school years, during which a workshop classmate repeatedly killed off thinly veiled versions of her in his stories. In "Women in the Fracklands", Jensen takes the listener inside Standing Rock during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests and bears witness to the peril faced by women in regions overcome by the fracking boom.

In prose at once forensic and deeply emotional, Toni Jensen shows herself to be a brave new voice and a fearless witness to her own difficult history - as well as to the violent cultural landscape in which she finds her coordinates. With each chapter, Carry reminds us that surviving in one’s country is not the same as surviving one’s country.

My Review:  I was texting with a friend last night about book clubs. She was wanting to start a family book club, and was asking about it and how to do it etc., and said that her sons didn’t want her daughters to only pick The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m also not into uber chick lit, and I’ve gotten less tolerant the older (and crabbier I get). However, I told her (and hopefully you agree) that one of the things that is awesome about a book club is that you get exposed to literature you might not have chosen yourself, whether it’s not a genre you would typically go for, or a book that’s just off of your radar. Hopefully if you’re in a book club, you’ve been exposed to some books that you might not have chosen on your own. I think it’s important to read literature that isn’t your normal genre. I’m not suggesting that you read things that are personally offensive to you or that you feel like compromises your morals, but I do think it’s important that you stretch yourself and your reading by choosing books that are diverse and give you a wide perspective on the world and our experiences as humans, and that expose you to situations that you wouldn’t normally be able to experience. As a reader of a book blog I’m sure you agree that the best things reading can give you can’t be attained by doing anything else. Perspective, empathy, understanding, insight, learning, and so many things come from reading and the literature of the world.

So after that long diatribe, I think this is a book that might not normally be on your radar, but one that you should consider. As a white woman in America, I have a certain view of land and place. I have a certain view of my relationship to my country, and because I am white, I understand that land and place and the country have a certain relationship to me as well. I think that in the climate of Black Lives Matter, we’ve all had our eyes opened to what things are like for other people in the country, and are starting to understand that not everything is the same and that there are some discrepancies. We’ve heard the stories, we’ve read about tragic situations, and yet we all know that we’re just learning about how things are not the same for all races and cultures in America.

One thing this book has taught me is that there is a complexity with being an Indigenous woman that is nuanced and complex. Jensen is Métis, and this presents her with opportunities where she is considered “just white enough” and also situations where she is not. She is faced with violence both as a woman and as a Métis woman, and sometimes those aren’t the same thing nor are they treated the same way by people who do not understand the complexities of being Indigenous and also trying to live in a “white world.”

This book was difficult to read in that it’s always hard to read about someone’s struggles, especially ones that seem to happen under the radar in a place where all of us are taking our freedoms and accessibility to safety for granted. I’m giving it four stars instead of five because it wasn’t until the summary that I realized what Jensen was trying to do with gun violence and tying everything together. The writing is beautiful, but it wasn’t always clear how things were connected or why chapters started when they did and where they did and why some situations were super long and detailed and others didn’t take up as much space. It was written in what felt like spurts, and didn’t flow as smoothly and wasn’t as connected as I think it could have been. That being said, I think this is a great book to read to give you exposure about an Indigenous woman/Métis woman’s life and the complexities and struggles that she faces from many facets of that life.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language, violence, and some discussion of sex, and suggestion of sexual abuse. I would give it a PG-13.

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