One of my favorite reviews of Flight of the Goose, this one appeared in Shaman's Drum Journal archives.
Here is the text of it:
Reviewed by Roberta Louis. Reprinted from Shaman's Drum, Number 79.
"Set in a remote Inupiat village in 1971, Flight of the Goose is an insightful and well-written novel that delves into cultural, shamanic, and environmental themes of possible interest to many Shaman’s Drum readers. Author Lesley Thomas, who spent part of her early years growing up in rural Arctic communities, brings both a knowledge of Inupiat customs and traditions and a cross-cultural sensitivity to this story, which transcends cultural boundaries and explores the universal human themes of alienation, reconciliation, spiritual awakening, and love.
The story is told from the viewpoints of two main protagonists: Kayuqtuq, a young Athabaskan woman with a traumatic childhood, who has been taken in by an Inupiat family; and Leif, a long-haired American biologist who has come to the Arctic to study the potential impact of oil spills on the bird population and to avoid the Vietnam War draft. Both are outsiders, to varying degrees, and their observations on the milieu in which they find themselves and on their own, often troubled relationship are perceptive and poignant. The main voice is that of Kayuqtuq, who is looking back on the events of the story from a time many years in the future; Leif’s viewpoint is provided by the inclusion of passages from his well-worn journal, which she is once again reading.
The story that unfolds is rich and complex, exploring intercultural conflicts that lead sometimes to transcendence and sometimes to tragedy and highlighting the devastating effects of Western society on Inupiat life—including the loss of subsistence game animals, the decline of indigenous cultural and shamanic traditions, the damage inflicted by ignorant stereotypes, and the rise of alcoholism. The relationships between the characters are multifaceted and constantly evolving, as human frailties and strengths—fear, pride, jealousy, kindness, and love—come into play.
Although the book deals with a variety of interconnected themes, Shaman’s Drum readers may be particularly interested in Kayuqtuq’s spiritual journeys into the realm of the inua(spirits). From the beginning of the story, she has secretly pursued the path of an angutkoq (shaman)—a profession feared and outlawed due to Christian and governmental influences. Her impetus to follow a shamanic path may have stemmed in part from a desire to raise her status in the community—having been orphaned in childhood, she had been ill treated as a slave and was never fully accepted as a member of the family that later took her in. However, she clearly has an affinity for the work. With the help of her turnaq (guardian spirit), the red fox, she is able to travel to other places by spirit flight and observe what is happening there, and to enter visionary states to access hidden information.
Unfortunately, she has encountered obstacles to obtaining the shamanic teachings that she needs. There is only one young man in the village who professes to work as a shaman—having been trained by his elderly father—but he is of little help to her. Most of her training ultimately comes directly from the spirit world itself, supplemented only slightly by a couple of anthropological texts she has come across. Lacking the guidance of a human teacher, she discovers that some of her early actions have unintended consequences. At one point, she beseeches the spirit world out of jealously, and inadvertently sets in motion dangerous forces that are out of her control and that she cannot call back.
Kayuqtuq’s feelings about Leif create conflicts for her at various points in the story, but often inspire her to take the next step in extending the range of her shamanic work. For example, when Leif falls gravely ill, Kayuqtuq calls upon as-yet-untested shamanic abilities on his behalf. Feeling that she must sacrifice her most valuable possession in exchange for what she is asking of the spirits, she offers up her qilya (shaman’s powers)—only to find in time that they are not lost, but strengthened. Gradually, over the course of the book, her abilities increase and her understanding matures. She truly becomes an angutkoq, and this enables her to see more clearly on both the physical and spiritual planes and to come to terms with her own past. However, the help of the spirits is not always enough to ward off tragedy.
In the course of the story, Thomas delves into a variety of shamanic themes—including spirit travel, soul loss, shamanic questing, initiation by spirits, and the independent reality of spiritual forces. Her treatment of these topics is insightful, and her detailed narratives are well grounded in the cultural and spiritual traditions of the people.
Thomas provides a richness of cultural detail in her descriptions of the Inupiat lifestyle and the nuances of her characters’ behavior. For example, even the angle of an eyebrow conveys a culturally accepted meaning, which is not initially apparent to outsiders. She utilizes a goodly number of Inupiat terms in telling the story, and provides a glossary that readers may want to bookmark for frequent use while reading.
She deals sensitively with issues such as the decline of the traditional spiritual ways in the community; the effects of child abuse, alcoholism, and greed; and the conflicts and tragedies engendered by cultural misunderstanding and bigotry. The character of Leif makes an excellent foil for exploring some of these themes—as a Western-trained scientist of mixed Norwegian and Native heritage, he provides a unique viewpoint in the story through the record of his thoughts, as set down in his private journal. The entries serve as an apt device for disclosing his true feelings and his inner journey, as he struggles to survive the rigors of life in the harsh Arctic climate, learns to interact respectfully with the Inupiat community, and develops a meaningful relationship with Kayuqtuq. Along the way, Leif is slowly forced to admit the reality of spiritual forces and Kayuqtuq’s shamanic gifts, and he finally comes to respect and trust her abilities as an angutkoq.
Although I have chosen to focus largely on shamanic themes in this review, the story addresses many other significant issues as well—among them, climate change, environmental crisis, and indigenous rights. Incorporating themes from both Western science and indigenous mythology, it explores our ability as human beings to overcome cultural differences and form meaningful relationships—and it does so with both artistry and insight. In Flight of the Goose, Thomas has created a moving and extremely well-written story that, although set in the Arctic almost forty years ago, can help us learn to live more fully human lives today."
Roberta Louis is managing editor of Shaman’s Drum and editor of Well Being Journal.
Reviewed by Roberta Louis. Reprinted from Shaman's Drum, Number 79.
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