Award-winning Nishnaabeg storyteller and writer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson returns with a bold reimagination of the novel, one that combines narrative and poetic fragments through a careful and fierce reclamation of Anishinaabe aesthetics.
Mashkawaji (they/them) lies frozen in the ice, remembering a long-ago time of hopeless connection and now finding freedom and solace in isolated suspension. They introduce us to the seven main characters: Akiwenzii, the old man who represents the narrator’s will; Ninaatig, the maple tree who represents their lungs; Mindimooyenh, the old woman who represents their conscience; Sabe, the giant who represents their marrow; Adik, the caribou who represents their nervous system; Asin, the human who represents their eyes and ears; and Lucy, the human who represents their brain. Each attempts to commune with the unnatural urban-settler world, a world of SpongeBob Band-Aids, Ziploc baggies, Fjällräven Kånken backpacks, and coffee mugs emblazoned with institutional logos. And each searches out the natural world, only to discover those pockets that still exist are owned, contained, counted, and consumed. Cut off from nature, the characters are cut off from their natural selves.
Noopiming is Anishinaabemowin for “in the bush,” and the title is a response to English Canadian settler and author Susanna Moodie’s 1852 memoir Roughing It in the Bush. To read Simpson’s work is an act of decolonization, degentrification, and willful resistance to the perpetuation and dissemination of centuries-old colonial myth-making. It is a lived experience. It is a breaking open of the self to a world alive with people, animals, ancestors, and spirits, who are all busy with the daily labours of healing — healing not only themselves, but their individual pieces of the network, of the web that connects them all together. Enter and be changed.
Canadian writer Simpson (As We Have Always Done) draws on indigenous Abinhinaabeg beliefs to create a bold, affecting portrait of an urban landscape and its network of living beings. Mashkawaji, two years after falling into ice and being frozen, remembers and experiences the world through a sensory connection to people, animals, and plant life in Toronto from her place under the ice. Naantig, a maple tree, is Mashkawaji's lungs and normally resides in Tommy Thompson Park, but sometimes goes wandering. Adik, a caribou and Mashkawaji's nervous system, discovers a discarded backpack and buys a digital recorder at Best Buy. Old man Akiwenzii (Mashkawaji's "will") putters around in a cluttered house described by the narrator as "bordering on Hoarders," and Mindomooyenh (Mashkawaji's conscience), a grandparent, spends their days buying tarps for homeless people. Thirty-something Native Asin (Mashkawaji's eyes and ears) watches birds and gets frustrated by their friend Lucy's (Mashkawaji's brain) periodic disappearances. These characters, most of whom are referred to by gender neutral pronouns, cross paths with each other as they grapple with the often hostile, always shifting world of white people around them. The beautiful, brief episodes culminate in a celebration nearly toppled by the interference of raccoons. The tenderness and sly wit of these snippets coalesce into a beautiful image of Native resilience and a piercing, original novel.