Saturday, July 15, 2017

Jean E. Pendziwol

Jean E. Pendziwol is an award winning Canadian author. Born and raised in northwestern Ontario, she draws on the culture, history and geography of the region for inspiration for her stories.

The Lightkeeper's Daughters, her debut adult novel, is an affecting story of family, identity, and art that involves a decades-old mystery. Vividly drawn, Lake Superior is almost a character in itself, changeable yet constant, its shores providing both safety and isolation.

Recently I asked Pendziwol about what she was reading. Her reply:
Like many other writers, I get very picky about what I read when I’m writing and avoid novels in my own genre when I’m actively drafting. Right now, I’m in the research stage of my next project, which means I’ve been able to expand my reading and get “caught up” on my to-be-read list.

As a Canadian, I have read several of Margaret Atwood’s books over the years, but somehow her dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale slipped through the cracks. Because the story has recently been adapted for TV and broadcast on Hulu, and the themes echo the current political dynamic in the United States, it has experienced a renewed popularity and I felt it was time to dig up a copy. I’m glad I did. Set in a near-future New England when the United States government has been overthrown by a totalitarian Christian theocracy, it explores themes of women living as non-citizens in a patriarchal society and the means by which they survive and strive for individualism and independence. Beautifully rendered, in true Atwood style, it is also a stark reminder of how reality can mimic fiction.

With a focus on reading regional writers and regional content, I have made a point of seeking out Indigenous authors and their work. Shelia Watt-Cloutier’s book The Right To Be Cold was selected as one of the CBC Canada Reads books for 2017. I had the great opportunity to meet Watt-Cloutier when she visited my hometown and listen to her speak about her experiences as an advocate for the Inuit in the face of the devastating and compounded affects of climate change on their culture and environment. While climate change is having an impact in all parts of the globe, the far north is particularly vulnerable, and as such, so are the people who live there. Watt-Cloutier not only brings the perspective of an Inuk woman who hunted with her brothers by dog sled and ate whale and seal as regular components of her “country” diet, she also took an active role advocating globally for environmental awareness and protection and was co-nominated with Al Gore for the Nobel Prize in 2007. (Al Gore was the sole recipient.) I was particularly struck by the fact that Inuit women need to consider whether or not they can breastfeed their children because their milk has often been contaminated by pollutants generated far, far from their community and food sources. The issue becomes one of human rights as much as global responsibility.

Part of my heritage as a Canadian is Finnish, and I’ve been exploring the history of the North American Finnish experience. While I’ve read bits and pieces before, I recently picked up a translation of the Kalevala – Finland’s epic folk tale. The Kalevala apparently served as inspiration for Tolkien’s tales of Middle Earth. It’s an interesting collection of stories comparable to the Iliad, but with references to birch trees and cuckoo birds that feel a little closer to home for me. I love the language – the rhythm of the poetry, the many references to nature.

And the last book I have on the go is a copy of James Herriot’s All Things Bright and Beautiful. Because sometimes I just need to read about the adventures of a country vet, the birth of lambs, and the simplicity of farm life.

In my TBR pile? The Witches of New York by Ami McKay, The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill and I’ve just started Louise Erdrich’s The Plague of Doves.
Visit Jean E. Pendziwol's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Lightkeeper's Daughters.

--Marshal Zeringue