As a small boy in remote Alberta, Darrel J. McLeod is immersed in his Cree family’s history, passed down in the stories of his mother, Bertha. There he is surrounded by her tales of joy and horror—of the strong men in their family, of her love for Darrel, and of the cruelty she and her sisters endured in residential school—as well as his many siblings and cousins, and the smells of moose stew and wild peppermint tea. And there young Darrel learns to be fiercely proud of his heritage and to listen to the birds that will guide him throughout his life.
But after a series of tragic losses, Bertha turns wild and unstable, and their home life becomes chaotic. Sweet and eager to please, Darrel struggles to maintain his grades and pursue interests in music and science while changing homes, witnessing domestic violence, caring for his younger siblings, and suffering abuse at the hands of his brother-in-law. Meanwhile, he begins to question and grapple with his sexual identity—a reckoning complicated by the repercussions of his abuse and his sibling’s own gender transition.
Thrillingly written in a series of fractured vignettes, and unflinchingly honest, Mamaskatch—“It’s a wonder!” in Cree—is a heartbreaking account of how traumas are passed down from one generation to the next, and an uplifting story of one individual who overcame enormous obstacles in pursuit of a fulfilling and adventurous life.
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Praise and Prizes
“Mamaskatch dares to immerse readers in provocative contemporary issues including gender fluidity, familial violence, and transcultural hybridity. A fast-moving, intimate memoir of dreams and nightmares—lyrical and gritty, raw and vulnerable, told without pity, but with phoenix-like strength.”
“A heart-wrenching mîwâsin memoir full of vignettes that are so intricately woven that they guide you through with grace, sâkihiwêwin, humour, and maskihkîy. This is a narrative built through continuums that detail the lives of the McLeod family through their queer travails, trans realities, bannock and stew conversations, and a plethora of intergenerational traumas and triumphs. I can feel the warm embrace of the Three Sisters wrapping around me as I read this, that heart-drum beat resounding beneath its literary cadences, the frigidity of the Athabasca kissing my heels, and a narrator who teaches me from his very first passage in this memoir that a good story is a medicine song that re-members and re-animates, in true nehiyawewin fashion, those who have paved the way for us and those for whom we pave.”
“A profound and tender love song, an elegy to a wounded family, and an unsparing, exquisitely moving chronicle of growing up ‘Nehiyaw’ (Cree). Like the birdsong his mother taught him to understand, McLeod’s voice is magical; it will lift and carry you through bone-breaking grief with grit, optimism and wry, life-saving humour. You will not leave this book unchanged.”
“A powerful, unflinching work of non-fiction, one that isn’t afraid to leave itself raw and unfinished, nodding to the stories that are yet to come. . . . The figures McLeod writes about in Mamaskatch shimmer in the best kind of way. . . . Nothing, however, appears as brightly or as darkly as Bertha. The parts of the book written from her perspective pulse with their own kind of intensity. . . . Mamaskatch embodies the recognition of the way stories can help to pull one through the darkest moments.” &
“Honestly stunning. McLeod’s clear writing lays bare his complicated ties to his family, his lovers and his country in a memoir that moved and haunted me.”
“A compelling read that shows the heartbreaking results of imposed oppression. McLeod has identity problems of many kinds and the result is a life full of chaos. The gradual climb out of that dark place is touching.”
“Reading the text was like diving into the eternity of dreams and being paralyzed by a nightmare. However, there is sunrise. Told candidly and with heartbreaking honesty, McLeod’s memoir shows how survival beckoned and he held on to the spirit of his ancestors—the love that no one can ever sever. He lives for all of us.”