A Minneapolis Star Tribune “Book to Look Forward to in 2021”
“Places do not belong to us. We belong to them.”
The child of South Asian migrants, Kazim Ali was born in London, lived as a child in the cities and small towns of Manitoba, and made a life in the United States. As a queer, Muslim man passing through disparate homes, he has never felt he belonged to a place. And yet, one day, the celebrated poet and essayist finds himself thinking of the boreal forests and lush waterways of Jenpeg, a community thrown up around the building of a hydroelectric dam on the Nelson River, where he once lived for several years as a child. Does the town still exist, he wonders? Is the dam still operational?
When Ali goes searching, however, he finds not news of Jenpeg, but of the local Pimicikamak community. Facing environmental destruction and broken promises from the Canadian government, they have evicted Manitoba’s electric utility from the dam on Cross Lake. In a place where water is an integral part of social and cultural life, the community demands accountability for the harm that the utility has caused.
Troubled, Ali returns north, looking to understand his place in this story and eager to listen. Over the course of a week, he participates in community life, speaks with Elders and community members, and learns about the politics of the dam from Chief Cathy Merrick. He drinks tea with activists, eats corned beef hash with the Chief, and learns about the history of the dam, built on land that was never ceded, and Jenpeg, a town that now exists mostly in his memory. In building relationships with his former neighbors, Ali explores questions of land and power―and in remembering a lost connection to this place, finally finds a home he might belong to.
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Praise and Prizes
“Ali’s prose shines when recalling his interactions with members of the Pimicikamak community and friends. Those concerned with environmental justice or the plight of Indigenous peoples will want to give this a look.”
“[Ali's] experiences are relayed in sensitive, crystalline prose, documenting how Cross Lake residents are working to reinvent their town and rebuild their traditional beliefs, language, and relationships with the natural world . . . Though these topics are complex, they are untangled in an elegant manner.”
"A world traveler, not always by choice, ponders the meaning and location of home . . . Ali alerts readers to the First Nations’ struggles to fend off an open-pit titanium mine, a gas pipeline, and other water projects, taking care to include many Indigenous voices . . . A graceful, elegant account even when reporting on the hard truths of a little-known corner of the world."
"Ali’s ethical imaginary is as finely honed and illuminating as his prose . . . What a privilege his fine book is, what a joy to spend a week in Cross Lake beside Ali."
“Reading Ali is an act of redemption even when the worst is spiked and wired with hatred and danger. His perspective on time is both a challenge and a balm.”
“Ali’s lyrics are crafted with a controlled, delicate quality that never stops questioning, never stops teaching, never stops astounding.”
“Lyrical, political, humorous, light and deep—Kazim Ali strikes out in many directions. . . . The resulting harmonies—and even the discord—are beautiful.”
“A master of so many genres and forms—poetry, fiction, essay, memoir—Ali seems to manage the ultimate feat: to slip free from the limitations of these categories.”