Survival: A Thematic Guide To Canadian Literature by Margaret Atwood

A criticism and a manifesto of Canadian literature, and even to this day, it is one of a kind.

3/5 stars.
Paperback, 287 pages.
Read from May 9, 2017 to June 4, 2017.

“Literature is not only a mirror; it is also a map, a geography of the mind. Our literature is one such map, if we can learn to read it as our literature, as the product of who and where we have been. We need such a map desperately, we need to know about here, because here is where we live. For the members of a country or a culture, shared knowledge of their place, their here, is not a luxury but a necessity. Without that knowledge, we will not survive.”

You would think that as an English major and a Canadian that this book would have been included in my repertoire somewhere buuuuut it wasn’t. Having now read it, if I had the chance to talk to my Canadian Lit prof I would have asked him why the hell this book was not included in the curriculum. This book may have some dated references but its content is exceptional and still viable and relevant. This book is both a criticism and a manifesto of Canadian literature and even to this day, it is one of a kind.

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Atwood is a total babe.

This book was published in 1972 and it addresses a non-academic audience in attempts to define what makes Canadian literature specifically Canadian and different from other major publishing countries in the world.

“What have been the central preoccupations of our poetry and fiction?…survival and victims.”

Canada is a harsh place to live in terms of weather and this aspect of the country played a major factor in its history, shaping its people, and how they view nature. It’s not hard to surmise that survival and being that of a victim would play a part in Canadian literature. Atwood breaks down her theory into four victim types:

Position One: To deny the fact that you are a victim. This is a position in which members of the “victim-group” will deny their identity as victims, accusing those members of the group who are less fortunate of being responsible for their own victimhood.

Position Two: To acknowledge the fact that you are a victim (but attribute it to a powerful force beyond human control such as fate, history, God, or biology.
In this position, victims are likely to resign themselves to their fate.

Position Three: To acknowledge the fact that you are a victim but to refuse to accept the assumption that the role is inevitable. This is a dynamic position in which the victim differentiates between the role of victim and the experience of the victim.

Position Four: To be a creative non-victim. A position for “ex-victims” when creativity of all kinds is fully possible.”

Atwood’s work is enticing, clear, funny and easy to agree with. Not only is this book an essential part of what defines Canadian literature, it can also be seen as the basis for the Canadian identity as a whole. While many who criticised this work found it lacking in historical evidence, the literary examples, while now dated, are excellent. I would love to see this theory put to the test with some more modern pieces of Canadian literature.

Survival is a great and short read that should be a part of every literary major’s reading list as well any Canadians.

MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

3/5 stars.
ebook, 416 pages.
Read from January 21 to 30, 2016.

This book was a fitting ending to a trilogy that unintentionally took me a  few years to finish.This is because I didn’t even know this was meant to be a trilogy when I picked up Oryx and Crake all that time ago. This book is an action packed dystopian that questions our current societal values along with what it is to be human. Heck, there is even a bit of romance that’s worth reading.

A waterless flood has wiped out humanity. Those that remain are struggling to survive and those from the passive religious group God’s Gardener are finally rejoining. Toby and Ren manage to save Amanda from the ruthless Painballers, though Amanda is left with severe mental trauma from the ordeal. They then return to a safe house but are accompanied by the Crakers, a gentle and subhuman creation of the deceased Crake. With them they bring their “prophet”,  Jimmy-the-Snowman, who is very unwell. Their prophet tells them the stories of Oryx and Crake to them every evening before bed but since Jimmy is so unwell the strange task is left to Toby.  Zeb has been out looking for Adam-One, the creator of God’s Gardener’s. Zeb is Adam’s brother, and the creator of the MaddAddamites, an active resistance group in the fight against the CorpSeCorps. While learning about their horrible and destructive childhood, together, the two of them help unearth the deception and lies against the CorpSeCorps, all while trying to survive in this post-apocalyptica setting.

One of the most intriguing parts of this book is getting to know the Crakers. Crakers were created to be non-violent in hopes to create a better race than that of the humans. Yet their naive beliefs and practices do not play out well outside of the walled-utopia they were living in. Admittedly, they are very annoying in the beginning as they are so very naive with the real world;  that, and they never stop singing. However their role is crucial as they counterpart the violence, and other challenging human instincts and emotions, which help portray a wide-scope definition of humanness. There are also a few Crakers that come to understand certain human ways, implying that they might become more human like, which can be good or bad, depending on how your own views.

What really made this book for me though is Toby. She has always been my favourite character so I was glad to read even more about her in this book. You also finally get the in-depth story on Zeb and Adam and just how the Gardener’s and the MaddAddamite’s were created.

While you could potentially read this book without having read the other two books in the trilogy, I really would not recommend it. The world that Atwood has built takes the full 3 books appreciate and understand its depth. They can also get a little convoluted even when read together so it helps to have all of them as reference. Overall, a great read that I would recommend to anyone interested in a unique and well-plotted trilogy.

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

4/5 stars.
ebook, 449 pages.
Read from April 20 to May 02, 2014.

Three down and two more to go for the Canada-Reads nominations of 2014. At this point, I would have to say that this novel is my favorite out of what I’ve read thus far. While I admit I am already partial to Atwood as an author just because I’ve read more by her, I would still say that this one worked best for me as a reader.

The Year of the Flood is the second book in the MaddAddam trilogy. While this book is the second in the trilogy, it is technically a prequel or rather a companion piece to Oryx and Crake, the first novel in the series. The third book is called MaddAddam which takes place after these two books. While it is not necessary to read them in order if you are going to take up the novels I would recommend doing so as you’ll experience a whole different  level of plot depth.

The novel follows two main characters, Toby and Ren that are connected through a religious group called The God’s Gardeners. The women are separated by at least a decade of age between them yet they are invariably connected. The  God’s Gardeners anticipates the coming of a waterless-flood that is going to come and wipe out the human race so that the Earth can heal and rebuild from the destruction and unbalance that humans have caused it. The book moves through different areas of Ren and Toby’s lives in different time-frames, including what happened to them before they came apart of The God’s Gardeners, their time in The God’s Gardeners and where they are after the waterless-flood has hit the Earth.

The Gardener’s believe that humankind has strayed away from how God wanted us to live on the Earth. Especially with the way the world has become. Corporations, called the CorpSeCorps, now rule everything and are less than moral.  They have used up almost all of the Earth’s resources and have erased most of the animal species on the planet. The animal genes that remain are spliced and used to create horrible hybrids that serve human purposes. Food is highly processed and people have stopped asking where it comes from. The most notorious example of this is the burger chain, Secretburger. They will use any protein that they come across to use in their burgers. Even human protein. Hence, the name of the establishment, as you don’t ever really know what you’re eating. As a result, The God’s Gardeners choose to separate themselves and live in the pleeblands, the slums. The pleeblands and are inhabited by some very desolate people: homeless, refugees and criminals which make living there very dangerous. The God’s Gardeners are strict vegans and condemn anything material made. They recycle everything, grow their own food and teach their children how to live in one with God. The children take courses and learn essentials skills in classes taught the leaders of the groups, the Adams and Eves.

The book focuses on Toby and Ren in this very detailed and expansive world that Atwood has created. Like the Earth, both Toby and Ren have to heal from items that they have suffered in their past and they find this peace when the book concludes. The writing is at times chaotic, though I wouldn’t say that it’s hard to follow, so it perfectly mirrors the chaos in the plot.

There is a scary sense of realism that comes while reading this book. I found myself looking at the teachings of The God’s Gardener’s and wondering if I should take some of their own practices into my own life because the world that Atwood has created feels like it could be a possibility for our future. An excessive one maybe, but humans are an excessive race so I wouldn’t put this story too far past the concept of reality. With that being said, another point that I believe that Atwood makes, is that there is always hope and resilience, no matter what the horror.

Overall, a must-read for dystopian and Atwood lovers.