Chris Stark
Modern History Press ($25.95)

by Shannon Gibney

An impressive work about family, survival, and what one character calls the “spiral” of all stories, Chris Stark’s Carnival Lights is part novel, part Minnesota history, part spiritual tome, and part brutal account of white racial and sexual violence. Centering on several generations of one Ojibwe family in both the northern and southern parts of the state and spanning the years 1860 to 1969, the book deftly shows how whites used land theft, intimidation, and sheer force to try to exterminate and remove Native communities, but also how the victims resisted and fought to keep their ways of life.

Stark sets her main plot in 1969, as two teenage cousins, Sher and Kris, flee their home on the reservation to escape toxic family dynamics and rape, landing in Minneapolis. “The girls arrived in the city with $12 and two empty stomachs, their grandfather’s World War II pack, two stainless steel cups, some face makeup, gum, and a lighter.” The young Ojibwe women navigate the treacherous city streets as best they can, but it feels as if they are being hunted by sexual predators at every turn. Sher and Kris are seen as not people, but objects to be plundered, used up, and then cast aside. At the same time, in Virginia, Minnesota, their Aunt Em has been kidnapped by men who are selling her “upstream,” to Thunder Bay or Toronto. She manages to escape, and then embarks on an equally harrowing journey to find her nieces.

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