Kiss of the Fur Queen, by Tomson Highway

A bestseller when it was published in 1998, Kiss of the Fur Queen follows two Cree brothers, Champion and Ooneemeetoo Okimasis, renamed Jeremiah and Gabriel, from their early childhood, residential school and the abuse endured there, through years lost and estranged from their family and at times strangers to each other. As they grow into adulthood they struggle in different ways with their past and with the religion imposed on them, with depression and alcoholism and the impulse to self-destruction in many forms, Gabriel’s troubles having yet another layer added to them by his homosexuality in a decade more homophobic than our own, when the (first-world) AIDS crisis was at its height. Each finds his own means of survival in pursuing the passions that drive him, music and composition in Jeremiah’s case, dance in Gabriel’s. Woven through are the traditional Cree stories they learnt in their earliest years, taking on new life around and through them and the art they create, the lives they live. More than metaphor, the trickster Fur Queen moves through it all, claiming the brothers as her own. Not an easy read nor always a comfortable one, and certainly not meant to be, Kiss of the Fur Queen is beautiful and passionate, tragic, poetic, and sometimes humorous. This is a novel that reveals more on repeated readings and well deserves to be regarded as a classic of Canadian literature.

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