In 1922 an Irish-American adventurer named Robert Flaherty made a film about Inuit life in the Arctic. Nanook of the North featured a mythical Eskimo hunter who lived in an igloo with his family in a frozen Eden. Nanook’s story captured the world’s imagination.
Thirty years later, the Canadian government forcibly relocated three dozen Inuit from the east coast of Hudson Bay to a region of the high artic that was 1,200 miles farther north. Hailing from a land rich in caribou and arctic foxes, whales and seals, pink saxifrage and heather, the Inuit’s destination was Ellesmere Island, an arid and desolate landscape of shale and ice virtually devoid of life. The most northerly landmass on the planet, Ellesmere is blanketed in darkness for four months of the year. There the exiles were left to live on their own with little government support and few provisions.
Among this group was Josephie Flaherty, the unrecognized, half-Inuit son of Robert Flaherty, who never met his father. In a narrative rich with human drama and heartbreak, Melanie McGrath uses the story of three generations of the Flaherty family—the filmmaker; his illegitimate son, Josephie; and Josephie’s daughters, Mary and Martha—to bring this extraordinary tale of mistreatment and deprivation to life.
“McGrath is a gifted, passionate and sensitive story-teller, and through her the authentic voice of the Arctic, not the clarion call of great white explorers, rings loud and clear. . . . Her research is meticulous, her touch is light. . . . Her play with language is disarming and original . . . fresh, illuminating and heartbreaking.” –The Sunday Telegraph
“[A] poignant and humane book. McGrath . . . tells an impressively researched and often poetic story.” –Observer
“McGrath . . . has a wonderful feel for landscape and so the Arctic itself assumes the life of a character. . . . The language is lovely. Modulated, lyrical and beautiful as the stark nature it describes, it makes McGrath’s book more than a fascinating and instructive read. It makes it a joyful one.” –Evening Standard
“Gripping. . . . [McGrath] offers a carefully imagined portrait of the appalling lives of the Inuit on Ellesmere Island. This is a story of official wrong-headedness and arrogance and McGrath relays it with compassion.” –Guardian
“Her mastery of her subject is so precise and beguiling, so heart-stoppingly eloquent and textured that I defy anybody not to find her book one of the most seductive reads of the decade.” –Daily Telegraph
“With startling economy, McGrath races towards . . . the landmark recognition of her protagonists' suffering. . . . This is a beautiful, poetic, gripping book.” –Sunday Times