Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson

"Find a map of British Columbia.”

The rugged coasts of Pacific Northwest are almost familiar to me now. I came across its breathtaking and raw beauty when I first read Susan Vreeland’s The Forest Lover of where she waxed poetic about it. So here again I meet the majestic mountains, the dark forests, the tumultuous sea, the mystical dreams and the people of Kitamaat who breathe life into the book.

Monkey Beach tells the nostalgic recollections of Lisa Marie, a young Native American woman from Haisla, as she sailed to the sea in search of her missing brother. Her hasty journey is fraught with peril and reminiscences which eventually bring light to the unfolding drama and mystery surrounding her family, her brother’s death, her unique supernatural gift and the social struggle of the residents in their remote Indian village being at a cultural crossroads.

This originally came out more than a decade ago and I would have totally missed it had it not been published again recently.  Books that come upon us in arbitrary ways often end up being real gems and the greatest reads. Eden Robinson, born in Kitamaat herself, delivers a strong debut novel that is a breath of fresh air in the convoluted world of contemporary and cultural genre. Her eloquent narrative set against the untamed landscape of British Columbia will grip readers with its unwavering power and big heart. It is a coming of age piece that echoes the turmoil of youth, the tug and pull of discovering oneself and the worldly ways, and the precariousness of the future. 

Though the thread between the time periods could be unpredictable like the flow of the tides, Lisa Marie’s memories, waking dreams and her own stark reality meld into unflinching knots to loom larger than life in our minds and almost crush us with its devastating luminosity.  


A young Native American woman remembers her volatile childhood as she searches for her lost brother in the Canadian wilds in an extraordinary, critically acclaimed debut novel.

As she races along Canada’s Douglas Channel in her speedboat—heading toward the place where her younger brother Jimmy, presumed drowned, was last seen—twenty-year-old Lisamarie Hill recalls her younger days. A volatile and precocious Native girl growing up in Kitamaat, the Haisla Indian reservation located five hundred miles north of Vancouver, Lisa came of age standing with her feet firmly planted in two different worlds: the spiritual realm of the Haisla and the sobering “real” world with its dangerous temptations of violence, drugs, and despair. From her beloved grandmother, Ma-ma-oo, she learned of tradition and magic; from her adored, Elvis-loving uncle Mick, a Native rights activist on a perilous course, she learned to see clearly, to speak her mind, and never to bow down. But the tragedies that have scarred her life and ultimately led her to these frigid waters cannot destroy her indomitable spirit, even though the ghosts that speak to her in the night warn her that the worst may be yet to come.


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Title: Monkey Beach
Author: Eden Robinson
Genre: Cultural, Canadian Literature
Published: Open Road Media
Publisher: August 2014 (first published in 2000)
Rating: ♨♨♨♨ ( 4 cups - Heartfelt coming of age, turbulent with a touch of lore and magic.)