Absolutely absorbing and beautifully written, this book relates the experiences of a group of Inuit who were relocated by the Canadian government from their community on the Eastern shore of Hudson Bay, to the remotest and most uninhabitable islands in the Arctic Circle in order to bolster Canada’s claim on those lands.

You might recall hearing about this in the 90’s, when the truth about this relocation project came to light and the Inuit finally had the opportunity to speak about what had been done to them. I only remember it in the vaguest sense, and I don’t think I knew any of the details, which are truly shocking.

The Long Exile is excellent in every regard. McGrath vividly illuminates the landscapes and the relevant history of Canadian Arctic and sub-Arctic settlement, and describes the relocated Inuit with detail and compassion. They’re treated as fully human individuals and as a society, which is noteworthy only because it’s the exact opposite of how they were treated by the government. She chronicles the Canadian officials’ fundamental misunderstanding of what would make this relocation project succeed. She documents their stomach-turning and heart-breaking disregard for human safety and for Inuits’ agency. And she manages to do so without demonizing or excusing what the government did, which is impressive.

McGrath wisely gets out of the way of the story; realizing that reporting the facts of the situation eloquently and elegantly is more effective than writing a furious diatribe. I learned a lot. And I was outraged and ashamed  and provoked by what I read – she didn’t have to tell me to feel that way.

Bottom line: highly recommended

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