ARC · Memoir/Biography/Autobiography · Nonfiction

Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land

I try to be really careful about what I request from NetGalley. First, becasue it is so easy to overdo it and let that get out of control (on this front, I am only marginally successful, as I am fairly far behind on sending feedback there – I’m only human). Also, because those require reading on my Kindle which is just not my favorite. I prefer a physical book. Even as I’m getting into audiobooks, I still like to have the physical copy on hand to reference, if possible. So all that being said, I am not sure what prompted me to request this particular memoir. It isn’t one that I had heard of before, so I wasn’t eagerly anticipating it. And I had read no reviews of it at all so I had no frame of reference for the writing, etc. But request it, I did. And, though I am clearly a bit behind on my read/review in relation to its pub date, I am really glad to have gotten access to it because it was a great read.

Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land by Toni Jensen

This is a sort of memoir in essays from Métis author Toni Jensen. Throughout the collection(?) she covers topics including her childhood and family, teaching and writing, relationships, motherhood, environmental activism and more, all tied together with an overarching theme of exploring the realities and narratives around violence, and especially gun violence, in the landscape of America historically and today. 

First, and very high on the list of things I loved about this memoir, I have to mention the writing. It was just phenomenal. There is poetry in the language of Jensen’s prose. And I love the way she uses definitions of words (Webster’s mainly, but other options, like Urban Dictionary, when Webster’s doesn’t have anything), exploring the various meanings of them, their origins, and the connections she makes between those definitions and the “real world,” the sometimes incongruence-ness of those textbook meanings with off-page realities. It’s really, for lack of a more sophisticated descriptor, cool. And it ties the chapters together stylistically, which is really necessary (I felt) since the topical/temporal ties of the essays seemed, at times, sporadic. That could have really bothered me, but I ended up being ok with it since the leaps sort of followed a natural thought-process, the way memories tend to ebb and flow into each other in understandable but not necessarily patterned ways. In summary here, the wordplay is masterful. 

In contrast to the gorgeousness of the writing, many of the themes within Jensen’s memoir are anything but. In fact, this was often particularly difficult to read, as Jensen delves into violence in her own life, as well as violence in this country (America), in a way that profoundly illustrates how deeply that violence is rooted in our homes and lives. Taking a look in turn at all the parts of herself, as a female (daughter, partner, mother), a Métis woman, an educator, a person living in American, Jensen shows how violence has historically been enacted against all those aspects – in the country at large and against herself individually. It’s a striking and uncomfortable exploration, but an incredibly important one. The violence of America against Indigenous populations, against women, “domestically” (in quotations because I loved Jensen’s interrogation of why, when violence occurs in the home is the treatment of it/reaction to it changed?), on campuses, and in general, all based in motivations of racism/sexism/stereotypical (fragile) masculinity, has gotten to a point that is essentially too much to comprehend realistically, so we have inured ourselves to the reality of it, lost ourselves in the cycle of “ignorable until it’s tragic and then ignorable again” so that its now just part of the marrow of the country. Jensen questions that mindset, asking how we got here, and providing some background/context, some insight, some suggestion of change, but, mostly, challenging the reader to come out of the protective mental shell and join her in interrogating why this has to be our reality.

I particularly was interested in the look at the changing rhetoric in the social and political landscape of America from the 1970s to today that radicalized the “every man,” that she saw in her own father, creating the idea of a strong man with a gun to protect what is his, and how that led to mass and buy-in from rural communities who would actually benefit from the exact opposite policies. It’s a fascinating recent history that I don’t have much baseline knowledge in. Honestly, I am only recently starting to pick up nonfiction at all, so, for me, this discussion of the rise of gun violence in America and the way it centers within wealth/whiteness and the rhetoric that conflated gun ownership with manliness/protection at this level of analysis is new to me. I was, of course, aware of (and agreed with) the clear data and reality that increased access to guns = increased likelihood of gun violence (like, duh), but just have never read much that truly dissects it like this (and I’m sure that even this is a surface-level dissection, really). But the way Jensen wove the data and current events and larger issues into her own personal experiences with and exposure to domestic/interpersonal/state-sponsored/gun violence as a sort of case study in consequences really worked for me as a reader.

There is also a partial spotlight on environmental justice, the land, threatened by America (back to that theme of violence), being protected, as always, by Indigenous peoples. It wasn’t as large a piece of the memoir as the reflection on the land being stolen in the first place, and that heritage, but it was there.

Jensen uses exquisite composition to tell the story of violence in America, and her own story of violence. It is challenging and frightening, but necessary and compelling. I appreciated Jensen’s words, her vulnerability, her confrontation of the various narratives that become the dominant ones, the ones we don’t question, and asks us to really consider if this is how it has to be. And it’s powerful.

“See how science newly quantifies what some of us have long known – how historical and cultural trauma is lived in our bodies, is passed down, generation to generation, how it lives in the body.”

“It’s okay, I’ve learned, to love the things that make you, even if they also are the things that unmake you.”

“In our country, the myth of individualism pushes us to ignore structures that create tensions and pressures in individuals, yes, but also in families, in communities. But that’s not how people are made, in isolation, with only some notion of character or goodness to form them.”

“Who is served by our everyday American procedure of rendering general and passive our language about violence?”

“Whether a circumstance is acknowledged openly or formally or whether it’s denied, how a situation becomes one worthy of study, is mainly in how it does or does not intersect with or affect the lives of the wealthy.”

“More often than not, if someone describes a woman to me as difficult, I find that woman to be delightful or unusual or unorthodox. It’s a word most often used to censure women who live unconventional lives.”

“To memorialize correctly, language matters.”

“The taking by force of our land always has been twinned with the taking by force of our bodies.”

“If more wealthy Americans own guns than do those living in poverty, why do we have such difficulty fitting this fact into our collective gun narrative? Because when wealth and whiteness are combined, the narrative shifts most times towards plenty, toward goodness instead of lack or deformity. We’re unwilling to acknowledge abhorrent behavior from an heiress but expect it from a working-class man.”

“What does it mean to try to pass? What does it mean to pass without trying? With this act, how do we measure intent? With this act, this action, how much does intent matter?”

“How much grace is it possible to give to others when you move through the world with more than a small measure of safety – when this is safety you own but have not bought?”

“People who kill other people with guns have to have access to the guns. The more access, the more violence. We have in our country almost entirely unfettered access.”

“When you’re going to be called trouble anyway, your life then becomes your own. There’s liberation and loneliness both in this shift.”

3 thoughts on “Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land

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