Tuesday, 8 June 2010
The Find by Kathy Page
Much of the story turns on patterns of things not easily seen – the traces in the shale which may indicate the presence of the pterosaur, the patterns of deterioration and the gene markers which may demonstrate that Anna has the disease: patterns of small things which once discerned, point to a larger whole. There are, too, patterns of family history, and the patterns of conflict played out between First Nations and colonisers, and even, at a mundane level, between men and women. A crucial theme is of the integral nature of the land, its inhabitants and its stories – to local band members, the removal of the fossil to a distant museum is a rape not only of the land but also of their culture: “Museums are where they put the remains of what has been overrun,” says one of them. The pterosaur is a bird ancestor, and part of the land. This theme is one that has had to be addressed in Canada, where Indigenous Peoples now form part of the consultation process for museum curation and it is familiar to see notices on exhibits to the effect that all or part of the display is unavailable because it is in use. The removal of human remains is even more contentious, of course, and there has been another case in the news recently of remains being returned to their place of origin for burial.
The Find is a thoughtful book, handling its difficult issues with tact and sensitivity. I felt that it was perhaps a little overlong – the period after the dig becomes somewhat episodic, and I thought might have benefited from some more judicious editing, but the chapters covering the excavation itself were really gripping. A book more about ideas than events, with sympathetic characterisation which uses two difficult issues to illuminate each other.
This was a read for the Canadian Book Challenge.