The Spawning Grounds

The Spawning Grounds

Book - 2016
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On one side of the river is a ranch once owned by Eugene Robertson, who came in the gold rush around 1860, and stayed on as a homesteader. On the other side is a Shuswap community that has its own tangled history with the river--and the whites. At the heart of the novel are Hannah and Brandon Robertson, teenagers who have been raised by their grandfather after they lost their mother. As the novel opens, the river is dying, its flow reduced to a trickle, and Hannah is carrying salmon past the choke point to the spawning grounds while her childhood best friend, Alex, leads a Native protest against the development further threatening the river. When drowning nearly claims the lives of both Hannah's grandfather and her little brother, their world is thrown into chaos. Hannah, Alex, and most especially Brandon come to doubt their own reality as they are pulled deep into Brandon's numinous visions, which summon the myths of Shuswap culture and tragic family stories of the past.
Publisher: Toronto :, Alfred A. Knopf Canada,, 2016.
ISBN: 9780345810816
Characteristics: 300 pages ; 22 cm


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Mar 08, 2018

This was so bad I could barely make it through it. I've enjoyed her previous books, but I found this too cosmic, and frankly, badly written.

Feb 15, 2017

Enough good stuff to make it worth reading; especially the grandfather Stewart.

ontherideau Jan 10, 2017

There are interesting moments here, native mythology has value. In my opinion there was too much focus on the on again off again romance relationships.

Sep 20, 2016

With "The Spawning Grounds", Gail Anderson-Dargatz has written a masterpiece of a novel which has her joining the ranks of Isabel Allende and Alice Hoffman, in the realm of magical realism. Without a doubt it is her best novel to date.

Lightening River is the fictional setting for this powerful novel, on an old homestead near Shuswap Lakes and River, British Columbia, Canada which do exist. The Robertson family settled there during the gold rush in 1860; Stewart Robertson, who has been raising his grandkids Hannah and Brandon after a family tragedy, is aging and ill. Developers have bought parcels of the riverfront land and want Stewart to sell. His son Jesse has no interest in the farm and lives elsewhere. Stewart is tired and considers the money, but the teenagers are bereft at the idea of losing their home.

Across the river from them is the Shuswap Native reservation, who have been the river's conservators since time immemorial. Erosion of the riverbanks caused by settlers' land clearing, old log jams left to become dams, livestock wandering freely to pollute the water and weather change patterns which have lowered water levels are endangering their essential resource: the returning salmon's chances to make it back from the ocean to their spawning grounds, and safely reproduce.

Native protests against the developers have stopped heavy equipment being moved across the bridge which traverses the river and emotions are running high. It is spawning season, too, and the exhausted fish are having trouble making their way through shallow eddies to get to the river edges to spawn. When Hannah pushes Brandon to volunteer carrying salmon up river, he trips into the water and feels a powerful force beside him. Their childhood friend Alex, of the Shuswap tribe, tells them the Native legend about "the mystery" in the river, who steals souls if a person falls in and swallows water, a river ghost boy standing glimmering on the water. When the cantankerous Stewart falls off his horse and into the river, Brandon and Hannah rush to save him. Brandon submerges too, and when he is rescued, he is dazed and disoriented. Stew, the grandfather, is sent to the hospital so the kids are on their own.

This is a beautiful tale of the course of inter-generational and cross-cultural wounds finding a common voice through the myth, magic and ancient lessons of indigenous people. Time becomes fluid, wrapped by "the mystery" of the river and its oral history. The people, the river and the salmon are linked in a drama which demands change and reformation to bring the transformation needed for the renewal of life, relationships, love and hope for the future.

It is a gorgeously described story, the landscape as vividly painted as the shimmering mating salmon at its centre. The pace is urgent, making the book impossible to put down once begun, and the layers of emotion and suspense simply enthral. I came to love the characters, especially Hannah with her defensive determination and Gina with her loyal heart, and was sad to leave them.

One final thought: this year, 2016, is the lowest count of returning salmon on record. Salmon fishing is prohibited by sport fishermen and Native fisheries, the latter which has never happened before. The cause of the terribly reduced numbers are thought to be varied, with warming oceans reducing food sources and farmed salmon perhaps bringing fatal disease. The spawning grounds truly have become the most sacred place.

✪✪✪✪✪ Five outstanding, mesmerizing stars! Highly recommended!

coroboreefarm Sep 13, 2016

This mystical new Canadian novel by the two-time Giller-shortlisted author, Gail Anderson-Dargatz, is an intimate family saga set in the Thompson-Shuswap region of British Columbia. It is saturated with the history of the area, the river and its spawning salmon, and the struggles that have taken place between the farmers, who have lived for generations on one side of the River, and the Shuswap community who have deep roots on the other side. The story bridges the cultural and spiritual boundaries between past and present; a present that has been honed by human and environmental crises that have brought the settler and Native worlds together in love, hate, and tragedy for 150 years. The young protagonists Hannah, Alex and Brandon, whose visions after a near death experience, show the path to the melding of past and present. This is a lyrical, gripping, historical saga suffused with overtones of mysticism and tragedy.

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