The first chapter of this book introduces us to Walt, a young college student, as he comes home to his Gitksan family in Gitsegukla, a Native town in Canada. The second chapter tells us that Walt has in fact come home the hard way – he died in his sleep, and has been brought home to be buried by his friends and family. The rest of the book shows us, through the eyes of his cousin and best friend Angie, how Walt is mourned, how the ceremonies and feasts that are performed in his honor help his relatives ease their grief together and honor his passing, and how his presence remains as a guide and comforter to those who loved him.
FEAST is a touching and bittersweet story about a life lost too young, and about the ways people come together in times of deep grief, seen through the particular lens of the Gitksam culture. It is an excellent read for the amateur anthropologist, as Russell is himself Gitksam and explains not only the patterns of Gitksam mourning and relationship but their purpose and the meaning they hold to an insider. The present-tense style of the book adds to its immediacy, as does the personal perspective through which we see it. Angie’s bond with her cousin, who has been like the brother she never had to her, is deep and heartfelt, and we see their relationship unfold and develop through her memories. Her perspective allows the reader to feel the loss with her, irreparable but softened by the comfort of family and friends, and by the guiding hand of rituals designed to ease loss, maintaining the memory of the deceased and his place in his family while still letting him go.
That said, there’s not much story to this book beyond a lovingly-detailed explanation of the rituals and process of Gitksam mourning – there’s not much conflict (except the internal conflict of letting go of a loved one, naturally) or plot twists to be found. It’s a personal retelling of a major life event, an ethnographic account more than a tale (though told in much clearer, more intimate language than your average ethnography, certainly) but don’t expect it to fit standard literary genres.
FEAST: A GITKSAN STORY is exactly what the title promises – the story of a community coming together for feasting and mourning in honor of their dead.
~Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader