Rain Taxi reviews Carnival Lights

By Shannon Gibney

An impressive work about family, survival, and what one character calls the “spiral” of all stories, Chris Stark’s Carnival Lights is part novel, part Minnesota history, part spiritual tome, and part brutal account of white racial and sexual violence. Centering on several generations of one Ojibwe family in both the northern and southern parts of the state and spanning the years 1860 to 1969, the book deftly shows how whites used land theft, intimidation, and sheer force to try to exterminate and remove Native communities, but also how the victims resisted and fought to keep their ways of life.

Even through so much devastation and loss, Carnival Lights asserts that the land—and everything living on it—remembers. At one point Sher recalls finding her father frozen to death in a field:

The trees, their outstretched arms and fingers cradling delicate lines of snow, heard and saw all of it, and it became part of them, recorded in their beings, in their flesh. Ring after ring, year after year, the Standing People recorded the story of the land. They absorbed, held, witnessed. The Standing People. The libraries of the earth. The collectors of knowledge, their limbs arching over the land, over life. Holding. Bending. Protecting.

The Standing People bearing witness to horrible acts of violence against the Ojibwe is one of the central themes in the book, and it provides a sense of accountability, if not consequence, for the ongoing and pernicious attacks.

Read the full review on Rain Taxi

Carnival Lights [PB]

SKU 978-1-61599-577-6
A Novel
In stock
Product Details
UPC: 978-1-61599-577-6
Brand: Modern History Press
Binding: Paperback
Edition: 1st
Author: Chris Stark
Pages: 240
Publication Date: 06-01-2021
In August 1969, two teenage Ojibwe cousins, Sher and Kris, leave their northern Minnesota reservation for the lights of Minneapolis. The girls arrive in the city with only $12, their grandfather's WWII pack, two stainless steel cups, some face makeup, gum, and a lighter. But it's the ancestral connections they are also carrying — to the land and the trees, to their family and culture, to love and to loss — that shapes their journey most. As they search for work, they cross paths with a gay Jewish boy, homeless white and Indian women, and men on the prowl for runaways. Making their way to the Minnesota State Fair, the Indian girls try to escape a fate set in motion centuries earlier.

Set in a summer of hippie war protests and the moon landing, Carnival Lights also spans settler arrival, the creation of the reservation system, and decades of cultural suppression, connecting everything from lumber baron's mansions to Nazi V-2 rockets to smuggler's tunnels in stories of Minnesota.

"Chris Stark is a masterful storyteller, and Carnival Lights is an unforgettable novel. Fluid in time and place, flowing between one past and another, offering a heartbreaking portrait of multigenerational trauma in the lives of one Ojibwe family, this tapestry of stories is beautifully woven and gut wrenching in its effect. Carnival Lights is an important book about the treachery and tragedy that so many Native Americans in this country have experienced, particularly women. Read it, and it may change you forever."
-- William Kent Krueger, New York Times Best Selling Author

"By weaving narratives back and forth through space and time, Chris Stark's newest novel explores the evolution of violence experienced by Native women and girls at the hands of non-Native men – dating back centuries. Simultaneously graphic and gentle, Carnival Lights takes the reader on a daunting journey through generations of trauma, crafting characters that are both vulnerable and resilient."
--Sarah Deer, (Mvskoke), Distinguished Professor, University of Kansas, MacArthur Genius Award Recipient

"Chris does a masterful job of showing the deeply contrasting views of colonizers and indigenous people and the often devastating outcome of those differences. While not always easy to read, it will capture your imagination and encourage you to learn more and to hopefully, drive your commitment to make the future a brighter one for all."
-- Dr. Priscilla Day, Professor at UMN Duluth Social Work Department, Anishinaabe Tribal Member

“Chris Stark’s lyrical prose liberates her often-nightmarish tale of everyday sordidness to create an elegy for the Ojibwe of the past and an advocate for current and future generations, especially young Native American women. It is a voice to be reckoned with. Once read, Carnival Lights’ message will not be silenced.”
— Tyler R. Tichelaar, award-winning author of Kawbawgam: The Chief, The Legend, The Man

CHRIS STARK's first novel, Nickels: A Tale of Dissociation, was a Lambda Literary Finalist. She has also won awards for her non-fiction and memoir writing and her visual art. She is a co-author of Garden of Truth: The Prostitution and Trafficking of Native Women in Minnesota and has published non-fiction and academic articles, and poetry. Chris is a member of the Minnesota Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Taskforce. She is Anishinaabe and Cherokee.

Learn more at www.ChristineStark.com

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