book review, historical fiction, history

Review: Anangokaa by Cameron Alam

Anangokaa by Cameron Alam follows a 14-year-old Scottish girl, Flora MacCallum, newly arrived with her family in the Canadian wilderness in 1804. The novel opens with Flora emerging from a grave illness (I suspect malaria or smallpox) of which her parents and one of her sisters did not survive. Flora, her older brother Hugh, and their three other sisters are left alone to fend for themselves in the Canadian frontier at the edge of Chippewa territory.

Baldoon, the Scottish encampment, struggles in the marshy territory. Hugh forms a friendship with the nearby Chippewa, notably a young man named Niigaani. Flora forms a tentative friendship with Niigaani, and later forms a bond with his grandmother and sister when Hugh takes her to their village for her to learn traditional herb lore and medicine.

While Hugh and the sisters journey daily to Baldoon and its school, Flora stays home upon their island in the river. Niigaani begins to visit, in secret at Flora’s request, and he teaches her about the land, his people, how to skin a deer. Flora fights with herself and societal norms, but she clearly has strong feelings for Niigaani. The tension between them in palpable, but remains innocent. Cameron Alam beautifully describes the complexities of Flora’s emotions, as well as Flora’s relationship and reverence of the land.

While at the start I had a little trouble connecting with the characters, I slowly became invested in Flora’s struggle. However, the end of Anangokaa left me unfulfilled and unsatisfied in that it lacked the pay off the narrative seemed to be building toward the entire novel.