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The Long Exile: A Tale of Inuit Betrayal and Survival in the High Arctic    by Melanie McGrath order for
Long Exile
by Melanie McGrath
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2008 (2007)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Melanie McGrath's The Long Exile is a heartrending account of the Canadian Government's 1932 attempt to colonize Ellsmere Island, the most northerly landmass on the planet. To accomplish this ill-advised move, three dozen Inuit were forcibly removed from their homes on Hudson Bay to live in the harshest of conditions on the unwelcoming island. To say that this move was cruel and unjust is understating the conditions in which the Inuit were forced to live. They were not acclimated to the terrible cold that could make their lungs bleed! They did not have nor were they supplied with the proper clothing or food to survive such dire weather conditions. Even their shelter was inadequate. No provisions were made to educate their children, and scant medical care was offered for the white man diseases.

The government made promises that were not kept. This account put me in mind of the United States government forcing the Cherokee to move from North Carolina to Oklahoma on what was to be called The Trail of Tears. I could rant and rave here about the injustices heaped on the Inuit. Read for yourself and try to understand the mindset of the individuals who ordered such a horrendous move and of those who carried out such orders against peoples who had lived on what they considered their own land for thousands of years.

The Long Exile is a compelling book to read. It is written with grace and tolerance. The author's research is all encompassing. Her renderings of fighting the cold and ice makes the reader shiver and reach for a blanket. It is hard to imagine such a cruel environment. Harder still to believe that whole families would be transported to live in such deprivation, to further a government's ambitions. McGrath's prose flows in a work that is hard to put down and whose effect lingers long after the last page is turned. It is hard to believe that she has not lived in the Arctic herself for years, such is her ability to portray the horrors that the Inuit endured. The Long Exile is a fine book.

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