Northern Light is now available at your favourite bookstore! In celebration, we wanted to share an excerpt from the book, and a link to the American launch with Milkweed Editions and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop for anyone who missed it. You can watch the launch by clicking here.
We have more events planned for Northern Light, so take this time to pick up a copy and read ahead! We’ll be waiting for your wonderful questions at our next event. Till then, enjoy this excerpt.
One of the predominant sensory remembrances—I can still “feel” this in my body when I focus—is the cold. Already by Halloween there was snow on the ground, and we would have to hurry home from school as the sun’s yellow darkened and darkened and the shadows stretched long. All winter the snow would pile up on the ground and the streets. I don’t remember how the streets were cleared, but I do remember wearing a full-body zip-up snow suit to walk to school in the later months of the season.
And the sky: I remember the sky. More specifically, the night sky. In that small clearing in the forest, with no evening streetlights, the night was darker than any I have experienced since. On summer nights when the skies were cloud free and when the northern lights were not shining, making it difficult to discern the stars, we only had to stand outside for a few minutes for our eyes to adjust to the darkness, and a whole panoply of celestial light emerged. The constellations’ names I learned made sense because the two Bears looked like bears, and I could easily see Orion the Hunter’s right arm raising his club over his head, his left clutching a bow as he charged at Taurus the Bull.
My father had two telescopes, a refractor telescope he mounted on a tripod in the backyard and a larger, more powerful reflector telescope that he positioned on its base atop a table on the patio. The morning papers from Winnipeg would tell us what would be in the sky that night and where to look. My father, something of a genius at things mathematical, would take into account our higher latitudinal positioning, do some quick calculations in pencil on star-chart paper, and plot exactly where to point the telescopes to find our nightly quarry. We would look at planets, moons, stars, galaxies. I saw Jupiter through the telescope, and Arcturus, Betelgeuse, and the rings of Saturn. The poet in me was born then, as well: my father would tell us the stories of Perseus and of Andromeda, whose parents Cepheus and Cassiopeia bartered her life for the safety of their city—and then he would point out in the sky the constellations of the four characters. The night he told me the story of the Pleiades, he had me look up into the sky to see the cluster of six scintillating stars, and then showed me through the telescope that there were, in fact, seven main stars, the smallest huddling next to her sisters, with many more much smaller, unable to be seen with the naked eye.
We moved from Jenpeg in 1979, the summer before I started third grade. Our new home, on Staten Island, would be the furthest I could have imagined from that town in the woods. My new school, P.S. 22, had a thousand students riding buses from all over the island; the adjustment was not easy. Back in Manitoba, construction on the dam was completed in one more year, and the trailers were packed up and driven off the land: Jenpeg ceased to exist.
Excerpted from Northern Light: Power, Land, and the Memory of Water copyright © 2021 by Kazim Ali
Author photo by Jesse Sutton-Hough