Heart Berries: A Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot

Hardcover, 160 pages
Published March 13th 2018 by Doubleday Canada
Source: Publisher

Nobody wants to know why Indian women leave or where they go. Our bodies walk across highways from dances of our youth into missing narratives with strobe lights or sweet drinks in our small purses, or the talk of leaving. The truth of our leaving or coming into the world is never told.

As a writer, I always seek to show the truth of myself in all the stories I write but I have the facade of fiction to hide behind. Terese Marie Mailhot, in Heart Berries, lays herself bare in such searing and beautiful ways that are a testament to both the courage of her self and the beauty of her soul.

The back copy of this book calls it a memoir but Heart Berries is so much more than that. I don’t know if I can properly articulate the experience that is reading this book but I am going to try. With this book, Mailhot both asserts her individuality, defying the people who try to stereotype her as a First Nations writer, and embraces her heritage as a First Nations writer. To unwrap this seemingly contrary statement, consider this.

For many people, First Nation culture, religion, and people are relics consigned to museums because of their antiquity. First Nation peoples and cultures are not considered vibrant and contemporary things that exist in the modern world. First Nations people are stereotyped and exoticized in mainstream media; they are often made invisible.

My story was maltreated. The words were too wrong and ugly to speak. I tried to tell someone my story, but he thought it was a hustle. He marked it as solicitation. The man took me shopping with his pity. I was silenced by charity–like so many Indians. I kept my hands out. My story became the hustle.

With Heart Berries, Mailhot controls the narrative. She lays bare her inner self, without flinching from the judgement–indeed, she defies the reader to judge her. She speaks for herself, unapologetic in the expression of her pain and her humanity.

In my first writing classes, my professor told me that the human condition was misery. I’m a river widened by misery, and the potency of my language is more than human. It’s an Indian condition to be proud of survival but reluctant to call it resilience. Resilience seems ascribed to a human conditioning in white people.

There were moments during my reading when I felt like I should stop because I felt like I was reading something too personal; I felt like a spectator to someone’s acute pain. However, Mailhot’s prose made stopping impossible. The poetry of her language conveys her journey to herself so perfectly. She writes about her childhood, her love life, her motherhood, poverty, and mental illness without flinching or giving excuses. You have to respect that kind of bravery–very few evince it.

We don’t own our mothers. We don’t own our bodies or our land–maybe I’m unsure. We become the land when we are buried in it. Our grandmothers have been uprooted and shelved in boxes, placed on slabs of plastic, or packed neatly in rooms, or turned into artifact–all after proper burials. Indians aren’t always allowed to rest in peace. I want to be buried in a bone garden with my ancestors someday. I’d like to belong to that.

There have been many accolades heaped on this book and many more will be awarded to it in the future–just know that it deserves all of them. I can’t review this book or give it stars–you can’t evaluate someone’s soul when you are only human. You should read this book.