Comptes rendusBook Reviews

Markoosie Patsauq. Edited and translated by Valerie Henitiuk and Marc-Antoine Mahieu. Uumajursiutik unaatuinnamut / Hunter with Harpoon / Chasseur au harpon. Montréal and Kingston, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2021, 334 p.

  • Trish Van Bolderen

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  • Trish Van Bolderen
    Independent Scholar

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Cover of Traduction et subversion, Volume 35, Number 2, 2e semestre 2022, pp. 9-255, TTR

When quoting Inuit director and producer, Zacharias Kunuk, as saying “I learned there are different ways to tell the same story” (p. 260), Valerie Henitiuk and Marc-Antoine Mahieu capture the translation ethos that informs Uumajursiutik unaatuinnamut / Hunter with Harpoon / Chasseur au harpon. The story at the heart of this engaging and insightful publication is Uumajursiutik unaatuinnamut, the tale written in Inuktitut by Inuit author, activist, and bush pilot, Markoosie Patsauk (1941-2020), about a harrowing polar bear hunt on the tundra of what has come to be known as Nunavut. This “first long-form Indigenous fictional text ever published in Canada” (p. 164) initially appeared serially and in syllabics in Inuktitut Magazine between 1969 and 1970, and the tale has since been extensively circulated and translated, with the first interlingual rendering being an adaptation into English by Markoosie himself. That self-translation, Harpoon of the Hunter (1970), reached canonical status early on and remains the all-time bestseller for McGill-Queen’s University Press. Yet, as Henitiuk and Mahieu make clear, it diverges significantly from its Inuktitut counterpart, a fact that would seem to stem less from the authorial liberties commonly associated with self-translation than from interventions by Inuktitut Magazine’s editor, James H. McNeill, who is also the person who had asked Markoosie to produce the English version. And herein lies the raison d’être of Henitiuk and Mahieu’s endeavour: in keeping with the norms that generally prevail when self-translation moves from a minoritized language into a major one (see, for example, Whyte, 2002, p. 70), it is Markoosie’s English-language text—i.e., the translation, rather than the original—that was consistently adopted as the stable source text for subsequent translations. This primacy of the English text has led to notable misunderstandings not only of the initial literary work but also of Inuit literature, language, and culture more broadly. As the editors rightly acknowledge, moreover, the author’s signature on the 1970 text would have contributed greatly to precluding attempts to propose, or perhaps even imagine, alternative English translations. Thus, what Uumajursiutik unaatuinnamut / Hunter with Harpoon / Chasseur au harpon offers is “the first opportunity to read a rigorous translation—into any language—of Markoosie’s Uumajursiutik unaatuinnamut” (p. 163), and to access an enlightened accompanying critical apparatus that is as nuanced as it is comprehensive. The first 160 pages of the book present us with what are effectively four new versions of Markoosie’s narrative, beginning with two distinct variants of the Inuktitut text. The first of these, expressed in syllabics, closely resembles the initial serialized publication. As usefully detailed in Appendix E (pp. 297-312), however, this text has been remastered, in consultation with the author, to correct lingering errors and to enhance readability, by reflecting contemporary spelling conventions and numerous other, largely typographical amendments. The second Inuktitut text is Mahieu’s Romanized transliteration of the story, which serves to facilitate access to the original work for readers of Inuktitut who are not also literate in syllabics. Subsequently, we encounter the new English version (Hunter with Harpoon) and a new translation into French (Chasseur au harpon). Henitiuk and Mahieu produced each of these texts in light of the original 73-page handwritten manuscript in Inuktitut and with direct guidance from Markoosie. Individually and as a textual quartet, these literary works are designed to breathe fresh life into Markoosie’s original story and to enable, if not encourage, intertextual cross-referencing, as most concretely evidenced by the discreet numbering in the margins which identifies the corresponding manuscript pages. The priority given to the Inuktitut texts here is deliberate and serves objectives that are at once pragmatic, symbolic, and …