Imagine returning from the second world war, disillusioned with your government and confused about your future. Farley Mowat chose to visit Canada’s barren lands—that area that’s north of “civilization” but south of the Arctic Ocean. This is the land of the Ihalmiut, the people of the deer, who eek out a troubled existence from the harsh wilderness.
In No Man’s River, Mowat recounts his first journey to this land. Mowat’s fame as a writer started with his description of this land and its people in People of the Deer and The Desperate People. He returns in this autobiographical book to fill in some of the blanks.
Mowat’s stubbornness and humour are in full view here. His relationship with Harper, the American scientist who hired Mowat to help him with his studies, is an unending source entertainment. One of my favourite moments is when Mowat decided to liberate some of the grain alcohol set aside to embalm animals. Well played, sir.
This memoir is not without its problems, though. The first section which describes the family history of Mowat’s Metis companion is unfocused. I read the first section not knowing that the book was essentially about Mowat’s relationship and travels his companion, Charles.
Shortcomings aside, No Man’s River is a fascinating look at what it’s like to live and travel by canoe in Canada’s Barren Lands. Canoe trippers will be salivating for their next trip as descriptions of rapids and rivers dance in their heads.
—Farley Mowat, No Man’s River (Toronto, ON: Key Porter Books, 2004.