Capricious, big-hearted, joyful: an epic memoir from one of Canada’s most acclaimed Indigenous writers and performers
Tomson Highway was born in a snowbank on an island in the sub-Arctic, the eleventh of twelve children in a nomadic, caribou-hunting Cree family. Growing up in a land of ten thousand lakes and islands, Tomson relished being pulled by dogsled beneath a night sky alive with stars, sucking the juices from roasted muskrat tails, and singing country music songs with his impossibly beautiful older sister and her teenaged friends. Surrounded by the love of his family and the vast, mesmerizing landscape they called home, his was in many ways an idyllic far-north childhood. But five of Tomson’s siblings died in childhood, and Balazee and Joe Highway, who loved their surviving children profoundly, wanted their two youngest sons, Tomson and Rene, to enjoy opportunities as big as the world. And so when Tomson was six, he was flown south by float plane to attend a residential school. A year later Rene joined him to begin the rest of their education. In 1990 Rene Highway, a world-renowned dancer, died of an AIDS-related illness. Permanent Astonishment: Growing Up in the Land of Snow and Sky is Tomson’s extravagant embrace of his younger brother’s final words: “Don’t mourn me, be joyful.” His memoir offers insights, both hilarious and profound, into the Cree experience of culture, conquest, and survival.
FINALIST FOR THE 2021 HILARY WESTON WRITER’S TRUST PRIZE FOR NONFICTION
“Permanent Astonishment is a mesmerizing story rich in detail about growing up in a Cree-speaking family in Northern Manitoba and later in a residential school. Highway’s writing delights in tales of eating muskrat tails, speaking Cree (and learning English), preparing for a Christmas concert, and listening to Hank Snow on a transistor radio. While unstinting about the abuse he and others suffered, Highway makes a bold personal choice to accentuate the wondrousness of his school years resulting in a book that shines with the foundational sparks of adolescence: innocence, fear, and amazement.” —2021 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction jury