Where in Canada: Iqaluit

Set in contemporary Canada, Felicia Mihali’s Pineapple Kisses in Iqaluit (Guernica Editions) is a considerably researched historical novel that delves into the dual history of Iqaluit and the Northwest Passage. The novel follows a cynical teacher in her early 30s who moves up to the Far North hoping for new experiences to heal old wounds, and ultimately learning there’s no place to hide from herself. Read on for more about the book and how Mihali explores the false fantasies of white people who go to Iqaluit and does justice to the agency of women in the north.

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Where in Canada shines a spotlight on Canadian spaces and places in literature.

Pineapple Kisses in Iqaluit by Felicia Mihali takes place in, you guessed it, Iqaluit. Romanian Montrealer Irina goes to the Far North to get away from her past and teach French for a year, and experiences the affect-disorienting polar night and polar day. The novel is infused with a richly researched account of colonial exploration in the European search for the Northwest Passage. Irina observes the isolated lifestyles of her fellow teachers, most of whom she doesn’t really like, and also gets involved, reluctantly, with the white uncle of one her young Inuit students—a police officer whom she doesn’t trust, and who carries his own secret.Mihali scrutinizes the false fantasies of white people who come to Iqaluit with preconceived notions of what life will be like in the North. Most Canadians have very little knowledge of the Inuit, the Arctic, and the history of British explorers, and Irina witnesses complex sociocultural rifts and joinders at work. Mihali pays special attention to the agency of Inuit women to define their identity and role in society. Tanya Tagaq even makes an appearance, throat-singing at an event, and challenges her audience on their presumptions. In one case a polar bear was roaming through the neighbourhoods, endangering the families who lived there, the polar bear was shot and its dead body was shared on social media to let people know the area was safe. The photo finds its way to social media in Quebec and the person who posted it is harassed and ratioed for animal cruelty. The poorly known North, out of context, becomes the target of illusions and prejudices. People love to see the magnificent sundogs of the parhelion phenomenon but misunderstand the means by which those living in the North must survive. Addiction, depression, grief, and suicide are common in Iqaluit, and funerals aren’t only for tears. Threaded through the present day are fascinating dives into the colonial history of various groups of explorers who failed in spectacular and at some points horrific ways. You may not expect a novel about a depressed young French teacher to include cannibalism and legends of ogresses and shapeshifting, but believe that this novel is full of surprises! Not the least of which is the female main character’s unapologetic grumpiness. We stan a prickly leading lady! Her critical attitude towards her environment, colleagues, and friends allows for astute observations about the politics of the city—as when she describes the teachers showing off their wealth by the type of fruit they buy, flexing in line at the grocery store. Mihali has spent time immersed in the history and present of Iqaluit. She’s lived there and studied the city extensively, and it shows. Mihali’s account avoids idealizing or maligning the city, choosing rather to present a nuanced and intimate view of life in the Far North. 

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Felicia Mihali is a journalist, novelist and publisher who lives in Montréal. After studies in French, Mandarin and Dutch, she specialized in Postcolonial literature at the University of Montreal, where she also studied History and English Literature. She is the founder and president of Éditions Hashtag 2018 from Montréal.

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Thanks to Margo LaPierre at Guernica Editions for sharing Pineapple Kisses in Iqaluit with us, available now on All Lit Up.