Sunday September 18, 2016

Indigenous Reads book club: Katherena Vermette's The Break

Métis author, Katherena Vermette's debut novel The Break centres on a circle of Indigenous women in Winnipeg's North End.

Métis author, Katherena Vermette's debut novel The Break centres on a circle of Indigenous women in Winnipeg's North End. (Supplied)

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Katherena Vermette's debut novel, The Break, is the first book in Unreserved's Indigenous Reads book club

It is a story that begins with violence but The Break, a debut novel by Katherena Vermette, is also about the resilience and strength of Indigenous women.

"These are composites of so many stories that I know," said Vermette, a Métis writer of poetry, fiction and children's literature.

"I was bearing witness to something that was very tragic and very hard to deal with but I was getting to know these women and I had a lot of admiration for these women."

The book takes us into Winnipeg's North End. Stella, a young Métis mother, looks out her window one evening and spots someone in trouble on The Break — a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house.

In a series of shifting narratives, people who are connected, directly and indirectly tell their stories leading up to that night. Through their perspectives a more comprehensive story emerges about the families in this sometimes troubled neighbourhood.

Difficult but necessary story

The Break

The Breaks takes readers into the lives, loves and losses of a circle of women in Winnipeg's North End. (Supplied)

"I love characters, I love people. I like how they talk to each other. So I really wanted to dive into that character or these little voices. Kind of just go into people's heads and explore and look around," she explained.

"That's something, I guess you can do in poetry but poetry is quite small and lyrical in a lot of ways. So I really wanted to kind of dive in. I wanted to have conversations. I wanted to be enmeshed in a story."

It is a story that includes heartbreaking violence and victimization, something Vermette said was difficult but necessary to write.

"People don't understand what it's like to not be able to walk around your neighbourhood or have all of your friends have a molestation story in their childhood. If people don't understand that you have to show that. That's what books are supposed to do."

She said the most difficult scene to write was when Emily, who is 13, is beaten and raped. 

"It was the last thing I was able to write and edit. I avoided editing it for a long time," she said adding that the book even comes with a trigger warning.

"It was very, very hard because you want to swoop in and you want to stop it and you want to change everything and erase the page because you don't want that to happen. You don't ever want that to happen."

But ultimately, The Break is not about violence and loss, it is about strength, survival and love.

"I'm talking about a violent incident but I didn't want to leave people there. What I'm talking about is also how you get out of that and how you go and what you do to survive."