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White Bird Black Bird Reviews

A gripping account of a period in the Far North of Canada that is little known or understood. The plot twists through politics, relationships and extremism to reveal some fundamental truths about the fragile landscape of the North and its diverse population. The story's main character is a dedicated journalist who moves North to recharge his professional batteries but finds he has more than a professional interest in the people who make the news. He arrives at a time when native land rights are rising up the news agenda and gas and oil men are lobbying to build a pipeline in the virgin forest. The clash of interests triggers a series of events that culminates in violence but ultimately brings redemption. A really good read with characters you care about and issues that are still contentious.

- Michelle Johnson


White Bird Black Bird is a must read for those who want to define the northern areas of Canada by more than ice and snow, blizzards and polar bears in a wilderness. Val Wake brings those areas to life. He is an author of quality who tells a story with a brisk Hemingway economy in the episodes of violence and who shows a sensitive humanity in handling the clash of cultures implicit - and more and more explicit - in the inevitable evolution of self-assertion by indigenous peoples. The plural of that last word is important. I had never heard of some of the "indigenes" before but there are more than one or two in that vast territory and harmony between them takes on much the same complexities as the relationship between new settlers and indigenous inhabitants anywhere. The "other" next door might be even harder to tolerate than the monster in Ottawa. Wake, who knows the Territory well at first hand, has written an intriguing book, well worth a five-star rating.

- Dr. James Cumes


Sprawling saga draws on the real-life culture clash between aboriginal Northern Canadians and resource-hungry land developers. Dedicated, young Toronto cub reporter Warren Pritchard loves his craft, but after a hurricane sweeps through the region, he takes stock of his life in the quaint town of Weston.

Deciding a change of scenery might provide professional purpose and a fresh start-and stem a ballooning alcohol habit- Warren heads north to Yellowknife where he is commissioned to form a territorial-wide radio news service. This happens amid a hotbed of political controversy involving oil pipelines and racial unrest between native Inuit citizens and "rival government agencies, struggling to control the human and natural resources of the north." Warren becomes embroiled in the turmoil along with "political fixer" Dougie Green, a straight-laced, two-year veteran of the never-ending controversy, awash in rumours and small-town gossip.

As his mission becomes more and more personal, Warren explores his environs, meeting many quirky locals while picking up information to craft a well-balanced article on the palpable racial tension in Yellowknife and the trouble surrounding its impending gentrification and industrial development. A good-natured priest educates Warren on the dangers of pipeline expansion and how it affects the indigenous people nearby just as a regional supervisor for the impending construction butts heads with a grass roots Native rights movement. But it's Cindy- a Native Indian woman from the Hare tribe- who steals Warren's heart.

A violent shooting and a politically-motivated kidnapping preface a somewhat surprising, unorthodox conclusion. While Wake, a former journalist, excels in cultivating an authentic sense of place (he spent four years living in the Canadian Arctic region), his 500-plus page narrative is verbose and becomes weighted down with the expounding details and melodrama of his character's machinations - alturistic or otherwise.

A harmless distraction with philanthropic overtones in need of edits.

- Kirkus Discoveries, New York, April 2009

White Bird Black Bird, Epic Novel of the Rights of Native Canadians vs. the Development of Oil and Gas Resources

White Bird Black Bird was written by Val Wake, the Australian-born journalist who worked for many years in Canada and England before returning to his native land. Wake worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) from 1969-73, the time when a mascent native rights movement, ran head-on into oil and gas development, big business and government policies. Wake's fictionalized account of the conflicts comes directly from his personal experience as the broadcast reporter who covered this story on location for the CBC, doing so by travelling from his base in Yellowknife throughout the Arctic regions of Canada.

While the rights of the indigenous peoples have now been established to some extent in various countries, this was not the case during the tumultuous, initial development of energy resources in the Canadian north. In fact, it was only in 2007 that the United Nations adopted its Declaration on the Rights of Indigenuous Peoples.

Wake tells his story from the perspective of fictional journalist Warren Pritchard and provides the kind of details that give his fiction true credibility. For such an important story in a relatively unknown time and place, we are lucky to have Val Wake's insider knowledge as the basis of his book. I'm sure that Wake's time as an information officer for the British Government added insight into the relationship between government and big business.

Those with an interest in human rights, the rights of indigenous peoples, the politics and business of exploiting energy resources, or one of the little-known stories of North American development, will see that White Bird Black Bird provides the goods. The novel also offers a rich and exciting read for fiction lovers everywhere.

White Bird Black Bird
is available at I hope to follow up this brief post with an author interview accomplished by email.

Jim Bashkin
September 27, 2009