Book Review: Lost Lands, Forgotten Trails

     Lost Lands, Forgotten Trails: A Woman’s Journey to the Heart of Labrador is author Alexandra Pratt’s account of her journey into the wilderness of Labrador in the summer of 2000.

     Pratt came to Labrador to follow in the steps of Mina Hubbard in 1905, who in turn, was following in the steps of her late husband Leonidas Hubbard in 1903. Pratt first became interested in Mina’s expedition through Labrador into Quebec when she read an article about it in National Geographic. From there her interest grew and she came to Labrador in 2000 to complete the journey herself.

     The book begins with a brief history of her and details her time and effort that went into organizing the expedition. From the beginning, Pratt’s voice clearly shows the difficulty she faces with her expedition, before she’s even begun it. Trying to raise money to fund the trip, looking for sponsors to help her buy gear and equipment and her attempt to find a guide to take her into the country all demonstrate the difficult road she has ahead of her.

     But the book is also interspersed with excerpts from Mina’s diary of her journey. Pratt spent some time in the MUN archives and read Mina’s actual diary; not just the published (and polished) version. She uses Mina’s journey as a parallel for hers. She takes the same route and the same methods as Mina nearly a century before: canoeing and portaging her way through the rivers, bush and rapids Labrador so generously offers up.

     Pratt also focuses on the Innu people in her book. Her guide, Jean Pierre, is from Sheshatshiu and Pratt spends a fair amount of the book discussing and thinking about the Innu, in a stream-of-consciousness way. She writes about their culture and their history with the first settlers, as well as their interactions with the modern world: their struggle between their traditional lifestyle and contemporary society.  

     Pratt has a poetic style of writing, which at the beginning reads forced and mechanical, as if she were following a guide on how to write a book. However, as the book progresses and the material becomes more serious: she is listening for a bear in the woods or trying to steer her canoe through rapids, the language sounds less strained and is more justified. By the second half of the book the language seems normal and appropriate as she describes the beautiful ruggedness ofLabrador’s wilderness and the private and proud nature of the Innu. Pratt’s writing is honest and she tells her story without pretence: openly admitting to disappointment and frustration, which is refreshing. However, for camping by the side of rivers in mud and shrubs, the writing feels clean and almost too polished. I kept hoping for more gritty language, but it never appeared. This doesn’t take away from the reading experience but does leave me wishing for a more descriptive account of her day-to-day activities. For being titled a journey to the heart of Labrador, I wished to be told more about the journey. Pratt describes in great detail the route they take and the land they cover, but leaves out details about the more mundane things, like having to constantly pack and repack her gear and eat the same things over and over again, the things that make a trip like this real and like an expedition.

     The only thing I didn’t like about this book was that Pratt spelled Labradorian as Labradorean. I realize this is probably due to her English education (though I’m not sure) but after reading and gaining the distinct impression that she loves Labrador and wanted to be a part of it, it felt odd to have her spell Labradorian wrong, essentially, or at least not the way that Labradorians spell it. I recommend this book as a way to learn more about Labrador and especially Labrador’s wilderness. It also serves as a good and very brief history of both Mina’s expedition at the beginning of the twentieth century and the Innu’s introduction and adjustment to modern society.

Chelcie

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