Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tobacco Wars by Paul Seesequasis

Tobacco Wars by Paul Seesequasis
113 pages
Published October 2010 by Quattro Books
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

In Tobacco Wars, Paul Seesequasis gives the reader a modern retelling of the Native American story of creation  (here a Bear Woman is responsible for all creation) and a work of historical fiction featuring Pocahontas and the British playwright Ben Jonson. Sound like an unusual story? You haven't heard the half of it.

When I say "modern retelling," I'm talking about a retelling that pushes the boundaries so far that Seesequasis feels the need to suggest in his acknowledgments that he may have "gone to places that they [his family elders] would not consider proper." The rivers and oceans are created when Bear Woman urinates; the sun is a ball of her phlegm; islands are mounds of her feces. The creation of the animals? Let's just say that occurs as the result of something your parents didn't tell you about until they thought you were old enough to hear it. And Seesequasis is quite vivid in his descriptions. After the first few pages of the book, I told my husband I felt like I was reading bear porn. Which, perhaps, brings me to the point. Much of this happens in the first few pages. I'm left wondering if Seesequasis' intention was to immediately shock his readers. To appear so avante garde that if, in the end, you feel like you just didn't get his point, he can justify it by suggesting that you had tuned out early.

The Pocohantas parts of the story are, by and large, much less graphic. Seesequasis, as a Native American, gives a unique feel to one of the most famous Native American's journey from "the Americas" to the court of England and back again. I certainly got what felt like a very real impression of what life must have been like on the streets of England at that time, gritty and dirty. My problem with these parts of the book was not so much what Seesequasis included but, rather, what he left out. In the end, I felt like there should have been more to the story; so few pages encompassing so many years and events.

I made the mistake of reading a few reviews of this before I even started the book, something I very rarely do and I will admit to being somewhat prejudiced going into the book. In the end I feel like I did read the book with an open mind (once I got past the bear porn) and believe I understand the point Seesequasis was trying to make. I did appreciate the idea of a "mother" of creation watching as the beautiful world she has created become overgrown with people who have no appreciation for its wonders. By and large, I enjoyed the story of Pocahantas and came away with the impression that Seesequasis certainly has talent. Sadly, I can't say that the book worked for me as a whole. The graphic descriptions did little more than turn me off to the book and I'm not sure that the two stories ever came together enough to feel like anything more than two entirely different stories.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for giving me the opportunity, once again, to push my own boundaries with this one! For other opinions about this book, check out the full tour.

Paul Seesequasis is a writer and a journalist. He was the founding editor of the award-winning Aboriginal Voices magazine, and the recipient of a MacLean-Hunter journalist award. His short stories and feature writings have been published in Canada and abroad. Tobacco Wars is his first novella.


  1. I love that you described part of this book as bear porn, but have a feeling that I would have been a lot less charitable than you were when reading and reviewing this one. It actually reminds me a lot of Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein, which had some of the same elements, but not the bear porn. Definitely not the bear porn. I am certain that this book would not be for me, but I enjoyed reading your thoughts on it and getting a feel for what the book is actually about.

  2. Never heard of this one. SOunds interesting,though. Thanks for your honest review on this.

  3. This one just sounds really strange to me. I avoid most reviews of books that I'm getting read to read also just for that reason alone. I thank you for your time that you spent reading this and the honest review you posted!

  4. It certainly is a unique retelling, unlike anything I've seen before.

    Thanks for being on the tour.