Reviews

Highway's A Tale of Monstrous Extravagance: Imagining Multilingualism

Tomson Highway, a genius musician and outstanding thinker, shares a complex and edifying reflection on language and experience, narratives that entertain, surprise and inspire.

By Jonathan Lambert
Published December 21, 2015

The book A Tale of Monstrous Extravagance shares the transcript of a brilliant presentation delivered by Tomson Highway during the 2014 Kreisel Lecture Series. Highway, who lives in Quebec, is a novelist, playwright, polyglot, pianist and storyteller; he is also among the foremost Indigenous voices in Canada.

Cover: A Tale of Monstrous Extravagance

In this book, Highway combines traditional forms of narrative and lecture with counter-discourses while tracing parts of his travels through languages, communities and influential experiences.

The storytelling is absolutely remarkable. There is a birth on a snowbank and a "Hail Mary contest," for example. These narratives are connected to discussions about geography in Canada, family histories, nomadic people, language analysis, the Prince-George-to-Prince-Rupert Highway of Tears, boarding school and music literacy.

Included are diverse lessons, on chord changes and Aboriginal grammatical systems, for instance.

Written in French, English, Dene and Cree, parts of A Tale of Monstrous Extravagance are delivered with profound humour. For example, near the beginning of the book, Highway completes his introduction to Canadian provincial borders by exclaiming, "Take that, Geography 101!"

Delightfully spirited and frequently playful, A Tale of Monstrous Extravagance is also a serious text. In its conclusion, for instance, when Highway emphasizes support for multilingualism: "Alors, multilingualism is the greatest gift you can give your child because, in doing so, you give them the world, you give them a spectacular life, you give them one of the great keys to happiness. Trust me, I've been there. I am living proof."

In A Tale, Tomson Highway - a genius musician and outstanding thinker - shares a complex and edifying reflection on language and experience, narratives that entertain, surprise and inspire.

Jonathan Lambert is a returnee to Hamilton, Ontario. In between studies at the University of Toronto and stellar pick-up soccer, he enjoys taking in Monday night Hamilton Red Wing home games.

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