Have you ever had one of those experiences where something comes at you out of the dark and ends up being a pleasant surprise? A time where you weren’t expecting anything but something happened anyway? Or when a complete stranger found you and you ended up kind of grokking each other? I think of the story of the woman who called her friend or her kids or something and was asking them what their Thanksgiving plans were, but she dialled the wrong number and the fellow she ended up talking to was at the other end of a misdial…she ended up inviting him to Thanksgiving, and he ended up accepting and it was kind of a big deal a few years ago. A real feel-good kind of story where you remember how cool it can be to be a human who interacts with other humans.
Earlier this year, someone I’d never met – never heard of – contacted me and asked if I’d like to review his book. This kind of thing isn’t completely unheard of. You know I love books, and I think you’ve probably read some of my book musings, but a lot of the time when someone contacts you out of nowhere to ask if you’d like to review their book, you have reservations. It’s a bit different if the publisher asks, or if you know the author, or if your International Fiction Writer Boyfriend Neil Gaiman shows up on your porch to beg – no to PLEAD – with you to do so. Sometimes, when a writer you’ve not heard of asks you to review their book, you don’t know what you’re getting into.
So when John Langan emailed me and asked me to review Iskocēs Tipiskak: A Spark in the Dark, I was a little trepidatious. I hadn’t heard of John, nor of the book (it was pretty new), but somehow, we found each other. I dove in.
Iskocēs Tipiskak: A Spark in the Dark is a tender, difficult, hopeful memoir about the first part of John’s life journey, from his family’s roots in Keeseekoose, Cote, and One Arrow First Nations, to several cities and towns in Saskatchewan (including Canora, Regina, Prince Albert, and Saskatoon). In reading John’s book I began to feel like I’d known him. It starts amid the tumult of powerful storms, with the author praying and shouting and yearning, and steers the reader through relationships and teachings, through hurt and troubles and loss, through accomplishment and pride. Underpinning this very personal, very raw tale is a strong spirituality and an intense devotion to ceremony, culture, and honour.
With a strong sense of duty and honour, John Langan found meaning and purpose in the armed forces; he pushed himself to complete his education, at times struggling to do so, but always with the guidance and wisdom of his family, often when they themselves were struggling. He has gone on to complete post-secondary education while raising a family and beginning a new career with the City of Saskatoon Police. To say John’s “mundane” life has been a whirlwind is likely an understatement, and I don’t use the word “mundane” lightly; he also speaks of the profound influence of Elders, and his own devotion to Spirit and Ceremony.
This is where Iskocēs Tipiskak: A Spark in the Dark diverges from what you see in a traditional memoir – alongside the sometimes turbulent early life John recounts is a swirling, powerful underpinning of the external forces that have shaped who he is and how he moves through this world. He shares teachings, not only what they have been, but how he came to find and learn them. He shares the part of his life that has led him not only to embrace Ceremony and the lifeways and traditions of his Ancestors, but to learn them. Not only to understand, but to pass on these teachings and to help others to find and experience them as well.
At the end of each chapter, John expresses gratitude, and directs his thanks to those people and forces that have ushered him on his path. He encourages us to find ways to do the same. And none of this – this is the artistry of John’s skill as a raconteur – none of it feels put-on, or hand-wavey, or trite. From the beginnings of his own introduction to Ceremony to his continuing devotion to knowledge and understanding, Iskocēs Tipiskak: A Spark in the Dark is a book well worth your time. I guarantee you will learn something.
John’s is an authentic voice that presents – with vivid images and full-frontal honesty – the story of an Indigenous man learning to hear, to see, to think, to feel, and to be. It is the story of a young boy who found his way, lost it, then found it again, through the traditions and knowledge of many generations. It is a story of family, of spirit, and of duty. But most of all, Iskocēs Tipiskak: A Spark in the Dark is a book about what it means to be vulnerable.
I was left, not just with the sense that I’d kind of come to know John Langan – son, brother, grandson, lover, cop, soldier, student – but that I’ve been given the great privilege to have a glimpse inside what’s really important. Not just to him, but to all of us.
Iskocēs Tipiskak: A Spark in the Dark is available from Amazon.