Sunday, 15 March 2015

Review of 'Exmikan': Part 1 of the 'Mexican Eskimo' Trilogy* | Q & A with the author | Offer

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This review has been a long time in the making, but I'm really excited to share it with you guys. I've finally finished my final set of university seminars ever, which is simultaneously thrilling and terrifying. Hopefully however, it means my reviews will be posted a bit more frequently (I've realised I've got seven saved up that I need to write down properly!). 

A couple of months ago, the author of Exmikan, Anker Frankoni, emailed me about doing a review of the book. Now I can say that I'm very glad this happened. Exmikan to me was an eclectic mix of styles, moving between a stereotypical modern American style of writing, to one that almost resembled an ancient oral style, or the overlaying narrative of a film. The first section of the book was my least favourite, but once I got past that I couldn't put it down! 

 The book follows a number of characters' lives, and reminded me of an almost postmodern style. My favourite parts were the ones which contained fantastical elements. Stories from eons ago about the relationships between humans and animals in Alaska were incredibly thought-provoking in terms of the effects we have on our world. This was only one of the aspects that really made me think about my actions. Human relationships were ever at the centre of it - mothers, fathers, lovers, children, etc.

If you're someone who prefers books to shy away from the ugly reality of modern life, this probably isn't for you. However, with my favourite book being We Need to Talk About Kevin, you can probably guess that I don't fall into that category. Subjects including child sexual abuse and suicide are covered in this book, and they help to create a realistic snapshot of many lives over a number of generations. This really helps the book to seamlessly blend the realistic with the fantastical in a way in which I haven't seen in a while.

Interview with Anker Frankoni

- To what extent is the first book in the Mexican Eskimo trilogy semi-autobiographical?
Like life—and the beliefs we all hold about ourselves—the answer to this could be very different depending on what plane of consciousness I pull it from. A direct pragmatic response might read like this: The first book in my "Mexican Eskimo" trilogy weaves together layers of storytelling that are alternately composed of 90% fantasy peppered with 10% fact, spliced with intersecting passages where the ratio is reversed, and I've added ten layers of obscuring varnish to a ninety-gauge thickness of events that I describe exactly from memory.

Ahh, but that's where the trouble lies doesn't it? Because memory, and the impression of what is "fact" comes in as many different varieties as the seven-billion+ people on the earth that have heads to hold them in. As an experiment to demonstrate this, have a 5 minute conversation with anyone you are close to (especially an emotionally charged conversation about things that deeply affect your shared lives) and then attempt to repeat to each other exactly what the conversation entailed, and end up with both of you agreeing that the other got it right. Impossible, right? So our present becomes our past every second of every day, and the moment it does so it is no longer defined by reality, but by our memories of it.

So to answer your question from my memory of what I was thinking, feeling, and experiencing while living the parts of my life which I shared in this book, and researching the lives of my blood (and spirit) family members which I decided to drag in there with me, the only true answer to your question is this Stephanie: "Mexican Eskimo" is a tale of two lives, separated by the one I'm currently occupying. This book is the "realest" account I've been able to commit in words to explain my take on the experience of this existence, and it was delicately fashioned from the only 100% real things that exist inside my head: equal layers of piled up pieces of falsely remembered facts, and gospel-truth fantasies.

- From where did you draw the inspiration for the fantastical aspect to the novel, e.g. the story of the birth of dog?
Beneath its wolf-skin facade of genre-bending magical realism, theoretical constructs of dream-travel and reincarnation, and a strong overlayer of liberal humanitarian politics, ultimately, "Mexican Eskimo" is a story about women, told by a man raised by one that should have been treated much better than she was. My personal belief is that most of the hate, murder, addictions, lies, rape, suicide—lump every other thing that logically goes into this list and throw them in a burlap sack—stems from the mistreatment of children. We've had thousands of years to learn how to properly love and respect one another during the evolutionary course of human society, but sadly the problem is as much an issue today as it was ten, one hundred, or one thousand years ago.

During my extensive research into the culture and myths of the indigenous people of Canada and Alaska that went into creating the time-travel and rebirth elements of "Mexican Eskimo," one primary story spoke to my spirit in particular. Throughout the Arctic region, the myth of a creator goddess known as Sedna is shared almost universally throughout the various tribes of people commonly labeled "Native Americans." Inuit, Yup'ik, Aleut (Unangan) and others tell variations of the birth of Sedna, Queen of the Sea, whose spirit must be appeased to ensure the successful hunts of the seal and whale upon which their peoples' survival depends. In all the various iterations of the Sedna myth, she is invariably created from the form of a young human girl who angers her father by attempting to marry someone she selects for herself, or rejecting marriage to a man or spirit-creature her father arranges for her (either scenario symbolic of sexual control by the father figure.) Angered by her refusal to bow to his will in one way or another, Sedna's father casts her into the sea, and when she tries to save herself from drowning by attempting to climb back aboard his boat, he chops off her fingers with a knife and sends her to her death (violent mutilation of the female offspring by the dominant father figure.) My reinterpretation of this part of the legend of Sedna alone would have been a very powerful addition to the harsh reality of one of the darkest patches of our society's underbelly that I wanted to address in the fictionalized storytelling of this work.

I wrote "Mexican Eskimo" for a lot of reasons however, and not just to point fingers at something tragic or despicable! I also published this book in hopes that some of the adult female survivors of childhood sexual abuse who read it might become more aware of the healing power of trust, honesty, and the deepest forms of self-examination, and find the strength and inspiration to restore love and faith within themselves. In this regard Sedna is a fantastic role-model: despite the physical brutality hatefully inflicted on her by one of the very people who should have loved her more than anyone in the world, through the strength of her own self-love she refuses to accept not just death, but even allows herself to forgive all of humankind and continue blessing those who sought to destroy her: this I believe is the essence of spiritual love and growth.

- How important do you think storytelling is culturally, as I noticed that this was emphasized particularly when it came to Sedna?
We are nothing as individuals outside of our relationships. Without our connections to the other human beings with whom we live and communicate, we could literally not exist. The next stage of existence after the individual is family, followed by friends, then the greater social circles comprised of the people with whom we interact in our actual lives, followed finally by culture — those elements of the human experience we are exposed to on a completely non-personal level, that we absorb only through art, literature, media, and information technologies. Storytelling is the essential root of every level of our connection with human existence: Family; Friends; Workplace; Cultural Identity — everything we think we know about ourselves and others all boils down to a story we've been told. Whether it's the story of how your great-grandparents met, or the globally accepted "story" we've all decided to agree on that gold has fundamental value (only so far as we agree that it is) that our system of international currency exchange is somehow tied to the value of gold (it's not) and that your neighbor who is in possession of more of these credits is somehow "worth" more than those who have less (they aren't) — it's all just based on the stories we've repeated enough times to believe... and they are ALL composed of some ratio or another of both fact, and fiction.
With that in mind, along with a reiteration of the point I made above—that the only 100% real things about my life is that which exists inside my head—I'll answer your question about storytelling by robbing the first part of the forward from my own book, which begins: "When writers say that names and places have been changed to protect the innocent, what they are really saying is that they are protecting themselves. In this book, which begins the story of my unlikely existence as a Mexican Eskimo, I have changed nothing, for even if I counted myself amongst the innocent, no one can harm me more than I have already harmed myself. If this seems a rash jab at my duty to behave responsibly, and uphold my obligations to the rules of the society in which we live, I confess it’s nothing new. Time and again, year after year, those with whom I was closest urged me to face reality. Instead, I ultimately chose to face that infinitely more beguiling and enduring realm which I believe is the real crux of our shared human experience: Fiction."

- Various scenes in the book could be described as quite graphic. Why do you choose not to skirt around difficult topics, instead highlighting their reality to the reader?

My purpose behind the "Mexican Eskimo" series (of which this first book is only the beginning) is to reproduce a trip through the dark parts of the human soul in order to end up in the light. To truly take that trip, I ask my readers to forgo a great many of the niceties of polite society, and take a journey through time and the human condition, tied together with a complex back-story featuring generations of both likable and despicable characters thrust together by fate and circumstance. Few creatures on this planet are capable of inflicting the kind of abuse on their fellow creatures as human beings do every day, and in keeping with my intention to examine the many different levels of the human spirit that I explore in this work, I forced myself to address the difficult parts of my family history right along with the positive elements.

I should thank you though Stephanie for putting it so nicely! Saying simply that I "chose not to skirt around difficult topics" is indeed putting it mildly, as my material is admittedly much more than a bit controversial (and on that note this seems like the perfect time to remind your blog readers that this book is intended only for mature adult audiences 18 years and older.)

Ultimately, I'm glad of my decision to stay as true and candid about the negative elements of human conduct as I am to the positive bits of this story, and I'm proud to be able to say that many readers have written not only reviews, but personal letters to me, giving thanks for the clarity and healing that my work has lent to their analysis of some of their own life experiences. It would be unfair of me to be less than honest though, and I must admit too that other readers and reviewers have offered scathing criticisms, expressing strong feelings of disgust and disdain... there have been very few lukewarm reactions; "Mexican Eskimo" is without a doubt a love-it-or-hate-it piece of work. It seems that many folks believe that graphic depictions of sex, child-abuse, bestiality, self-mutilation, and suicide don't have a place in stories about love and redemption.

One of the most interesting things though (and that I frankly would never have anticipated) is that the most positive, heartfelt, and soul-baring letters I've received have invariably come from women who suffered sexual abuse in childhood. As for the detractors, I don't have any way to guess at what might be the common denominator that creates such strong aversion to my writing — all I can do is thank anyone (silently in my head!) who puts out a negative statement about "Mexican Eskimo," as for me it's just more evidence that I have succeeded in one of my goals with this work: I never set out to write something that people wouldn't react strongly to.
I appreciate these great prompts Stephanie, and your willingness to let me share this Q&A-style soliloquy here on All of Literature's A Stage. If any of your readers would like to purchase a paper copy of "Mexican Eskimo Book 1: Exmikan" they can use coupon-code ALSFREESHIP at my Etsy bookshop at: and I'll waive the delivery charge on a signed copy of my book sent anywhere in the USA or UK through the end of March, 2015. To read a sample of "Mexican Eskimo," and sign up for newsletter updates and other discounts and giveaways, visit or just email me at

Have you read it? What did you think?
Steph x

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