Islands of Decolonial Love by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is a collection of short stories and poems that functions around the very simple idea of loving as an action that could liberate people from colonial violence and its lasting effects. Drawing on the idea of decolonial love as explored by Junot Diaz, the Dominican-American author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Simpson applies that idea to Indigeneity, rez life and motherhood in this brief and wondrous collection of love stories that is as memorable as it is impactful.
If you can’t begin to imagine what decolonial love would even look like, you’re in pretty much the same boat I was in when I started reading this collection. Islands of Decolonial Love, however, does a good job of explaining the ins and outs of decolonial love in a very show-don’t-tell way. Over the course of 50-odd short stories and poems, Simpson puts the idea into practice, looking at its failures, its successes, and the different ways people can reach for it — through self love, relations, partners, and parenting.
The entire collection is written entirely in the lower case, unofficially called lapslock, which means that none of the words — even names and places — are capitalized. This writing style made every story feel incomplete to me at first; I was waiting for one “proper” sentence, a statement, that never came. But Simpson’s words speak loud enough on their own, and I eventually became familiar enough with its style to really appreciate how it added to the personal, thoughtful, spoken-word nature for these stories and poems. This collection fits together in a way that feels like a memory. Everything is happening all at once, words overlap, and ideas run together, and yet there is always space for little moments of clarity.
My favourites of the bunch include “treaties,” a short story which made me feel better about being 21 and not knowing my place in the world, and “smallpox, anyone” which was split up into stories, poems, and notes from various editors that recorded a layered and complex set of experiences in just a few short pages. The first half of this collection was mostly about romantic love, while the second half of Islands of Decolonial Love was about parenting, and “it takes an ocean not to break” was my favourite from the second half, discussing motherhood and therapy and helplessness. The title for this short story was taken from the lyrics to a song called “Terrible Love” by The National, not to be mistaken for the CBC News program, and I’m not surprised that Islands of Decolonial Love — being such a musical piece of writing — was inspired by such good music.
If I could describe reading Islands of Decolonial Love, I would say it was all-encompassing and impossible to put down. Like Simpson’s other collection of stories and poems I’ve reviewed, This Accident of Being Lost, this collection is accompanied by a spoken word album with nine stellar tracks that transform the poems in this collection into songs that only further cement this collection on my own memory as an astounding book.