“Nobody Cries At Bingo” is a memoir of Dawn Dumont’s life from early childhood through to her early years in college. It’s not an “I was born on a dark and stormy night” kind of read that goes from conception to emancipation in an order driven only by the logic of the calendar. It’s much more interesting than that.
It’s a series of episodes from Dawn’s life, each one completely immersive and self-explanatory but which together build up layers of memory of people and events and relationships that better reflect how we remember our lives than any do-it-by-the-timeline history.
Dawn Dumont grew up in the Okanese First Nation in southern Saskatchewan. The life she is describing is far away from my own upbringing in an Irish-Catholic community in the NorthWest of England yet Dawn Dumont bridges that gap, showing me how similar large families from minority communities can be. She also shows me how unique her way of life and the history of her people is.
The thing that shone through all the episodes Dawn Dumont describes is that she grew up in a family where she knew she was loved and where people looked after one another. This isn’t something she says directly. At a first glance, the sometimes nomadic life adopted by her mother in the face of her father’s alcoholism, the racism in the school she attends, the stories of kids running wild in packs could be seen as a cry for intervention but that would be a fundamental misunderstanding. The starting point here is love. Love allows freedom, offers forgiveness and never walks away for good. That changes the context of the all the behaviour. It doesn’t make it perfect, just different.
Dawn Dumont is a stand-up comic as well as an author and she describes incidents from her life in ways that made me want to smile even when they also made me want to cry. The nature of Dawn Dumont’s humour is emblematic of the way of life she is describing: it is optimistic, unaggressive and deeply insightful. Dawn doesn’t use sarcasm or get laughs by playing on or against stereotypes. She laughs at herself and her responses as much as she laughs at those who try to do her harm or those who are just part of the constant chaos that she takes for granted. This is a humour that makes you laugh because laughter keeps you human.
I was completely ignorant of First Nation history in Canada. I hadn’t realised that the same attempts at cultural annihilation where made there as in the US. I’ve been to the Navaho and the Hopi and Pueblo people’s and heard their stories. Naively, I had expected better of Canada. Dawn Dumont makes tackles the history of her people in a matter of fact way that does not dismiss or minimise what was done to her parents and her grandparents or what continues to happen today, but which seems to say: “It happened. It was crap. But we’re still here.” I admire the strength of that.
“Nobody Cries At Bingo” is a personal narrative, not the history of a nation. Dawn rolls our her life and lets us look at it and smile at her remembered self. It’s inclusive and funny and feels honest and intimate.
I wasn’t able to find an audiobook version of “Nobody Cries At Bingo”, which surprised me as Dawn Dumont is a narrator and her text would be perfect as an audiobook.
If you’re looking to get a gentle, funny, honest look at a girl’s remembered childhood, this is the book for you. Along the way, you may learn a thing or two about what it means to be Native in modern Canada.
Dawn Dumont’s latest book “Rose’s Run” is now in my TBR pile ( yet again only in ebook – doesn’t anyone want to do First Nation audiobooks?).
Dawn Dumont is a stand-up comedian, actor, writer, TV host, speaker, and activist. She has appeared in comedy clubs across North America, is the author of Nobody Cries at Bingo and Rose’s Run, has written plays for the stage and screen, and is a regular contributor to newspapers and magazines.