"The Dictionary of Animal Languages" by Heidi Sopinka

By Heidi Sopinka

Reviewed by Shari

ISBN 9781947534919

The epigraph in Heidi Sopinka’s debut novel, Dictionary of Animal Languages is a quote from C.J. Jung: When you dream of a savage bull, or a lion or a wolf pursuing you, this means: it wants to come to you. You would like to split it off, you experience it as something alien—but it just becomes all the more dangerous. The epigraph is apropos in that Dictionary of Animal Languages reads as equal parts dream journal, love story and taxonomists catalogue. Sopinka builds her story around a woman painter who comes of age in Paris during World War II. With a premise that can look from the outset as overdone and hackneyed, Sopinka surprises the reader around every sentence-bend with fresh, innovative and enduring prose. Loosely based on the life of surrealist painter Leonora Carrington, Dictionary of Animal Languages moves from 30’s Paris to the icebound landscape of northern Canada where our protagonist leaves her painting to embark on life’s work that includes, literally, building a dictionary of animal languages. The only advice I’d have while reading this book is to keep pen and paper nearby. At the risk of sounding overly sentimental I was literally seduced by Sopinkas words, and found myself writing down words and phrases in a notebook just to have the pleasure of reading her lines, again and again.

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