From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle

If you’re looking for an uplifting and inspiring read to get your through the COVID-19 quarantine, this is it.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 451 pages.
Read from March 24, 2020 to March 31, 2020.

Well, finishing this book wraps up all five of the 2020 Canada Reads finalists for me. I’ll post my final thoughts on the five next week. From the Ashes will be defended by George Canyon when the debates resume after the COVID-19 virus settles. Now, let’s talk about the amazing story of Jesse Thistle…

“My words belonged to me, they were the only thing I had that were mine, and I didn’t trust anyone enough to share them.”

From the Ashes is the epitome of inspiration. Jesse Thistle overcame some of the worst things a person can endure; parental abandonment, drug addiction, homelessness, sexual assault, trauma, identity loss, and dealing with severe chronic physical pain (*spoiler* he almost loses his leg). Jesse Thistle is of Metis and Cree descent but he didn’t always know that. Jesse was raised by his grandparent’s after his mother mistakenly left him and his brothers in the care of his drug-addicted father. While Jesse was eventually able to reunite with his mother, he never did see his dad again. Jesse’s grandparents were firm but loving but it didn’t stop the trouble that Jesse eventually found himself in. After getting caught with drugs at 19, his grandfather accused him of being just like his dad and kicked him out of the family home and barred him from ever returning. Jesse left his home in Ontario and began his homeless life in Vancouver where he abandoned his best friend before ending up back in Ontario. Jesse was homeless for most of his young adult life. While most of us have fond memories of our 20s and early 30s, for Jesse it was a matter of survival, nearly giving up, and then making the choice to live again.

Jesse is now happily married to a woman he knew from his school days who helped him achieve his dream of getting a university degree after he got clean. His studies led him to explore his own family and heritage which then helped him pursue his career in academics. Jesse is now the Assistant Professor of Métis Studies at York University.

If you’re looking for an uplifting and inspiring read to get your through the COVID-19 quarantine, this is it. I mean, if a story like this, during a time like this doesn’t put life into perspective for you I don’t know what will. Imagine being a nobody. Having nobody, no home, no clean clothes, no money, no personal hygiene…  You can’t, there is no way to truly envision it unless you’ve lived it the way Jesse had. Jesse’s story is surreal, making it all the more shocking that too many Canadians, especially ones of Native or Metis descent, currently live the way he did, most of whom don’t escape the tragic lifestyle.

Mr. Thistle’s writing is highly engaging, succinct, perceptive, and humble. Feats that many accomplished authors are not able to do, which makes it even more amazing to acknowledge the fact that Mr. Thistle wasn’t always exceptional at reading or writing. It wasn’t until he started working on his GED while serving time in prison that he began to improve. Despite it being a worn-out saying, it doesn’t make it any less true to say that Mr. Thistle is the embodiment of being able to do anything you set your mind to.

Even in Jesse’s darkest moments, he held onto some form of code and personal honour in that he refused to deal drugs for the money he needed for his addictions and never took advantage of people he got close to. A rare quality even for those who are not addicts.

Mr. Thistle includes some of his own poetry snippets between the chapters and photos of himself, from childhood, mug shots, as well as family and wedding photos, adding to the heart-tugging emotional depth of this novel.

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Jesse Thistle – Photos – CBC Canada Reads

Out of all the Canada Reads books I read this year, I can safely say that I enjoyed this one the most. Is this the one book to bring Canada into focus? It touches on topics that have been making waves in Canada such as Native American rights, homelessness, drug addiction, sexual assault, and trauma. The fact that this story has a positive outcome also gives it an edge against the others in meeting the theme. We will have to wait and see what happens when the debates resume. The Canada Reads debates have been postponed until further notice due to the COVID-19 virus.

Stay safe and healthy, readers!

 

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

“When your innocence is stripped from you, when your people are denigrated, when the family you came from is denounced and your tribal ways and rituals are pronounced backward, primitive, savage, you come to see yourself as less than human. That is hell on earth, that sense of unworthiness. That’s what they inflicted on us.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 191 pages
Read from January 1, 2019 to January 2, 2019

I picked up this book on a recommendation by a friend, though if I had started reading all the Canada Reads books just one year earlier I would have come across this moving story sooner. Indian Horse made the Canada Reads 2013 shortlist but was unfortunately voted off in the first round.

Indian Horse is an all-encompassing story that touches tragic issues related to the indigenous people in Canada. The story also has wide-reaching themes with its integral connection to hockey and the protagonist’s, Saul Indian Horse, struggles with childhood trauma and alcoholism. Saul’s past starts with his indigenous roots as a young child trying to escape the prying arms of the white man trying to forcefully place him and siblings in residential schooling. His family knows the woods and has this advantage but their luck does not last forever. After being pried away from the frozen and dead grip of his grandmother he is forced into a residential school where endures severe abuse. His only reprieve from the misery and loneliness of the school is through hockey. Saul shows promise as a talented hockey player at a young age but his native roots make him an outcast against the white hockey teams he plays against, despite being better than them. As Saul grows, hockey carries him through the toughest moments in his life but things start to turn sour as Saul becomes an adult and the hockey realm becomes more abusive and physical. Unable to deal with his past traumas and personal failures Saul turns to drink. The story opens with Saul at rock bottom with him coming to an understanding that if he wants peace he needs to tell his story.

Saul’s childhood is nothing short of traumatizing as the author details how Saul and many real indigenous people in Canada were treated during the horrific era of residential schooling in Canada. Physical and sexual abuse was rampant, leaving many of the children with irreparable trauma in which its no surprise that many did turn substance abuse as an outlet. Saul’s story is tragic but the ending is nothing short of inspiring. The writing is easy to read yet remarkably crafted. Richard Wagamese is a talented author that writes from the heart, his characters are dynamic and engaging and his plot and storylines are thoughtful and concise.

This book is for every Canadian, especially those who enjoy inspirational stories on overcoming adversity, hockey, or anything related to Canadian history. What makes this story all the more poignant is that Saul’s story represents so many indigenous children in Canada with the tragedy being that so many of them don’t get the peaceful ending that Saul did making it all the more important that their stories get shared.