The CBC Canada Reads 2020 longlist has arrived and this year the list has diversified to include poetry, speculative fiction, as well as a graphic novel. Out of these 15 books which ones will make the shortlist? And which one will best meet the theme this year, one book to bring Canada into focus?
“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.”
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.
The debates generally went how I thought they would but there were a few surprises.
Ziya Tong, defending Max Eisen’s By Chance Alone, beat out Chuck Comeau defending Homes, to win this year’s Canada Reads! Both of these books are amazing in their own right and both stories deserved to win but I am thrilled with this decision. I was really impressed with the debates this year too especially from Ziya as it was her great debating that cinched the win between these two amazing stories.
Homes has nothing to be ashamed of and the authors of the book should be immensely proud of their accomplishments in getting this far and in sharing such a brave and amazing story. If you don’t know the backstory on Homes, you have got to read-up on it.
The debates generally went how I thought they would with the voting, though I was surprised that The Woo-Woowas voted off in the first round as I expected it to at least make it to the second. I thought that Susannewould be voted off first. Nothing against Susanne as it was the most beautifully written out of all the books this year but it didn’t match the theme as well as the others. The Woo Woo was a personal favourite of mine but so was By Chance Alone and it was very tough for me to rank them beside each other. I actually really enjoyed all the books this year nearly equally, with my least favourite being Brother. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy Brother, it just didn’t stack-up as well compared to the other four.
It was a good Canada Reads year, with book selection and debates, and I hope to see more quality like this again next year!