Truth and Bright Water by Thomas King

Aimed at the question of what it means to be be a Native American in present day, this novel also addresses aspects of the unique problems that face Native Americans the perceptions that many people have of them.

3/5 stars.
Read from October 18 to 25, 2016.
Paperback, 288 pages.

Okay, I will admit it. I was suppose to read this book back in my Canadian lit class while I was still in university but I didn’t. I had about five novels a week to get through for a full year so this is one of the ones that just didn’t find the time to read.

A river, is the border that separates the small American town of Truth from the Canadian reserve of Bright Water, yet the two communities are very much connected as there are very few reasons to stay in these desolate towns.Tecumseh is a youth living in Truth and he is getting excited as the Indian Days are coming, which means that a mass of tourists will visit and buy what they believe to be symbolic Native American merchandise. Tecumseh’s cousin Lum is eager to win the the running race that takes place during Indian Days and is certain that he will win. However, this year is not going to be like the others. Tecumseh’s Aunt Cassie has returned and is being given all of his old baby clothes. The mysterious and very eccentric Monroe Swimmer, a local who left and found fame as Native artist in Toronto, has also returned with a peculiar art project aimed at bring the buffalo back to the plains. And why is Lum so eager to run as fast as he can? As Tecumseh has more questions than answers about the on-goings of the adults in his life and each new circumstance forces him to grow up a little bit quicker.

Aimed at the question of what it means to be be a Native American in present day, this novel also addresses aspects of the unique problems that face Native Americans the perceptions that many people have of them. I can see why this novel was picked for my Canadian literature class. After finishing the book I felt very neutral on it and neither liked or disliked it but having reflected on it afterwards the content of the book stops being so subtle. While I am not sure I appreciate King’s writing style as much as others he is very good at developing subtle stories with poignant messages. The Native Americans are reduces to selling trinkets at fairs to appease what people believe them to still be when in reality they are a group of people who are not longer living the way people imagine them to be. People idolize the “dead Indian (a term used by King in his book “Inconvenient Indian“) and idea of a people that never really existed where the live and legal Indians are living a life that goes unnoticed, and much of it with unnecessary hardship.

While this book didn’t sweep me off my feet by any means I am glad I finally got around to reading it. I would recommend this book to those interested in the continuing story of the Native American people.

Canada Reads 2015

 Canada-Reads-2015

While it took me longer than I would have liked I have finished reading the 5 finalists in this year’s Canada Reads competition. The theme for this year is books that break barriers and the declared winner was Ru by Kim Thuy, a selection I actually agree with. In regards to the debates, I am happy with how this one panned out. I’m glad that When Everything Feels Like The Movies made it to the final round, despite and because of its controversy.  You can watch all of the debates on CBC’s website. In terms of how much I enjoyed the books though, this is how I would rank them (links to my reviews included):

1) And The Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier – One of the most beautiful books I’ve read in years. It’s the remarkable story of a few elderly characters who choose to die in their own way. Through their journey the characters start to find, that even at their age, there is still always something to be learned.

2) Ru By Kim Thuy – Poetic and moving, this book depicts the harsh realities of a refugees/immigrants coming to Canada. The book broke barriers with its writing style and harsh truths.

3) When Everything Feels Like The Movies by Raziel Reid –  The most controversial book in this series. In terms of breaking barriers,  I felt that this book topped them all. The book contains graphic and violent homosexual content involving the bullying of a teen. The book is relevant as the story mirrors an actual even that took place in Canadian history.

4) Intolerable by Kamal Al-Solaylee – Another remarkable story of immigration and suffering. The writing style is what bumped this book down the list for me rather than the content. The sacrifices and guilt that the author has had to live with in terms of his choices for a better life are hard to imagine but make for an interesting read.

5) Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King – I wanted to rank this book higher but in terms of the other books in this series it just didn’t stack up as well. This book is a very important book for Canadians to read and King broke a lot of barriers with his brash honesty and style of writing.

Onward to 2016! I wonder what next years theme will be?

The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King

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3/5 stars.
Paperback, 336 pages.
Read from May 07 to 26, 2015.

I’m not sure how to classify this book. I guess it’s a history book  of the Indians of North American that also discusses their past and current social and cultural issues. The difference being the style of writing that King has chosen to portray this information. King writes this book like he is having a conversation with you, literally. He even adds tidbits of what his wife Helen would have suggested for certain portions of the book. It’s a bit jarring at first but once you warm up to the style it actually makes for a pleasurable and potent read on some very relevant and important topics.

This was the last book out of the five that I’ve read  for Canada Reads 2015, I will make a post discussing all five of the books next week.

As a white person, I feel that this is a very important book. Growing up in Canada you get your fair share of Native American history throughout your schooling, however I can tell you now after reading this book that the history comes from a very biased, and white, perspective. The history taught in Canadian schools doesn’t touch the half of what has really occurred to the Natives in this country.  This book is important because King gives a voice to the hushed Native Americans of North America and lays out exactly why  the ‘Indian problem’ is still very relevant in today’s society. I think that many non- Natives don’t understand complexity of Native history and why some reservations today are often times filled with Natives that cannot ‘integrate’ into society. King does a phenomenal job of laying out the neutral facts and realities that face may Natives today by detailing their histories that brought them to this point, and why some of the long standing issues that they have to deal with are still not solved.  King’s neutral and relatively pleasant style of writing allows to the reader to approach the  content without getting defensive, for both Natives and non-Natives.

In terms of Canada Reads, I can see why this book was cut first. In comparison to the other books, this one just didn’t hit the theme as much, which is books that break boundaries. Don’t get me wrong this book does break boundaries with it’s writing style and by discussing the Native issues that many try to ignore but in comparison to the other books in the challenge, this one wasn’t as  strong.

Just based on King’s writing style in this book, I am interested to read more by him. He is a captivating writer and I imagine his fiction would be quite good. Overall, I think that any non-Native person born in North America would benefit from reading this book in order to get a greater understanding and appreciation for the groups of people that were here long before us.