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.

The Break by Katherena Vermette

A story of strong women on the path from trauma to recovery.

But even in sleep, her ghosts all hunt her down, wanting her to look at them, remember them.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 269 pages.
Read from March 8, 2017 to March 14, 2017.

Huzzuh! I am nearly done all the shortlisted Canada Reads 2017 books. I think is one of the best selections of books in the last few year (I have been following since 2014) and I know that it is going to be hard for me to select my favourites for the winner. At the rate I am reading I will have all the books read and reviewed before the debates kick off so I will post my thoughts on what I think the top five should be.

It’s winter in Winnipeg and during one cold night a Métis mother named Stella looks out her window to witness a violent assault taking place. Afraid for herself and her children the only thing she can do is call the police. From here the story shifts between narrators, all of whom are connected somehow to the victim of the assault. From the Métis police officer who is not sure how to cope with his Métis identity,  to members of Stella’s extensive families, along with their personal histories and individual traumas and pain that they have all had to deal with that are unique to their heritage and upbringing. The narratives string together the real story of the assault that Stella witnessed outside her window and how traumas can change and affect a whole family or community of people overnight.

This book deals with so many tough issues. It discusses with rape culture, Native American and Métis specific cultural issues, as well as topics of identity, family and community. The Native American and Métis characters all struggle with perceptions from the outside world about their race and identity and they come from varying degrees of dysfunctional families. The dysfunction details the realities of growing up poor and different and the tragedies of those that are stuck within a rigid system of expectations.

The women in the book have all dealt with one trauma or another and are intensely strong and resilient, making the book ending overwhelmingly positive and hopeful. While there is no assurance that everything will end up being okay, it emphasises the support of family, community and specifically on other women and how essential that is to heal from the trauma the each individual has faced in the novel.

This book is a phenomenal contender for the winner of Canada Reads 2017. With the question: What is the one book Canadians need now? This book fulfills in answering this question many times over with the multiple topics it breaches. This book outlines rape culture, which is massively important with our neighbours below us stirring the pot politically on feminist topics, as well as discussing and bringing light to the importance of how missing and murdered Native American women are being viewed and treated negatively and are not given the the serious attention that their cause deserves. Additionally, the books ends with hope. That through supporting each other, our backgrounds, identities and communities that a better tomorrow can be attained.

The quality of the writing and character development is superb as the author depicts the realities of living with trauma. I would not recommend this book to people who are sensitive to trauma, especially sexual related traumas, as it does not spare details. It could however prove to be a healing tool for those that are ready to approach it. For everyone else, this is a phenomenal book of trauma and recovery.