This is a fantastic Indigenous novel, set in North Dakota in 1999. There is a powerful start to the story, a tragedy on page 2. What follows is an attempted reparation, guilt and paralyzing grief; a long-standing grudge which leads to revenge; and a gradual reconciliation. The story shifts back and forth in time, and has a mystical element. There is, amidst all this angst, a delightful plainness, a simplicity that engages and delights. For example, there is a transcendent passage about a volleyball game that captures the psychology of young adolescents perfectly! Although this is a multi-generational story, it is the children who are the most complex characters, particularly in circumstances where they are forced to be mature beyond their years (similar to Glass Castle). This book is wonderful storytelling.
This is the second time that I have read this book (previously in May 2013) and the story is even better the second read. Saul Indian Horse is a victim of a 1960s scoop and suffers the horrors of a Catholic residential school (truly a cultural genocide). A redemptive time with hockey (beautiful descriptions of the game, of vision to see plays unfolding) is terminated by racism, and there is a late reveal of a brutal betrayal. But Saul becomes a survivor, not a victim. Wagamese was one of Canada’s best Indigenous writers and this is a must-read book.
Given the struggles with reconciliation and ongoing issues of cultural appropriation, I have decided to read more Indigenous authors. This novel begins in Northern Manitoba in 1951 with fishing and hunting as dominant activities in a simple but harsh life. Two brothers experience abuse at a Residential School and then settle in Winnipeg where alienation and estrangement complicates their struggle to survive. Dance and music provide a welcome respite. Although emotionally complex, the novel has a triumphant tone. And throughout, the brothers are watched over by the trickster fur queen. An excellent look at remarkable changes in Indigenous life over a 40 year period.
It is inexplicable to me that The Break was the first book eliminated from the Canada Reads 2017 competition. Admittedly this is a tough book to read, and the first in my experience that has on the cover page: “TRIGGER WARNING: This book is about recovering and healing from violence. Contains scenes of sexual and physical violence, and depictions of vicarious trauma”. This is a timely book about Indigenous women survivors, specifically 4 generations of women survivors who are flawed and damaged. This is a sisterhood book about resiliency – powerful storytelling but take the trigger warning seriously.
Powerful storytelling about guilt and, eventually, atonement. The back-story is the aftermath of an environmental disaster. Some First Nations mythology is an attractive feature of this fine novel.
At times a slow-moving story of a Jesuit priest inserted into the ongoing conflict between the Huron and Iroquois (Haudenosaunee). The story is bloody to be sure but there is an interesting veneration of violence in how vanquished foes are tortured, using the word “caress”.
Note from Amy: later won 2014 Canada Reads