Starlight – Richard Wagamese

Starlight - Richard WagameseThis is the continuing story of Frank Starlight. Much of the story is quiet and contemplative, describing how to live as one with the land through solitude and your senses (sight, hearing). The result is healing and redemption, expressed in two very different lives. The story was unfinished at the time of Wagamese’s death in March 2017 but the conclusion is evident. This is just masterful story-telling, a final fitting legacy for a remarkable author.

Tilly and the Crazy Eights – Monique Gray Smith

Tilly and the Crazy Eights - Monique Gray SmithSmith’s first book about Tilly (Tilly: A story of Hope and Resilience) was largely about recovery from addictions. This second book has Tilly driving eight Indigenous elders from Canada to a pow-wow in Albuquerque. Along the way, each of the elders has a bucket-list destination. There is both laughter and tears in this unashamedly sentimental book with significant insights into Indigenous spirituality. The spectre of residential school abuse looms in the background of some of the elders, but the story is mainly about resilience.

 

Amy notes; we saw her speak at the Vancouver Writers Fest.

There There – Tommy Orange

There There - Tommy OrangeOrange is one of a group of impressive Indigenous authors introduced to me during the Calgary Word Fest. This is a superb first novel with intersecting characters assembling in Oakland for a Pow-wow. These individuals have links to the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma but their Indian identity is very limited: these are urban Indians. For example, a young boy, Orvil Red Feather, learns pow-wow dancing from YouTube videos. The intersecting multi-generational story-lines can be complicated to follow sometimes because of uncertain or unknown parentage, but the culminating climax is presented powerfully. This is excellent story-telling about identity, violence and recovery, of belonging and un-belonging, loss and hope.

Heart Berries, A Memoir – Terese Marie Mailhot

Heart Berries, A Memoir - Terese Marie MailhotAn ongoing quest to read more indigenous authors can be complicated because there can be a vast gap in the ability of a non-Indigenous reader to grasp meaning. This book by Ms. Mailhot produced an uncomfortable feeling because of her raw and uncompromising writing. The narrative unfolds as a stream-of-consciousness confession of many difficulties: foster care, parenthood and removal of children, substance abuse, complicated and often destructive relationships, mental illness, suicidal ideation … the list goes on. Although short in terms of pages (132), this book is thought-provoking and intense, and is best read in short segments (like poetry). Highly recommended but be warned that this is a tough read.

Future Home Of The Living God – Louise Erdrich

Future Home Of The Living God - Louise ErdrichErdrich has written an intriguing dystopian story set in the near future. The precipitating cause is biological but vague, a sort of reverse-evolution. Lack of information is critical, and so the book’s focus is on one pregnant woman. In other words, the story is not so much about the cause of the collapse of society but rather the implications for one person. I was reminded of Cormac McCarthy’s brilliant book The Road, where we never learn about the catastrophic event, just the aftermath. Erdrich is a wonderful story teller. This book has a significant Indigenous focus, albeit less than LaRose. Overall, this is an original dystopian thriller – highly recommended.

LaRose – Louise Erdrich

LaRose - Louise ErdrichThis 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.

Indian Horse – Richard Wagamese

Indian Horse - Richard Wagamese.jpgThis 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.