A GOOD READ: Aboriginal authors tell stories of perseverance and struggle
An often overlooked segment of Canadian literature is the work of Aboriginal authors. Here are a few titles, then, worth checking out:
Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway is about the repercussions of taking two small boys away from their idyllic way of life in the wilderness of Manitoba and placing them into the world of the Catholic residential school. At the school, their native language is forbidden, their names changed and they are abused by priests. Despite this, both boys grow up to be talented artists; Gabriel becomes a concert pianist and Jeremiah a dancer. Eventually, the young men become estranged from their own people and struggle to survive in the city.
Thomas King’s writing is funny, readable and thought-provoking. A Short History of Indians in Canada: Stories pokes fun at native myth-making and First Nation-Caucasian relationships through history. King’s highly acclaimed short story collection, One Good Story, That One, was a Canadian bestseller.
Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese depicts the struggles of Saul Indian Horse after he is sent away to a residential school in Manitoba. Hockey becomes Saul’s passion and joy but when his talent attracts notice from the NHL, he finds that he can’t cope with ongoing incidents of overwhelming racism. He also struggles with his attempts to block his feelings about the abuse he underwent at school as well as the loss of the children that died there.
Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson is set on the Haisla reservation of Kitamat, where the author grew up. Robinson interweaves some brilliant supernatural elements with beautiful descriptions of northern ocean landscapes to give the reader insight into local aboriginal culture. The book tells the story of a native girl’s quest to find her brother, who was lost at sea.
Lee Maracle is one of the most prolific aboriginal authors in Canada, an award-winning poet, novelist, performance storyteller, scriptwriter, actor and keeper/mythmaker among the Stó:lo people. Her novel Daughters are Forever provides insight into the challenges First Nations people face as they move into the modern world. The novel is unique in the way it is structured on Salish Nation storytelling as a way to depict the transformation of Marilyn, a First Nations woman who is alienated from her culture, her family and herself.
Red: A Haida Manga by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas is a full-colour graphic novel documenting the tragic story of a leader so blinded by revenge that he leads his community to the brink of destruction.
Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden is the account of two young Cree boys who start out eager to fight in the First World War. Each of the friends adapts to the harsh conditions in a different way. Only one of them returns — but may not survive his wounds and an addiction to morphine. The outcome is an absorbing narrative that interweaves the disturbing description of horrors in the trenches with the rich and multifaceted recollections of the protagonists’ lives, their emotions and experiences of the past.
The ability to persevere despite struggles and hardships is a solid theme continued throughout these novels. Remember to ask your librarian for more inspiring Canadian Aboriginal titles.
• A Good Read is a column by Tri-City librarians that is published every Wednesday. Susan Clark works at Port Coquitlam’s Terry Fox Library.