Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese
Trade Paperback, 220 pages
Trade Paperback, 220 pages
SynopsisIn rehab for his devastating alcoholism, Saul Indian Horse is encouraged to share his story in order to help his recovery and healing. He begins with the story of his childhood, living at one with the land before being snatched up and torn away from his family to be sent to a residential school. Separated from his family, language, and his way of life, Saul falls in love with the game of hockey as a way of transcending the school's horribly cruel conditions. As his talents grow and thrust him into white society, Saul will learn the price of doing what he loves in a world that doesn't seem to want him there.
Reason for ReadingI'm reading the Canada Reads nominees and Indian Horse is my final read of the five picks.
Carol Huynh, gold medal Olympian in wrestling, will be defending Indian Horse, the 'British Columbia and Yukon' contender.
Why you should read this bookThe centre of Indian Horse may revolve around the history of one of Canada's great shames, the Indian residential school system, but the heart of the story is fully with Saul, a broken man trying to put his life together and reclaim his spirituality. Through Wagamese's skilled writing, the emotion of Saul's story hits you in the pit of the stomach, deftly dodging pity while creating a heartbreaking empathy. I don't cry while reading a lot of books (and often resent the ones that do bring about a tear or two for setting out to push those buttons), but Indian Horse is so successful at evoking genuine emotion that it's impossible not to get caught up in Saul's story. Skating smoothly through the tale is Saul's love of hockey, captured beautifully in descriptions of both the game and the physical experiences of the skating rink itself. The powerful and precise language Wagamese uses makes you slow down to feel the depth of every sentence, whether it's the cold allure of northern Canada or the tragic abuses occurring in the residential school. Indian Horse is an incredible read with commanding and affecting writing, and a main character that promises to remain with you for a long, long time.
Why you should avoid this bookThere is a lot of hockey involved in this book, and maybe you're not a hockey fan. But if you can appreciate the hard work involved in honing a beloved skill, Indian Horse transcends a simple game and becomes something more universal.
Opening ParagraphMy name is Saul Indian Horse. I am the son of Mary Mandamin and John Indian Horse. My grandfather was called Solomon so my name is the diminutive of his. My people are from the Fish Clan of the northern Ojibway, the Anishinabeg, we call ourselves. We made our home in the territories along the Winnipeg River, where the river opens wide before crossing into Manitoba after it leaves Lake of the Woods and the rugged spine of northern Ontario. They say that our cheekbones are cut from those granite ridges that rise above our homeland. They say that the deep brown of our eyes seeped out of the fecund earth that surrounds the lakes and marshes. [...] When I was born our people still talked this way. We had not yet stepped beyond the influence of our legends. That was a border my generation crossed, and we pine for a return that has never come to be.
We walked with our hands cupped around our noses, breathing in the smell of those fish, pushing the slime of them around on our faces. We had no knives to clean them, flay them. We had no fire to smoke them over. We had no place to store them, no way to keep them. When they lay gasping on the grass, it was ourselves we saw fighting for air. We were Indian kids and all we had was the smell of those fish on our hands. We fell asleep that night with our noses pressed to our hands and as the days went by and the smell of those suckers faded, there wasn't a one of us that didn't cry for the loss of the life we'd known before. When the dozen of us cried in the chapel, the nuns smiled, believing it was the promise of their god that touched us. But we all walked out of there with our hands to our faces. Breathing in. Breathing in.
'They don't hate you, Saul.'
'Well, what, then?'
'They think it's their game.'
I could hear the crack of our tires in the frost on the road. 'It's God's game,' he said.
'Where's God now, then?' I asked.
He gripped the wheel harder as the ruddy face of St. Jerome's slid into view at the crest of the ridge.