The stories of an American Indian sniper caught up in the Great War and of his aunt, one of the last Cree Indians to live off the land, are intertwined in a mesmerising journey as they travel home over three days This beautiful, haunting novel begins as Niska is reunited with her nephew, Xavier, after he returns from the horrors of the First World War.
As she slowly paddles her canoe on the 3-day journey to take him home, travelling through the stark but stunning landscape of Northern Canada, their respective stories emerge.
Niska is the last Cree Indian woman living off the land in Canada.
She recalls her memories of growing up among her kinsfolk, of trying to remain true to her ancestors and traditions in a rapidly changing world. Xavier joined the war reluctantly at the urging of his only friend, Elijah - a Cree boy raised in the reservation schools. Elijah and Xavier honed their hunting skills as snipers in the horrors of the trenches and the wastes of No-man's land.
But as the war continues, they react in very different ways to the never-ending carnage around them. Niska realises that in the aftermath of war, Xavier's very soul is dying - but will the three day journey home be enough to help him find hope again?
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 352 pages
- Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
- Publication Date: 05/04/2006
- Category: First World War fiction
- ISBN: 9780753820810
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Review by kambrogi
Boyden tells the parallel stories of a Cree boy who joins the Canadian forces with his best buddy during WWI, and his aunt, a healer and a mystic who remains dedicated to the traditions of her people. As the story opens, the two are reunited and begin a three-day journey to their home in the wild Canadian woods. Along the way, each one remembers the past, revisiting pain, loss, regret and the sources of joy. Thus, Boyden reveals the horror of trench warfare (reminiscent of Pat Barker’s [Regeneration] trilogy) and the cruel dispossession of the American Indian. In a way that is vaguely reminiscent of [Louise Erdrich], minus the romance, both aunt and nephew look to their cultural roots for the dignity and power they need to survive the humiliations of their lives. Thus, Boyden ties up the two seemingly diverse threads of his story with the knot of culture, leaving the reader with plenty to think about, and to mourn. Boyden’s writing style works particularly well with these two voices; it is clean, fresh and lyrical in a natural and unselfconscious way.