Every year, the university I work at chooses a book of the year, a work of contemporary Canadian fiction. Theoretically, all (ok, some) students, faculty and staff read it for class assignment purposes or for fun - and then the author visits in the winter. There are always events, readings, contests and interviews surrounding the author visit. It's usually pretty neat and I've always enjoyed seeing and hearing the author talk about the chosen book.
I've been around for the past 3 Books of the Year: The Golden Mean, The Bone Cage, and The Cat's Table. I've also read a number of past Books of the Year before I became employed at the university: The Cellist of Sarajevo, Life of Pi, and Icefields, though there are many more I haven't read as the Book of the Year has been running since 1998. All of these books I've enjoyed to some extent. That changed this year though.
This year's book was amazing, and possibly one of the best works of Canadian fiction I've ever read.
By Richard Wagamese
Saul Indian Horse ends up in an alcohol treatment centre. In order to find some peace, it is suggested to him that he write his story. Saul traces his childhood from the time he spent living on the land with his Ojibway family in the 1950s, through to his horrific experience in a residential school in the 1960s. He narrates the hidden joy he finds as he learns to play hockey, as well as the racist realities he faces trying to work his way up to a major league hockey team. Eventually his past catches up to him, and the climax of the novel tells of his journey to find himself again.
Wow. Amazing. I read this book in one sitting on a Sunday. I couldn't put it down. Wagamese has a gifted way with words, and creates a vivid and moving depiction of the hardships faced by Aboriginal people in Canada. Plus, there's a healthy dose of hockey action.
I knew about residential schools before reading this book - but now I understand. I understand so much: what it was like, and how it affected and still affects generations of people. For me, reading Indian Horse was a profound experience.
This was the best book I've read in a long time. I don't have the words to describe how amazing it was. Take my advice - read it - it'll change your opinion about Canada's past, present and future.
I can't wait till the author visit our university in March!