Like waves on an ocean, inexorable and relentless, this brilliant and devastating book washes over you, forcing an acknowledgement, a look squarely in the eye, of a time when the shattering abuse of First Nations parents, and their innocent and helpless children, was not only prevalent, but systemized as necessary.
As we follow the heart-sickening journey of five six-year-olds, “legally” separated from their parents and “assimilated” into Canadian culture through a physically, sexually and criminally abusive residential-school system, there are times when reading this book, and thinking about the horrors that followed, is almost too much to bear.
Almost. But not quite.
For these stories, and all the others like them, must not only be told, but be understood, felt, experienced as closely and as crushingly as possible, if we are to have any hope of evolving into a world where the execution of such crimes become inconceivable.
“You’ve already survived. This is just letting them know you’ve survived.
I am here today for him and for all the others who died far away from home, alone and unprotected. We were just little kids.”
The author, with immeasurable skill (so hard to believe this is a debut novel), so quietly and completely builds this world for us, wave after each agonizing wave, that it is impossible to resist the pull of these heartrendingly-traumatized characters – each of them struggling, in their own way, (and not always with great success), to find a way to live, in adulthood, with the rage, anguish, grief, terror and that “craving,insatiable empty place”, deep inside, which appears resistant to any manner of healing.
“Help me understand why, still, inside I feel like dirt.”
Without giving the plot away (no spoilers here), I loved each and every one of these brave and beautiful characters – agonizing with them on their journey – a journey which flows, in its own way and time, (when given the opportunity), from raw and hurting escape to an ancient and life-affirming connection, a healing place infused with the essence of native ancestral identity.
“Let the healing come to you in its own way. “
“Life was no longer just survival. It was about being someone. An Indian someone, with all the truth that was born into her at the moment she was placed in her mothers womb.”
“The ancestors always know what we need’
A masterpiece of emotional triumph – I adored this book, my heart and my soul so engaged that it was difficult to let go when the book ended.
A fantastic #bookclub read that is sure to spark much discussion, this is a book that is not to be missed.