This month we dug into something a bit different for the CC Book Club: “Three Day Road” by Joseph Boyden. It tells the story of two Cree friends from Moose Factory, which is relatively close to my hometown in Northern Ontario. As always, only proceed if you’ve read the book and are okay with spoilers!
In 1915, Xavier Bird and Elijah Weesageechak enlist in the Canadian Army and end up fighting in many famous battles of World World I, including Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele. The main characters were partially inspired by Francis Pegahmagabow, a World War I Ojibway hero, and even the acknowledgements section of the novel states that he wants to “honour the Native soldiers who fought in the Great War.” Prior to picking up “Three Day Road”, I had no clue about First Nations involvement in the World Wars. While “Three Day Road” primarily tells the tale of Xavier and Elijah, every 3rd or 4th chapter switches to Xavier’s Aunt Niska. Upon his return from the war, Niska picks up Xavier from the nearest town and paddles him back to their community, keeping him alive by telling him stories from her past.
I found the history of “Three Day Road” extraordinarily interesting. I’ve never been very keen on WWI, but really enjoyed learning about it and in particular, the everyday life of the soldiers. Boyden’s account was so convincing I felt like I was there, in the trenches with them, and it was awful.
However, I enjoyed the third of the book dedicated to Niska more. She has what we recognize as seizures, but with these seizures also come visions. I found the stories of her visions, life in the bush and traditional practices like sweat lodges to be much more engaging than the almost monotony of the war – trenches, guns and morphine. I also appreciated Boyden’s nod to the power of those traditional healing methods as Niska tried to nurse Xavier back to physical and mental health. He lost his leg and became addicted to morphine, telling Niska that he is going to die on their canoe journey back. She “feeds” him stories and, like I said, I found these stories to be the best part of the book. Which narrative did you prefer?
“Three Day Road” is a beautifully written book and just a pleasure to read. Boyden is an excellent author and I think I’m hooked on his work now! Did you enjoy “Three Day Road”? I feel like it’s a book that I will remember and think about for a long time. It’s been a few weeks since I finished and I still wonder about what happened to Xavier and Niska. Luckily, Boyden has written somewhat of a sequel (Through Black Spruce) that follows Xavier’s son.
And without further ado, our March pick is “One Day” by David Nicholls!