Joseph Boyden, Three Day Road This is an outstanding novel concerning the First World War. What gives it its originality is the fact that the main characters are two young Cree men and the aunt of one of themwho is also a Cree, all from James Bay. She has taught the men as boys to become excellent hunters and to be familiar with the culture and myths of their people - this at a time when whites are forcibly taking children away from their families to educate them as Canadians without knowledge of their own ways and language. The young men become soldiers, are shipped to Belgium and spend two years at various battlefields. Their hunting skills cause them to be sent as scouts, snipers and trench raiders. One becomes addicted to the morphine used to treat the wounded, though to him it is a means of spirit-travelling. He also comes to take pleasure in his kills, scalping his victims and even eating their flesh. His friend believes that he has become a Windigo, a monstrous creature of Cree legend who becomes a cannibal at times of winter starvation. As a descendant of a family of Windigo killers and,as a young boy having seen his aunt kill a Windigo woman who had devoured her husband, he kills his corrupted friend and then loses a leg in an explosion of a shell. He is given morphine and is possessed by the friend he killed under the drug's influence. He is sent home to Canada on crutches and longing to die,to take the three day road of the title, which he intends to do when his supply of morphine runs out. But he is met by his aunt and, during their canoe trip back to their home on James Bay, they tell their stories to each other, she persuades him to eat, sees him through his addiction and nightmares of the war and drives the spirit of his friend out. Life will not be easy for either of them, but thepower of a regained culture has set them both on the road to recovery. The book is superbly written and the interweaving of the stories of the threemain characters is done with great skill. Should you read the book and like it, try Boyden's other novel, also of Cree life, called Through Black Spruce. Yet another masterpiece!
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