Book Review – Indian Horse

7 Jan

As a fun game this year, I decided I would play along with Canada Reads.  I have always liked reading, but like most things in my life, I seem to do better at it when there is a goal involved.  I remember as a very young child hitting the 1000 book mark in the Edmonton Public Library’s Summer Reading program.  Getting to fill in the book lists was enough to make me voracious – and the free erasers and pencils meant I spent the full summer with a book in my hands.  I think I still have the bump on my head from when I hit a bus stop sign when trying to walk and read.

If Malcolm Gladwell’s Outlier theory is correct, reading might be the one and only thing I hit 10,000 hours at.  As a result, I am able to digest books like a hot dog eating champion, easily finishing a novel on the 2.5 hour flight from Whitehorse to Vancouver.  When I read, I gorge myself on books.  But, then I seem to hit long blocks of time, where I read nothing but blogs and briefing notes.

My desire for goal oriented reading happened to coincide with 2 short week-end trips.  The first to Portland, Oregon where I was able to collect all my books from the famed Powell’s bookstore.   The second to Miami, where I was able to lie on a beach for 2 days and finish all the books.

My  plan is to participate in as much Canada Reads stuff as I can.  But, I quickly became frustrated with the 140 characters or less limitations of the twitter dialogue.  So, for the first time ever, I am writing a book review on a mainly biking blog.

Indian Horse, by Richard Wagamese is the first book up for review.  This book is being defended by Carol Huynh who (name drop), I actually knew a bit at SFU when one of my room-mates was on the wrestling team.

The book is focused around the life of Saul Indian Horse, a young First Nations man who is taken from the land and put into a Residential School.  He finds an outlet in the world of hockey, where he demonstrates the same gifts that he possessed when living on the land.

And here is where the spoiler alerts start, so bookmark this if you want to read the book first….

To me, this book was really about the Canadian Dream – because, let’s face it, there’s nothing more Canadian then Hockey.   Despite the fact that Saul had all the skills he needed and was even able to use some of his aboriginal knowledge and traditional skills to enhance his game, the dream was unobtainable.  In the end, systemic racism at every turn meant that talent and drive was not enough

The book left me wondering a couple of things.   Was the Canadian Dream, the all-illusive shot at the NHL, actually Saul’s dream?  Or was Saul happy with a different ending, but trapped in the swell of what everyone thought he should want.  The atrocities of Residential Schools are undeniable, but the intent seems was that First Nation children would receive the education needed to participate/integrate and ultimately succeed Canadian culture.   It seems based on an idea there is one “right life” for all Canadians that involves being able to get a good job, have a nice house, drive a reliable car, etc…  Is the real tragedy, not that Saul didn’t make the “Big Leagues”, but that everyone assumed that it was what he wanted.  As far as I can tell, Saul would have been very happy to stay living on the land with his Grandmother; or even playing hockey on the rez with his friends.

I thought this book was interesting, but there were a couple reasons that it’s not at the top of my Canada Reads list.  First of all, I felt that, at times, it tried to hard.  There was so much tragedy in it, that some of the Residential School vignettes felt more like shock factor than an enhancement to the story.  Don’t get me wrong – I think the truth about what happened to people at Residential School should be told, I just didn’t think it always fit.

My other challenge with the book was the descriptions of hockey.  I read the words that described how Saul felt, and how happy the game made him – but I never felt them.  Somehow, they didn’t touch my bones, they just glossed across my eyes.  Maybe it’s because I’ve never played a game, but I have read stories of adventures that I’ve never experienced, where the author’s made me feel like I was there.

That’s my Indian Horse review – please tell me where I’m wrong!