Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden

I have waited to read Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road ever since it was first published in 2005. The reviews intrigued me, but I never took the opportunity until now to finally read this incredible first novel.

It is set in the early 1900s, just when the British Empire sent a call to Canada and its other colonies to send young able-bodied men to sacrifice themselves in a terrible war. The story centers on Niska and her nephew, Xavier Bird. Niska is a wise bush Indian who escaped from the residential school as a young girl to live as her elders once did. She takes Xavier from that same school as a young boy and teaches him everything he needs to know to become a great hunter. Xavier and his talkative friend Elijah, spend summers together with Niska, learning the old ways. Too soon, these young hunters travel to Toronto where they enlist in the army and are sent to the front.

Throughout the book, the story is told by Xavier while he is fighting the enemy and by Niska surviving the in the wilderness. It is a heart-wrenching, graphic story of how terrible the “Great War” must have been. It is a sad but powerful story of an auntie trying to reclaim the broken life of her only nephew when he returns from that war. The chapters alternate between Xaviers’ telling of the war and of his friend Elijah, and of Niska's story of her life in the north.

The story-telling is amazing and has given me a personal glimpse into two of the great tragedies of our Canadian history. Three Day Road is a must-read!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Little Book by Selden Edwards

Imagine for a moment being taken back in time to 1897 and finding yourself in Vienna Austria. You don’t know why you are there, or how you got there, but you know the city intimately. You discover that many of the people you meet are those that will influence you directly, and those that will change the course of human history. Imagine as a time traveller meeting a young doctor named Sigmund Freud, or a young composer named Gustav Mahler. Imagine coming face to face with a nine year old victim of child abuse named Adolf Hitler. You have landed in the city during its intellectual and cultural height, but you also encounter the early days of state endorsed anti-semitism. You know where all of this is leading, but as you interact with people you know you must not meddle. You participate in political debate with your new friends in the Viennese coffeehouses, but you must be careful not to reveal too much.

In Selden Edwards’ debut novel The Little Book, that is the situation the hero finds himself in. Despite a few oddities in the plotline, this is a finely crafted novel. It is meticulously researched, and gives the reader an insight into a city at its height, just before the calamitous events of the 20th century.

The author spent 30 years writing this book, and I hope he doesn’t wait that long to write the next one.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Last Concubine by Lesley Downer

Imagine you are 11 years old and growing up in a tiny village in rural Japan. Your pale skin has always set you apart from the other residents of the village but you are loved by your parents so you don’t really care. One day an Imperial princess passes through your village and takes you off to the women’s palace in the big city of Edo.

These are the circumstances that cause life to change drastically for Sachi. She has been chosen as a concubine for the young shogun. The next few years of her life are all about training – in every aspect of her life. She has no choice or say about anything.

Meanwhile, outside the palace walls, Japan is changing. Black ships from the west have arrived bringing foreigners who want to add Japan to their colonial empire and civil war erupts.
Sachi flees for her life and is rescued by a rebel warrior who awakens feelings in her that she never knew she had. However, in Japan, there are very clear lines as to who associates with whom and Sachi must unravel the mystery of her own origin before the possibility of a life with her samurai.

Although fiction, The Last Concubine gives a fascinating peek into the world of the people of Japan in the late 19th century.