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Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden

Through Black Spruce (2008)

by Joseph Boyden

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Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
Will bird is a Cree bush pilot. The novel opens with him, lying in a coma. Annie Bird is his niece, who visits him in the hospital. How these two people ended up here, is how the story is structured, as the narrative shifts from Will to Annie. I much preferred the Will part of the tale, with his laconic, Cree wisdom and stunning descriptions of life in the wilderness, but the book is well-written and captures life in upper-Canada, in a vivid, robust style. Fans of Louise Erdrich should really like this author. ( )
  msf59 | Aug 5, 2016 |
I was really taken by this story about a young Cree woman from Northern Ontario, Annie Bird, trying to find her younger sister in the jungle of the big cities—Toronto, Montreal, NYC. Suzanne Bird ran away with a drug dealing boyfriend, and though she had a successful modelling career, none of her friends knows where she has gone to or whether she is still even alive. The chapters alternate between Annie's narration and her uncle Will Bird, who is relating the recent past to us from the depths of a coma following events that we learn about as the story unfolds. Annie is convinced by a nurse at Will's hospital that she needs to talk to her uncle as much as possible if there's any hope of him ever recovering, so she tells him about her journey as she tried to locate her sister and plunged into Suzanne's superficial world of beautiful people, electronic music and drugs on the one hand, and then her evolving relationship with a man who has been appointed as her guardian, Gordon "Painted Tongue", a Native Indian who wandered around the streets of Toronto until they met. Unlike her glamorous sister, Annie has always loved hunting and trapping in the wilds, something she has in common with her uncle and is trying to teach Gordon. There is an element of the mystery thriller to this novel, but the quality of the writing and complexity of the characters make for great literature. As an animal lover, I had a hard time with all the animal killings, and there is one particularly sad and gruesome scene involving a large mammal the first part of the book, which at least had the merit that the reader sees it coming almost from the get-go. I'm glad I've finally read something by Boyden, and looking forward to more, though I'll have to brace myself for more violence, as many readers have commented this aspect of his other novels. ( )
2 vote Smiler69 | Aug 2, 2016 |
This was a difficult book to get in to - it helped to read the summary on the back cover of the book. There are two narrators and two stories in this book - the Uncle and the Niece. The narrators alternate between chapters. At times, I got so engrossed in one story, that I was disappointed to switch to the other's story. As I read further, I found both stories captivating. The northern Ontario setting and the Anishnabe persective were interesting for me. ( )
  MelAnnC | Feb 29, 2016 |
Joseph Boyden's THROUGH BLACK SPRUCE won the prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize a few years back and I had read good things about it, so when I found it at a local library sale last month I snatched it up. It starts out well, a tale of two alternating voices: one of them Will Bird, former daredevil bush pilot from Moosonee in far northern Ontario, now badly broken from a savage beating and barely clinging to life in a deep coma; the other voice that of his niece, Annie Bird, sitting vigil at his hospital bedside, telling him of her recent travels and travails in the big cities of Toronto, Montreal and New York, searching for her missing sister, Suzanne, a beautiful and successful model who got mixed up with drugs and pushers. Whew! Long setup sentence that, huh? The story alludes to the effects of the forced attendance of Native American children at a local residential school run by brutal Jesuits - a practice which tore families apart and attempted to destroy a language and way of life. There are also bitter blood feuds between the Native American Cree families involved, as well as beautiful descriptions of the hard and unforgiving wilderness country and small towns around the Moose River and James Bay and the fading tribal culture of hunting and fishing. It's also a tale of love, loss and struggles to build new lives, for both Will and Annie.

So it's certainly got all the elements of a great read. The problem is it simply goes on and on a bit too long, to the point where it becomes almost tedious, and you wish Boyden would just cut to the chase and maybe the point. But he never really does. The story simply winds slowly down to a conclusion that is rather anticlimactic. It's a kind of happily-ever-after ending, but one I found a bit unrealistic and even disappointing. And while I didn't dislike the book, I did think the story could have been a lot better. As I've already said, there is some absolutely beautiful writing here, and I would recommend the book for that, but I do think an astute, skillful and caring editor could have vastly improved the story. ( )
  TimBazzett | Aug 8, 2014 |
What an incredible and beautiful journey into the lives and culture of the Mushkegowuk (Cree) People of Ontario. Perfectly written in every way. I shall now plan my trip to James Bay. AND... Joseph Boyden may now be my new favorite author! ( )
  Jolynne | Jul 4, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
The winner of the 2008 Giller Prize, Canada's top literary award, has just been released in the United States, where I suspect the response will be mixed. Much of this novel reflects its crisp, poetic title, but overall the quality of "Through Black Spruce" wobbles erratically, and what's weakest about the book is its depiction of what we know best: American depravity....This is powerful and powerfully told, but the novel as a whole is weakened by the other story running through Will's.
Joseph Boyden won huge critical acclaim with his first novel, Three Day Road, which concerns the First World War experience of Elijah Weesageechak and Xavier Bird, two Cree hunters who fought as snipers with a Canadian regiment. In it, Boyden brought a fresh angle to a well-trodden subject. Now, in Through Black Spruce, he connects these protagonists to explore the overarching theme of addiction and trauma....But the novel weakens when Annie narrates her search for Suzanne, a celebrity model, in Toronto and New York. Manhattan is full of clichés: Soleil the society hostess who toys with newcomers, the coke-head models, the tough-guy drug dealers. It makes a dull contrast to the vivid scenes in the northern wilderness. His characters are most moving when revelations occur in small, quiet moments.
Early on in Through Black Spruce, the follow-up to Joseph Boyden’s bestselling first novel, Three Day Road, former bush pilot Will Bird reflects on a recurring dream he used to have some 30 years ago....Boyden is definitely a gifted storyteller. His narrative progresses with practiced ease until, very near the end, it falters in a climax that is pure melodrama – after which, I’m sad to say, the story unravels into a threadbare epilogue: a disappointing finale that does little justice to the rest of the novel.
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Kotakiyak Nicishanu
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When there was no Pepsi left for my rye whisky, nieces, there was always ginger ale.
The humming of a living body, pike or sturgeon, ruffed grouse or moose or human, when it passes to death, the beat of that heart continues, in a lesser way maybe, but it joins the heartbeat of the day and the night. Of our world. When I was younger I believed that the northern lights, the electricity I felt on my skin under my parka, the faint crackle of it in my ears, was Gitchi Manitou collecting the vibrations of lives spent, refuelling the world with these animals’ power.
I want to sit up, put my feet on the floor, close the distance between us, and crawl into his bed. My hand moves to him at the thought of it. I imagine my mouth on his smooth torso. His jutting ribs. His scars. I picture being under a blanket with him, our limbs wrapped around each other, not wanting to let go. He wouldn’t let go. It wouldn’t be hard to lift my leg up and off my own bed. First leg would go, the other following easy. Body follows. Bodies follow.
Lots of times growing up, I'd just try to do something myself because I believed that being a boy, and being Indian, I should just know how to do things. My father understood that my pride would take its course and I'd end up learning two lessons at once. The less painful road was always to just ask him how to do something when I could stomach it, but more important, that to fail at doing something, whether it was surviving a snowstorm or trying to catch fish, meant that pride can kill you, or at the very least make you so hungry you could cry. Learn from your elders. Yes.
I guess we all have our favourite childhood memories. Mine burn inside me like red coals. A cold autumn evening there on the shores of the big water, our canvas prospector's tent glowing by lantern light against the night, the air cold on my cheeks as my moshum, your father, sits with me on a boulder overlooking the water. ... Moshum sits with me and points out how the bay has absorbed the light. He gives names to the stars that appear. North Star. Hunter's Star. Going Home Star. He speaks slow in Cree, the words magic and long, a part of me.
“They are the same stars you see anywhere you go in the world, little Niska,” he says. This name, Niska, Little Goose, has always been his pet name for me. “My own auntie told me that,” Moshum says, “but I didn't learn it until I travelled far away. And now I teach it to you.” I remembered those words. Remember them to this day.
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From internationally acclaimed author Joseph Boyden comes an astonishingly powerful novel of contemporary aboriginal life, full of the dangers and harsh beauty of both forest and city. When beautiful Suzanne Bird disappears, her sister Annie, a loner and hunter, is compelled to search for her, leaving behind their uncle Will, a man haunted by loss.While Annie travels from Toronto to New York, from modelling studios to A-list parties,Will encounters dire troubles at home. Both eventually come to painful discoveries about the inescapable ties of family. Through Black Spruce is an utterly unforgettable consideration of how we discover who we really are.
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Maintaining a bedside vigil for her comatose uncle, Annie Bird remembers a painful search for her missing sister, while her Uncle Will, a legendary Cree bush pilot, ruminates on a tragic betrayal that cost him his family.

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