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Through Black Spruce (2010)

by Joseph Boyden

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1,0004815,993 (4.05)271
Cree bush pilot Will Bird lies comatose in a hospital, while his wayward niece Annie arrives to sit in silent vigil by his side. Slowly their stories reveal two people previously separated by great distances, beaten and broken, and searching for some sense of where they belong in the world.

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Showing 1-5 of 46 (next | show all)
It is impossible not to compare Through Black Spruce with Boyden’s earlier book, Three Day Road. And Through Black Spruce does fall short of the first one.

Boyden again writes with poetic prose, and has well-developed, complex characters. This story could be read as a sequel of the first – although it does stand alone – in an epic historical account of the aboriginal community in Canada through 4 generations, from the great-aunt Niska, a shaman woman in the beginning of the century and her nephew and WWI hero in the first book, then – in the second – his children and grand-children growing up on a reserve and dealing with the aftermaths of aboriginal schools: alcoholism, unemployment, gangs. However, Boyden is too scared to deal with the most natural outcome of such reality for aboriginal women: prostitution. He chooses instead to send the young female characters into the world of advertisement, making then super-models. Unfortunately this is not an environment that is natural to Boyden, and it shows. While his accounts of the North, the cold, the hunts, even the jealousy, friendships and animosities fostered in a small community all sound very true, the accounts of his nieces high life in Montreal and New York is too stereotypical.

Even if aspects of this book did disappoint me, I am still eager to read more of Boyden’s writing, and I am already waiting for his next book. He has a natural voice as a writer; he is perceptive and moving. I hope his next attempt stays truer to his voice.
( )
  RosanaDR | Apr 15, 2021 |
  sdramsey | Dec 14, 2020 |
Joseph Boyden is a Canadian treasure and reading about the lives of a family from Northern Ontario was both thrilling and enthralling. Boyden's deft use of voice is demonstrated so well in this novel, occupying the same world as Three Day Road, and alternates between the perspective of Annie Bird and her uncle, Will Bird. The best parts of the narrative are when Boyden is moving through the lives of the people on James Bay and the breaks of lyricism associated with the landscape and the practices of hunting. I found myself a bit disenchanted with the descriptions of Toronto, Montreal and New York and yearned to be back in James Bay during each interlude away, perhaps this is part of Boyden's intention as his characters all have an inexorable pull to their home. ( )
  b.masonjudy | Apr 3, 2020 |
A very interesting account if two different worlds coexisting in one universe. ( )
  cryczak232 | Jul 26, 2019 |
Three Day Road, Boyden's breathtaking novel, is one of my favorite books, and I was really excited to read Boyden's latest. He is a wonderful writer who takes the reader into the world of Native Canadians, then brings us along as his characters interact with the "southern" world.

This book has two main characters, an uncle and his niece, and they tell their entwined stories in alternating chapters. As I finished each chapter I wanted to continue with that narrator, but then I became engrossed with the alternate narrator, and marveled as the story advanced and the past and the present met and completed the story. It is a wonderful story, perhaps not as heartbreaking and soaring as 3DR, but a satisfying read nonetheless.

As an aside, Boyden is a charming and entertaining speaker, so if you ever have the chance to see him read/talk, go! ( )
  Rdra1962 | Aug 1, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 46 (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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Cree bush pilot Will Bird lies comatose in a hospital, while his wayward niece Annie arrives to sit in silent vigil by his side. Slowly their stories reveal two people previously separated by great distances, beaten and broken, and searching for some sense of where they belong in the world.

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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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