The Final installment in my Canadian series of female and male writers, old and new.
Joseph Boyden, Rohinton Mistry and Rawi Hage could not be more different. A Scottish-Irish-Metis, a Bombay
born fellow who lives in Brampton, Ontario
and a Lebanese-Canadian who came to Montreal
by way of Cyprus
and New York City
. These three men, from very different places, have very different tales to tell in markedly different styles. What they share are mantelpieces filled with prizes and the fact of being Canadian writers who have come into the international limelight over the last couple decades.
Joseph Boyden has a couple of things going for him, not including the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize he won for his first novel, Three Day Road
, and the Giller prize he won in 2008 for his second, Through Black Spruce
. For one, the guy can write. The Washington Post
described his prose as “raw poetry.” So he’s got the craft thing down. With a blue-eyed Catholic father who was a Canadian war hero and a Metis uncle who served in the First World War, the guy also has a variety of cultural and historical wells to draw from. What’s more, he’s clearly got a rich life of his own. When he was 16, he left his home in North York, Ontario
to travel through the Southern US
on his own and, for a time, became a roadie for a band. All these decades later, he now splits his time between (as he puts it) the Gulf of Mexico
and the gulf of the Arctic
(ie. Northern Ontario
The story goes that Three Day Road
was so well received that Penguin offered the fledgling novelist a six-figure, two-book deal. Boyden’s debut novel is inspired in part by his uncle’s experiences in World War I, and also on the lives of two legendary military snipers, Ojibwa Francis Pegahmagabow and John Shiwak, an Inuit. Set partly in Moose Factory,Ontario
, the novel tells two stories. One is the narrative of Xavier bird, a Cree soldier and crack sniper, wounded physically and deeply scarred emotionally. He returns to Northern Ontario
to his Aunt Niska. As his aunt attempts to heal her morphine addicted nephew, he recounts his experiences in the Great War. The second narrative is Aunt Niska’s, a Cree woman who has rejected a Canadian society determined to assimilate her. Instead she has fled for the bush, which is where she lives and takes her nephew Xavier to try and heal him.