An intricate story blending the history of Niska Bird the Cree medicine woman, and her nephews Xavier Bird and Elijah Wiskeyjack who have left their home in the bush of Northern Ontario to join the great war in Europe. As skilled hunters, Xavier and Elijah are valued and accurate snipers in the trenches of France and Belgium; however the hardship and horror of the war destroys the mental and physical health of both men. When Xavier returns to Canada, badly wounded and addicted to morphine, his aunt paddles him back home to James Bay. On this three day journey, Niska tries to keep Xavier’s spirit alive by telling him stories of her life and her own battle against the loss of native culture and language.
What the Armchair Critics Thought:
Although this was a difficult read with many graphic descriptions of battle, corpses and horrific conditions, it was also a rewarding book providing an remarkable description of first nations soliders in WWI as well as the important role of Canadian troops and the sacrifices they made. We enjoyed the depictions of native life and customs. We found the book quite well written and paced. One scene we especially enjoyed was the three-way humorous exchange between Elijah, Xavier and their commanding officer after Xavier returns from an absence without leave. We had a great discussion about residential schools and their devastating effect on native reserves in northern Ontario and the praries. One member brought photographs and postcards from her great grandfather who served in WWI. Recommended