I have this theory that a book cannot be published by Penguin and be bad. Some would disagree – I mentioned my theory to an older relative recently and he sighed about how nice it must be to be so naive, to have intact illusions.
And he’s quite right…it is nice. Someday I might meet a bad Penguin, but that day hasn’t come yet, and in the meantime I am basking in the bliss of ignorance.
I spent the last three days reading a most rewarding Penguin. Three Day Road is a story of two Cree boys (bush Cree, they clarify, not plains Cree) who join up to fight with the Canadians in World War I. The book is written as a retrospective – again, my favourite structure. I love it when you know the end, but you have to read the book to find out what led to it: how the characters got to their destinations.
Niska, Xavier’s aunt, is an Ojibwe-Cree woman living alone, and off the land. In 1919 she receives word that Xavier, who she raised from childhood and who is her only surviving relative, is returning from France. She goes to the city to meet the train. On the three-day canoe journey home, with Xavier broken in mind and body, they unfold their stories to each other.
There aren’t many characters in Three Day Road…or, more accurately, the three central figures are so intense, so absorbing, that the other people seem washed out by comparison. Xavier, Elijah, and Niska, their internal conflicts, their memories, and their actions, dominate the emotional landscape. Boyden has drawn them with impressive skill, using their voices carefully and consistently.
Three Day Road is a glorious novel. There is a lot of pain in its pages, but the stories of trench warfare and the slow erosion of sanity and dignity are not what haunt my memory most clearly. What survives in my mind are images of the Northern Ontario forest, the glimpses into the traditional ways of the Cree, and, most important of all, the characters’ internal beauty.
Three Day Road was passed to me from my uncle, and normally in situations like this I read the book and then pass it on to someone else in turn. This book, though, isn’t going anywhere. It’s getting a bookplate, and I’m already planning a re-read in the New Year.
Thanks Joe and Dave, for such a wonderful Penguin.
HSB Highly-Specialised Book Rating System
Three Day Road gets:
Given to Others: Yes