Three-Day Road

threedayroadBefore I jump into this I think it’s best to give you a bit of background so you know how I approached this book. Some of you know that I did a double major in university. My two oh-so-useful majors are in anthropology (with a focus on archaeology) and history. The archaeology focus is well known but I think that my history focus is less so. My history degree focused on the topic of war and society. It may seem strange to some people but it made lots of sense to me. In archaeology we often looked at elements and remains of hunting and warfare. And it allowed to me study a nice range of time periods and geographical areas. And really I ended up doing history as a major since I was talking all my electives in it anyway.

Three-Day Road is a novel about a young Cree man, Xavier Bird (usually referred to as X during the war or Nephew in the bush), who goes to WWI with his friend Elijah. Elijah is also Cree but spent far more time in a residential school than X (who escaped the schools at an early age) and is fluent in English. X barely speaks English and knows little of the world outside the bush. As children X taught Elijah about the Cree ways, how to hunt, how to shoot – how to do everything that will end up becoming very useful to both of them in the war. But Elijah was the more outgoing of the two.

The books follows X and his auntie Niska as they travel from Moose Factory back to the bush after he returns from the war. X comes home minus one leg and plus one morphine addiction. The story moves back and forth from Niska’s stories to X about her life both before and after X joined her in the bush and X’s experiences with Elijah in the war. It’s a story of war and a story of madness.

X’s experiences were, to me, very interesting. In my studies I never really came across a recounting of WWI or WWII experiences told from a First Nations point of view. The thought of going to fight in a war, knowing so little of the world outside the bush, let along international politics, and in a language that you hardly speak was mind boggling. The confusion and frustration of not only the war, but your part in it and the way in which you are treated because of your race jump off the page.

I really liked this book and can see why it was nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Canadian fiction. Aside from being interesting, it puts an important voice out there into the literary world. I sincerely hope that this book helps bring some focus to First Nations soldiers in military history classes.

I’m wary to recommend this book, despite my enjoyment of it. Like any novel that attempts to realistically deal with trench warfare it can be quite graphic and violent at times. It is not for everyone. But it is very well written and I would recommend it if you feel you can deal with the subject matter. I'm looking forward to Joseph Boyden's next novel.