Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

Review by: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

I read once that there are holes in the universe that swallow all light, all bodies. St Jerome’s took all the light from my world.

Saul Indian Horse is from the Fish Clan of the Northern Ojibway – the Anishinabeg.

As the opening of the book shows, in the late fifties and early sixties, there were still pockets of land, even in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, where the indigenous people could live traditional lives. But the rot that would destroy that way of life had long since set in. The church-run, government sponsored system of residential schools had ripped through communities, stealing away generations of children.

If you haven’t already read the damning reports, this book can leave you in no doubt that those who ran these schools were not ‘well meaning but misguided’. The systematic cruelty Wagamese describes beggars belief. Sexual assaults and deaths from brutality and neglect did not just happen, they were routine. It left generations of survivors suffering from PTSD and vulnerable to alcoholism and domestic abuse.

When your innocence is stripped from you, when your people are denigrated, when the family you came from is denounced and your tribal ways and rituals are pronounced backward, primitive, savage, you come to see yourself as less than human.

For a while, Saul escapes from the horrors into the world of ice hockey. The instincts that once allowed his great-grandfather to anticipate the movements of the animals he hunted allow Saul to ‘read’ the ice, to place himself where the puck will be a split-seconds before it arrives, to find the gap in the players through which to score. Wagamese brings a captivating poetry to his descriptions of these hockey games.

As Saul moves up from the Indian ‘Rez’ teams and starts to compete with white players, he faces racist aggressions – micro and macro – that suck the joy out of the game. He will have to hit rock bottom before he can finally confront what happened to him at the school and begin the slow process of healing.

A powerful book that everyone should read to understand the long-reaching impact of childhood trauma.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Birdie by Tracey Lindberg, Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara, My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal.

Avoid If You Dislike: Frank depiction of institutional child abuse

Perfect Accompaniment: Rabbit stew on a cold, cold night.

Genre: Literary Fiction, Indigenous Authors

Available on Amazon

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