Through Black Spruce, by Joseph Boyden (2008)

This is Boyden’s second novel. Here is a partial list of accolades he won for his first book, Three Day Road: the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, the CBA Fiction Book of the Year, the Books in Canada First Novel Award, the McNally Robinson Aboriginal Book of the Year Award, selection for The Today Show Book Club, being shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for Fiction. In other words, he was immediately recognized as a writer of note by a whole lot of people. I have yet to read Three Day Road (although I’m on the waiting list at my local library), but reading this one has certainly made me want to. But I didn’t discover Boyden because I follow lists of recent canlit award winners: he was a guest host on CBC’s The Current back in March 2009, where he immediately struck me as someone worth paying attention to, and when Anna Maria Tremonti mentioned that he was a writer I knew he was one I wanted to read. Boyden, who is of Irish, Scottish and Anishinaabe descent and has worked as a teacher in Native communities in Northern Ontario, still divides his time between Northern Ontario and his adopted second home of Louisiana, where he is a writer in residence at the University of New Orleans. Reading this book, his connection to and love of the Cree way of life is very clear, and among other things reading this novel helps the reader appreciate the character of this people and their connection to the land. Why would you want to live literally at the end of the road in a village of 1,700 people on the shores of James Bay? What can we find there besides the chronic alcoholism and poverty described so often in the news? Fortunately, Boyden is here to tell us, with a rare insight and compassion. I’m not even going to describe the plot here to you; suffice it to say, he’s one of the better writers I’ve discovered of late and I hope my number comes up soon at the library for his other novel.

Update: Of course the above was written back when it was commonly believed that Boyden was indigenous. Re-reading the above after that particular scandal broke is a little painful. Suffice it to say, I’m not planning to read more of his novels.