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Porcupines and China Dolls [Paperback]

Robert Alexie
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 1 2009 Porcupines and China Dolls
Enough alcohol silences the demons for a night; a gun and a single bullet silences demons forever. When a friend commits suicide and a former priest appears on television, the community is shattered. James and Jake confront their childhood abuse and break the silence to begin a journey of healing and rediscovery.

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Review

Porcupines and China Dolls, by Robert Arthur Alexie, is a very, very ambitious novel that deals with the lifetimes of trauma caused by child abuse in residential schools. But it is so much more. The title refers to how native children saw themselves after they had been sheared and sanitized to the standards of the white world. James Nathan and his best friend Jake Noland were both sexually abused while at residential school in the far north, a secret they keep buried deep inside them. James sums up the situation while staring at his peacefully sleeping girlfriend "You're lucky. You don't carry the dreams I carry. . . guaranteed to keep you in apathy 'n self-pity for the rest 'a your life. Or in booze. Or both, if you're lucky." Another abused friend commits suicide which brings Jake and another man to disclose what happened to them and eventually James also confesses. The culprit is brought to justice. There is a healing session after which both their lives slowly improve. Each finds love and cuts back on the drinking and partying, and James begins painting seriously, something he has always wanted to do. There is a lot of wry (rye) humor, as early on we are taken on a day long tour of a native saloon while James drinks to obliterate the memories of his horrible childhood. With its caustic and sometimes hilarious asides, it is probably the best description of the native bar scene ever written. The story occasionally lapses into melodrama, too many people cry too often, but on the whole the novel is timely and succeeds both as a tough-minded story and as an insight into the destruction wreaked on native peoples by the residential school system.
W.P. Kinsella (Books in Canada) -- Books in Canada --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Robert Arthur Alexie was born and raised in Fort McPherson in Canada's Northwest Territories. He became the chief of the Tetlit Gwich'in of Fort McPherson, served two terms as vice president of the Gwich'in Tribal Council and helped obtain a land claim agreement for the Gwich'in of the Northwest Territories. He now lives in Inuvik.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Boldly Sentimental and Artfully Written March 16 2012
By Junaid
Format:Hardcover
Brimming with artistry, snappyness, crude humour, and scathing sincerity, Porcupines and China Dolls is an important voice from the North, and a must-read for anyone interested in Canadian or Indigenous Literature. Robert Arthur Alexie takes us into the world of a northern Indigenous community as they struggle to come to terms with the bitter legacies of residential school. The story centres on 40 year old James Nathan, a deeply disturbed character painted over with strokes of smiling wit and womanizing charm. We follow James, his friends, and community members as they assess their lives, unearth brutalities, and come together to form bonds of solidarity. James and many other characters lapse in and out of dream worlds; engaging the reader with altered senses of reality. In these segments, readers witness the enormous and deeply embedded wounds that scar the spirits of Alexie's characters. In dialogues, Alexie takes us into the minds of multiple characters, exposing their most intimate (and often times humorous) thoughts to the reader in his typical blunt style of writing. That being said, the tone of the novel is unique in its ability to cross bridges between surfaces and depths. In moments that would otherwise be simplistic and straightforward, Alexie is consistently able to wrap dark brutality and intense longing in blankets of crudeness and humour. This ambivalence makes Porcupines and China Dolls highly successful in its approach towards the issue of residential schools. The reader is neither overwhelmed by unending stories of trauma; nor appeased by a lighter version of the truth.
Some would argue that the novel can at times be melodramatic or sensationalist in its storytelling, but readers will only feel this way if they fail to see Alexie's artful writing at work.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A prickly story ringing with truth and honesty. July 26 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
RIP Robert Alexis. The heartfelt fictionalization of what clearly is much autobiographical material comes close to the bone of bringing the reader into the experience of the era. How do they do it? With pain and resolution, with endurance and standing on history and the language of terrirorial experience.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Porcupines and China Dolls April 6 2013
Format:Paperback
Porcupines and China Dolls

By Robert Alexie

Porcupines and China Dolls is a very heart-touching book. The book is about two men who are best friends; James Nathan and Jake Noland. They’ve known each other for as long as they could remember. After they finish residential school they move back to their Gwich’in community where all they do is drink, do drugs and look for sex. They drink almost every night to try to forget their painful memories from residential school. One day Jake sees Tom Kinney on the television and it brings back all of his memories from residential school and we learn that he was sexually abused by this man. After seeing Tom Kinney on the television Jake decides to tell Mary (who is his girlfriend). He tells James, who was also sexually abused by the same man, and he also tells his aunt who is the community counselor. Eventually the community’s Chief, David, hears about Jake being sexually abused and decides to tell his own story of when he was sexually abused. Soon after, the community decides to have a healing workshop and that is when James, plus a few other men, also tell their stories and decide to press charges against Tom Kinney for sexual abuse. When the workshop is finished the men who have told their stories are described as ‘Warriors’ and because they built enough courage to come fourth and tell their stories in front of their whole community. From there, the men try to move forward and live their lives happily. The central issue in this story is about how residential school affected the lives of Aboriginal people. I believe that this book shows how much sexual abuse can really affect someone and destroy their life.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A touching story of facing the past and overcoming it Oct. 9 2009
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Minor escapes are just that, and they will never solve anything. "Porcupines and China Dolls" tells the story of James and Jake, best friends who share a common dark secret. Wasting their lives away living the iconic slacker lifestyle of sex and long nights at the bars. But when another friend puts a bullet in his brain, they are forced to face what has been troubling them for so long- abuse at the school they attended. "Porcupines and China Dolls" is a touching story of facing the past and overcoming it.
5.0 out of 5 stars You will not forget this book Aug. 16 2013
By Kathleen E Neff - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Alexie lured me into an unforgettable world where indigenous peoples's children were stolen in ways unconscionable. His characters come alive in a way that it is hard to put the book down. The children you meet in the beginning return in the end with their childhood nightmares intact. Some rise above; others do not.

What I loved about this book was Alexie's straight talk through his characters and how their indigenous culture comes full circle in spite of the damage done by missionaries and governments. I will never forget this book.
5.0 out of 5 stars Boldly Sentimental and Artfully Written April 7 2012
By Junaid - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Brimming with artistry, snappyness, crude humour, and scathing sincerity, Porcupines and China Dolls is an important voice from the North, and a must-read for anyone interested in Canadian or Indigenous Literature. Robert Arthur Alexie takes us into the world of a northern Indigenous community as they struggle to come to terms with the bitter legacies of residential school. The story centres on 40 year old James Nathan, a deeply disturbed character painted over with strokes of smiling wit and womanizing charm. We follow James, his friends, and community members as they assess their lives, unearth brutalities, and come together to form bonds of solidarity. James and many other characters lapse in and out of dream worlds; engaging the reader with altered senses of reality. In these segments, readers witness the enormous and deeply embedded wounds that scar the spirits of Alexie's characters. In dialogues, Alexie takes us into the minds of multiple characters, exposing their most intimate (and often times humorous) thoughts to the reader in his typical blunt style of writing. That being said, the tone of the novel is unique in its ability to cross bridges between surfaces and depths. In moments that would otherwise be simplistic and straightforward, Alexie is consistently able to wrap dark brutality and intense longing in blankets of crudeness and humour. This ambivalence makes Porcupines and China Dolls highly successful in its approach towards the issue of residential schools. The reader is neither overwhelmed by unending stories of trauma; nor appeased by a lighter version of the truth.
Some would argue that the novel can at times be melodramatic or sensationalist in its storytelling, but readers will only feel this way if they fail to see Alexie's artful writing at work. He makes great use of hyperbole (a literacy device that uses exaggeration to evoke strong feelings or create a strong impression) in order to give meaning to much of his story. This is done not to gaudily steal the reader's emotions, but rather to articulate feelings to us in a way that plain language is incapable of doing. Through Alexie's use of hyperbole, the reader is able to understand the sheer extremity of the wounds that many characters carry. The interpretive value of Alexie's hyperbole is extended even further when one takes into account the novel's constant interplay between dream world and reality.
Porcupines and China Dolls is an original novel, unique in its ability to combine artfulness with grit and brutality. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in interpretive/artistic literature and to anyone who wishes to explore the bane of Canada's residential school system, and the deep healing process required to overcome it.
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