Porcupines and China Dolls Paperback – May 1 2009
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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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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.