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Three Day Road [Paperback]

Joseph Boyden
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 6 2008

It is 1919, and Niska, the last Oji-Cree woman to live off the land, has received word that one of the two boys she saw off to the Great War has returned. Xavier Bird, her sole living relation, is gravely wounded and addicted to morphine. As Niska slowly paddles her canoe on the three-day journey to bring Xavier home, travelling through the stark but stunning landscape of Northern Ontario, their respective stories emerge—stories of Niska’s life among her kin and of Xavier’s horrifying experiences in the killing fields of Ypres and the Somme.


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Joseph Boyden's first novel is the story of two Cree friends, Xavier and Elijah, who leave their pristine northern country to end up in the horrific trenches of World War I. Loosely based on the real life of a famous Canadian sniper, the story is told from two first-person views: those of Xavier and his old aunt and only living relative, Niska. After the war, Niska is taking her wounded nephew back home north to the bush in a canoe. Their trip is the three-day road of the title, which also refers to the journey taken after death. The story of the war is told in flashbacks on this journey as Xavier recovers from morphine addiction. Niska also relates various stories to Xavier, believing there is "medicine in the tale."

Boyden is a natural storyteller. Both the Native tales of the north and the grim accounts of the war in France and Belgium have the ring of truth. His images can be subtly appropriate--raiders who go over the top are "eaten by the night"--and his characterizations are excellent, especially the three main players and Xavier's Canadian trenchmates. Eventually, Elijah seems to feed on the death all around him, becoming a "windigo," while Xavier begins to question the sanity of the war and his friend's growing madness, realizing "we all fight on two fronts, the one facing the enemy, the one facing what we do to the enemy." Not for the squeamish reader, this is a powerful novel that takes a new angle on a popular subject, "the war to end all wars." --Mark Frutkin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. When Cree Indians Xavier Bird and Elijah Whiskeyjack join the Canadian Army in 1915, they expect to go to France, become warriors and kill Germans. What they don't expect is that the war will drive one of them mad and make the other a morphine-addicted cripple. This is Boyden's first novel (after the story collection Born with a Tooth), a powerful tale of two young men numbed by the horrors and brutality of trench warfare. Boyden vividly portrays the chaos, fear, cowardice and courage of infantrymen condemned to wallow in the mud and blood of the Western Front. Best friends Xavier and Elijah are both expert sharpshooters and, using the field craft they learned hunting in the forests of Hudson Bay, quickly become accomplished snipers. Elijah is outgoing and boastful, while Xavier is quiet and reserved, but both are deadly efficient soldiers. A parallel story line tells of Niska, Xavier's aunt, a Cree Indian prophet and healer, as she tells of the sad decline of Cree culture and waits for her nephew to come home. As the war drags on, one of the men's addiction to drugs and killing causes him to take extreme risks; when he finally commits murder to hide the ugly truth, his friend sees only one solution to save his own soul. Friendship is riven with resentment and war is stripped of glory in this remarkable, wrenching novel, the work of a gifted storyteller. Agent, Nicole Winstanley at Westwood Creative Artists (Toronto). 6-city author tour. (May 9)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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First Sentence
FOR MANY DAYS I've hidden in the bush by the town, coming out when I hear the call, watching carefully for him. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Close and personal Aug. 6 2006
By Friederike Knabe TOP 100 REVIEWER
Linking Cree hunting stories with World War I frontline accounts would seem an odd undertaking, to say the least. The wild Canadian North with its harsh yet beautiful landscape and tough living conditions for those surviving off the land is a far cry – physically and spiritually – from the trenches and the killing fields of Ypres and the Somme. Yet, Boyden has successfully merged these seemingly disparate themes through his telling of the life stories of the three protagonists: Xavier, Elijah and Niska. The two young friends, looking for adventure, joined the war effort while Niska carries on her life as the last Oji-Cree medicine woman. The story is told from different perspectives, moving backwards and forwards in time. The outcome is an engrossing narrative that interweaves the disturbing description of WWI horrors in the trenches with the rich and multifaceted recollections of the protagonists' lives and their emotions and experiences of the past.

"Taking the Three Day Road", the traditional Cree reference to dying, takes on new meaning here, both literally and spiritually. The journey home in Niska's canoe through the lush forests and on the winding river provides the backdrop to her efforts to bring one of the friends home, physically and mentally deeply wounded. Her personal recollections and stories of their past lives are set against the nightmarish dreaming of the returning soldier. Will Niska be able to soothe the mind, will the medicine be strong enough to heal him from the agony of war?

The two young Cree started out with eagerness to fight in the war, having honed their tracking and shooting skills in the bush killing animals for food and ceremony. Their very different characters emerge clearly as they leave the familiar territory.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars delicate yet shocking and powerful March 1 2006
By gryphon
That this book is written so lyrically and delicately, and yet also shocks and awes is testament to the fact that it has the stuff that classics are made of. I find this to be a regular trait of Canadian literature.
I have read numerous books depicting WWI, and while all describe its brutality and horror, few have done so to the extent that this book does. Further, WWI depictions have rarely been written from the viewpoint of the snipers, which is a very unique and interesting angle. Also, being a story told from the viewpoint of Native Canadians means that there are many mystical and surreal depictions, using smooth and sensual language.
Astoundingly well written.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gift from my daughter June 5 2005
Books that come gift-wrapped always make me nervous. There's a shelf full of them in my bedroom that I'll never finish. So when my daughter gave me THREE DAY ROAD for my birthday I had that old feeling. Despite those misgivings, I picked it up a few days later, read several pages and was mesmerized. The author unfurls this story in nuanced chapters alternating points of view between an aging Cree woman and her nephew. The male story is that of an Indian off to serve in the trenches of World War I. The woman's is a decade earlier, starting with the death of her father - a medicine man. Neither character ever quite fits in the civilized world and both their stories are compelling. For a book that will undoubtably be dubbed 'literary', the pages are remarkably turnable. Almost makes turning a year older worth the candle.
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Three Day Wonder! March 6 2006
It has been a while since I have read a book that has it all - the far Canadian North, the incorporation of lost tradition of our Native culture, true friendship, and family who will always be there. In short, a magical journey that is both horrifying yet beautiful. I think the closest I came to reading a book like this was Treading Water, but it did not capture the tradition and respect that the Natives had, and how these tradiitons have been lost, and the confusion of trying to live between or with two somewhat opposing cultures. A deeply respectful and powerful novel that makes you think long after you have finished reading it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I'm in love Jan. 13 2011
The kind of book I want to read over and over and over. Classic, heart-wrenching Canadiana. I have a new favourite.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb May 5 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A powerful narrative, filled with the complexities of cultural identity and the meaning of home, the psychological consequences of war on the individual, and the boundaries of brotherhood. This is historical fiction at its very best, skillfully drawing on accounts of Great War history in the field to recount the experiences of two Cree friends who join the Canadian army as volunteers. What sets this book above others is the way the writer positions the wartime experiences in France alongside a very different set of experiences, narrated by a First Nations woman living in the bush near Moose Factory, Ontario. In the end, 'Three Day Road' is a beautiful story of human survival in the face of unimaginable change.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great read Feb. 3 2011
By cowboy
historical fiction at its finest, told in a first nations traditional sense of storytelling. Well worth the read. I am not usually a fiction reader, but from the time i picked it up I had a hard time putting it down.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A singularly great novel June 15 2014
By Lorina Stephens TOP 500 REVIEWER
An astonishing novel. An even more astonishing first novel. There can be no disputing Joseph Boyden is not only an accomplished story-teller, but a significant Canadian voice in the 21st century.

Three Day Road, drawn from real people and real history, is an impeccably researched, and skilfully wrought tale of two Cree soldiers who fight in the nightmare of WWI. It is a story about the terror of residential schools, the descent into madness, and the arduous journey back to peace of mind and body.

A singularly great novel and great read. Highly recommended.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars I like fiction to be believable
I tried to like it, but couldn't. With the exception of one great line about the aunts alienation, it was impossible for me to believe any part of it. Read more
Published 3 days ago by A. Neil Meili
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Characters and events so real that you feel you are living the book!
Published 7 days ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Native perpectives on WW1
A well written extremely informative page turner regarding evil, human spirit and war with with food for thought regarding the surprise ending.
Published 1 month ago by TJ
4.0 out of 5 stars Loved this book
I will likely read again. Based on the experience of a native Canadian soldier during the Great War as told from his point of view and his aunt who raised him according to the... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Mrs. Colleen M. Paul
5.0 out of 5 stars Three Day Road
Very fine novel. One of the top dealing with Canadian involvement in 1914-18 war. It comes close in quality to Boyden's "The Orenda" which has won multiple awards. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Robert Pike
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book
This is one of the best books I have ever read. It's absolutely beautiful. Read it and share it around
Published 4 months ago by LaluThai
4.0 out of 5 stars Three Day Road
Excellent book - a good portrayal of the horrors of the trenches with a different slant. I found some parts a bit long and drawn out.
Published 4 months ago by Jennifer Bellis
5.0 out of 5 stars three day road
excellent book. I so enjoyed it, passed it on to my brother who is not known for his tolerance of other ethnic backgrounds and he too really enjoyed it. Read more
Published 4 months ago by heather
1.0 out of 5 stars One Bad Review
Mr. Boyden thinks himself a writer of note, as do the critics. However, on reading 'Three Day Road', it was apparent that Mr. Read more
Published 4 months ago by ExRAF Bod
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent read
Now I can not wait to read the rest of the trilogy. Another excellent read from a fine Canadian writer
Published 5 months ago by M R SOMMERVILLE
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