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85 of 86 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating - master storytelling
In reading "Through Black Spruce", I found myself intrigued as much with author Joseph Boyden's writing style as with the story itself. The book slapped me with some confusion in the first three chapters, as I realized that Boyden was using a double narrative style, and the majority of the book alternated between the primary narrator - bush pilot and Cree native, Will...
Published on Oct. 19 2008 by John E. Knight

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16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "I'll just keep whispering my story to you"
The drama in this novel unfolds in Toronto, Montreal and New York, but the characters' ties to the reomote landscapes of Moosonee, Ontario, near James Bay anchor much of this story. Circling across generations and steadily melding the old with the new, Boyden's novel tells two stories, that of the charming and irascible bush pilot Will Bird and his beautiful young niece...
Published on April 8 2009 by Walter Hypes


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85 of 86 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating - master storytelling, Oct. 19 2008
By 
This review is from: Through Black Spruce (Hardcover)
In reading "Through Black Spruce", I found myself intrigued as much with author Joseph Boyden's writing style as with the story itself. The book slapped me with some confusion in the first three chapters, as I realized that Boyden was using a double narrative style, and the majority of the book alternated between the primary narrator - bush pilot and Cree native, Will Bird and then the other narrator his niece, Annie Bird. The style is an effective method of telling two separate stories of individuals struggling to find their identities - Will the Uncle straddling his life between the traditional ways of the Cree - living off the land and a today's world which seems to be full of personal problems.I am struck by Will the hard-drinker and endless smoker who also is a jogger, and the hunter who also becomes friends with an old black bear. Annie becomes engaged in two extreme living worlds - one the one hand a tomboy who is a skilled trapper, and on the other hand a short stint in the life of being a supermodel. The two narratives have common touch points, and the reader begins to sense the final convergence early, which unfortunately becomes predictable before the end of the story.

Nevertheless, an excellent book, a learning experience about the Canadian northern region around James Bay and the people who live there.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life in Two Very Different Worlds, Dec 2 2008
By 
Ian Gordon Malcomson (Victoria, BC) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Through Black Spruce (Hardcover)
This is a complex and colorful tale that deals with the incredible struggles of a First Nations family's attempts to become reconciled after years of living apart and suffering alone. The novel's main setting encompasses the wilds of northern Ontario where a family has grown up learning to survive by living off the land. As they reach adulthood, the pull of the urban south enters their lives and the family draws apart.The story picks up when an uncle and niece eventually reconnect under very strange and tragic circumstances. The uncle, Willie Bird, is in a deep coma and at possibly at death's door because of a serious plane crash while the niece, Annie Bird, has come home from her desperate search for a future in her missing sister in the jungles of the big bad city. The only tangible connection between the two is through a poignantly silent drawing together of their individual stories as inner emotions and hurts pass through their clutching hands at they come together at the uncle's bedside. Guilt is cleansed and the true spiritual essence of who they are as kith and kin emerges. Everything in this novel is a revisiting of the formative events of their respective pasts as the Willie and Annie draw close to each other in a transcending spiritual bond. Boyden is especially effective in mapping out the journey that native people take from their roots in the wilderness to the fleshpots of the big city in search of an ever-elusive identity. As they talk within themselves, the images of a sordid and unhappy past flash up on the big screen of life and disappear. The reader gets to see what really causes extended families like the Birds to be uprooted and then to come together later in life as only a shadow of their former self.The only triumphal part of this novel is the desire of the main characters to work through their problems and recapture something of the essence of family. It is through the retelling of these misadventures that the uncle and niece confront their failings and move on to enjoy each other. I like this book for its ability to both explore and personalize the psychological and spiritual drama of two very separate journeys and unite them under one tent at the end. Happiness for any culture is definitely bound up in the reassuring embraces of family. Boyden offers a very graphic description of the hardships of First Nations people who move outside the reserve and become separated from kin. That alone makes this book worth reading.
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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars beautiful and haunting, Sept. 29 2008
By 
Alexandra (Alberta, Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Through Black Spruce (Hardcover)
I read Three Day Road a couple of years ago and it immediately became one of my favorite books. Since then, I have regularly checked for updates as to when another Boyden novel would be released...
Once again, I've been blown away. A beautiful and haunting book that will stay with you long after the last page. Believable details and the tragic, yet lovable characters made for an intense story. I, honestly, could not put this one down.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting and Powerful, Jan. 16 2011
By 
Lorina Stephens (Ontario, Canada) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Through Black Spruce (Hardcover)
To read Joseph Boyden's Through Black Spruce is to peer through a window into a quintessentially Canadian, and poignantly Northern Ontarian world. The novel, which explores human descent into revenge, violence and brutality, illuminates the rich and often desperate lives of the Cree and Ojibwa nations who, against all predations, still pursue traditions and lifestyles that in the end are their salvation and legacy.

The voice Boyden's uses is stark, simple, elegantly First Nations, and because of that acts as a sharp foil to the darker, convoluted story that is told through the dual voices of Annie and Will Bird. Each of them attempt to rescue the other through their stories and through the raw honesty of their experiences. In some ways, the dual-narrative acts as confessional, so that the reader understands that beyond the sharp edges of their actions, and the crimes committed by and upon them, there is in fact the mitigating grey of justice no court of law can assess.

Through all of this is a high-strung, fever pitch tension that nearly screams at you to flick to the next page and the next, so that you find yourself breathless and anxious, dare I say it, even obsessed by the haunting quality of this story.

More than deserving of the Giller Prize, Through Black Spruce is an excellent read, and worthy of the investment of time and emotion.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gorgeous storytelling, Oct. 21 2009
By 
Andrea (Ontario, Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Through Black Spruce (Hardcover)
[Cross-posted to LibraryThing and LivingSocial]

Being a visual person, I'm not normally a fan of audio books. I like to see the words on the page. But as I was reading Through Black Spruce, I really wished that I could listen to it instead. Boyden's writing flows so beautifully it's almost like poetry. He writes as if he means for it to be read aloud. It's just simple, gorgeous prose that makes you slow down and think about the words and images being created.

Through Black Spruce is the second book, following Three Day Road (while not necessary to have read it first, I'd highly recommend it), in what will be a trilogy. While Three Day Road took place during WWI, this novel is set mostly in the present day. As with Three Day Road, I think Through Black Spruce does a good job of emphasizing the interconnectedness of all things: our human relationship with nature, our relationships with each other, how our actions can have consequences far beyond anything that we might foresee.

The story is told using alternating narrators: Will Bird (Xavier's son from Three Day Road) and his niece, Annie. I felt for all of the characters and was drawn into their stories, but it didn't keep me up at night and it often felt like something was missing. I think this was because I was expecting something as intense as Three Day Road was, but much of the suspense and tension there came from the fact that there was a war going on so it was probably not realistic to expect the same here.

In any case, Boyden is an incredible story teller and I'm really looking forward to finding out where Boyden takes us next with this series.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard life in Moonesee and The 'Peg, March 29 2011
This review is from: Through Black Spruce (Hardcover)
Joe Boydon is one of the best writers of North American literature going. His tales of the Cree, Métis, and white denizens of Hudson's Bay and Winnipeg, Manitoba take you out of yourself and into a world of hybridity, modernism, and First Nations spirituality. Squalor and beauty, resilience and healing. Try it, you be taken to a new world.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A unique and important voice., Jan. 23 2009
By 
This review is from: Through Black Spruce (Hardcover)
Absolutely wonderful! Written with a refreshing narrative style and reflecting a world and people who are largely unheard. Listen, and you will hear a voice and stories that reflect a way of being, knowing, teaching and learning... if you are able to hear.

An important literary work on many levels.

*** The 'review' by Ian Gordon Malcomson is unfortunately not a review but a synopsis that could spoil some of the enjoyable aspects of reading this book. I am glad I did not read it before I read the book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Through Black Spruce, Jan. 29 2012
This review is from: Through Black Spruce (Hardcover)
I had to read this book for my book club and it didn't sound like my kind of book. It is now one of my top ten books. I can't stop thinking about the characters.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Realistic insight into the North through First Nations eyes, April 4 2014
By 
A. L. Foote (Alberta, Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Through Black Spruce (Paperback)
Everything Boyden gives voice to resonates with what a semi-northern white academic knows about life there. Not the sensationalized Attawapiskat drama of 2010 media, not the glorified Northern Rangers, not the glam exotica of Montreal fashion display, but small elements of each. The characters are as fully engaged in their lives as any of us, even if their life settings are alien to us. Their normal existence is remarkably unremarkable to them, yet, are a fascinating melange to outsiders. What Boyden builds is insight and empathy for the struggles that are foreign to southern urbanites yet are common as breathing to high latitude northerners. The commonality of remote northern life, circumpolar in fact, includes excessive alcohol use, social marginalization, tremendous living expenses, long and intense cold winters, and an erosion of the ancestral links to the land. So, when a family simultaneously has members in subsistence living, a coma, at large as a missing person, operating as a renegade bush pilot, and supporting a young woman who can both walk a Toronto catwalk and run a trapline, we are offered a believable and privileged insight into alternate ways of making sense of the world. This can reflect surprising ways in which our lives can be viewed and reminds us that the common links of love, security, adversity, family connections and a search for meaning are common to all humanity regardless of setting. This book made an exceptional backdrop to the recent seven stops of the Aboriginal Truth and Reconciliation hearings travelling across Canada. Great book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly woven, March 16 2014
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This review is from: Through Black Spruce (Paperback)
I was given The Orenda as a gift but wouldn't read it until I had purchased and read Through Black Spruce. Boyden's craftsmanship grows exponentially with each offering. The double narrative works just as well in this as it did in Three Day Road.
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Through Black Spruce
Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden (Paperback - Sept. 15 2009)
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