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on 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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on March 1, 2006
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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on April 18, 2006 and other reviewers have accurately summarized the book. What they have not done is describe the pleasure I had reading it, which you may only find out by reading it yourself. This novel has a gripping story, solidly developed characters, spirituality, moral dilemmas... what else could I add? Maybe that I rarely give five stars in a review: a book I simply enjoy usually gets four. In MY book, five stars means exceptional. This one is.
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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. As they began their journey, their friendship helped them to complement each others strength to get through numerous challenges, such as the language barrier, their inexperience in urban and barrack life, the discrimination facing them. As their talent as trackers and snipers are increasingly recognized by their superiors, despite their prejudice against Indians, the two are sent on increasingly daring missions. Their reputation grows as they take out more enemy snipers than anybody else. Xavier and Elijah respond very differently to the pressure and violence. One hates his role on the killing fields and is retreating into himself, the other is thriving on the experience and the attention he garners. Their friendship is seriously tested and the tension between them reaches breaking point. How can they salvage the friendship that they had? How can they survive in the hell of the trenches? How do they cope with loosing their comrades and being wounded themselves? Will they be able to reconcile the upbringing on the land, guided by Niska, with the brutality of their war experiences?

Boyden is an outstanding story teller and his skill of creating realistic and lively personalities is admirable. This not only applies to the three protagonists, but also to several of their comrades and their superiors. Boyden establishes a wide-ranging portrait of the people and the extreme conditions they were exposed to during this war. It is evident that that author undertook extensive research into the intricate details of WWI war fare. It can easily stand among the best of its kind. The author adds additional depth through Niska's story, connecting the reader intimately to Cree culture and mythology. Niska's voice stays with you for a long time. Despite the topic, this is a beautifully written, memorable book. [Friederike Knabe]
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on June 7, 2005
Set in WW I this book tells the story of two Cree men who join the Canadian army. The two become a sniper team, and the story explains both how they adapt to the harsh conditions of Northern France and to live among a the foreign culture of the white men in their unit. The story also touches upon how their home in Northern Ontario has been affected by the British and the residential school system, and this part of the story is written as reflections by one of the men's aunts who still tries to live according to traditional ways. The writing is crisp and yet very personal, without being melodramatic or too depressing (for those who are worried about that!). I will warn you that the narrative is not always linear in time, but was very straightforward-- you could easily follow the story. I really enjoyed the use of nature in the metaphors and similes, which work surprisingly well given the context of WWI ("I slipped like an otter into the trench"). This book has received a lot of hype in the media, so I was a bit sceptical if it would measure up when I began, but it was so well written and movingly told that I ended up really enjoying the read. I would compare it favourably to Guy Vanderhaeghe's books "The Last Crossing" and "The Englishman's Boy", that set the standard for me for Canadian fiction set in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I think men would particularly enjoy the book (good Father's Day present or birthday gift), but women would enjoy it as well. A scene where one of the main characters translates into Cree the words of the unit's commander, who is attempting to court marshal the other protagonist, is worth reading the whole book. I predict this will become a Canadian classic.
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on June 4, 2016
Niska is a traditional medicine woman, a mix of Cree and Ojibway. She's been taught divining and traditional medicine by her mother and father, has seizures and sees visions. She's also the destroyer of windigo, an evil presence that sometimes takes possession of humans, a role she has inherited through the generations.

Niska is a "bush Indian", living alone in the wilderness of northern Ontario. She is coming by canoe to a small town to meet Xavier, her nephew and last remaining relative. She raised him in the traditional ways until WW I broke out and he and his friend Elijah enlisted in the Canadian Army and were sent to France.

Xavier and Elijah have used their hunting skills to become an outstanding snipers. In France they hunted men instead of game. It changed them.

Xavier arrives home a deeply troubled young man, his leg has been amputated at the knee, he's addicted to the painkiller morphine.

Niska meets him and so begins their journey back into the wilderness, back to sanity, back to healing.

Author Joseph Boyden uses these two main characters to tell the story. Xavier floats on a morphine high and remembers the trenches, the bombardments, the death of comrades, the calculated killing of the enemy one by one as a sniper.

In an effort to draw him out of his personal hell Niska talks to him of her early life, of her parents, of how she came to raise him, of the windigo.

Three Day Road is a moving story of love and sacrifice, of friendship and loyalty, of the horror of war and the pointlessness of it.

Immaculately researched, powerfully written, this is a story that will haunt, inspire, entertain and stay with you.
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on 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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on November 8, 2006
Boyden has written a masterful tale, one that draws the reader into the lives of aboriginal snipers Xavier and Elijah during the First World War, while at the same time weaving the past experiences of life in Northern Ontario, childhood memories, residential school and the loss of traditions. This story made me laugh out loud with accurate statements and depictions of Cree culture and cry with despair at the horror of war and the racism that was so apparent. Having lived and worked in Northern Cree communities for many years I have heard many stories of residential schools, the cruelty of Roman Catholic clergy and racism. I felt that the book was very true to life. I hope to read many more novels by Boyden.
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on February 27, 2006
A Well written, powerful story of characters you take to your heart & who stay with you long after you finished. Hard to put down this gory but sensitive novel. You will long remember the highly credible scenarios of a grim European war and may also recall the drop-dead beauty of the pristine Canadian wilderness, but it is the storytellers who will walk with you. This is a haunting tale, and, utimately, a very satisfying read. I am reminded of Hemingway --had Hemingway been more mature. Hope Boyden has more books in him.
I also recommend-Giorgio Quest- another great read.
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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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