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Motorcycles & Sweetgrass Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Mar 9 2010

4.7 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Canada; 1st Edition edition (March 9 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307398056
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307398055
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 3.1 x 21 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 431 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #383,890 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

Quill & Quire

In Ojibway mythology, Nanabush is a mischievous trickster, shapeshifter, and culture hero. Journalist, playwright, and author Drew Hayden Taylor uses this figure, and his manic spirit, as inspiration in his first novel for adults.

Recently widowed 35-year-old Maggie is struggling with the responsibilities of being chief of the Otter Lake native reservation while simultaneously raising her aloof teenage son, Virgil. Maggie and Virgil are both reeling from the recent death of Maggie’s mother, Lillian, their last connection to the “old-fashion Indian” way of life.

When John, a mysterious white man, comes into town riding a vintage Indian Chief motorcycle, Maggie falls in love, but Virgil becomes suspicious. Virgil enlists his reclusive Uncle Wayne to discover the truth about John, resulting in a series of antics that would make Nanabush proud. Along the way, John prompts Maggie and Virgil to reconsider their understanding of family, history, and heritage.

Taylor uses John’s presence on the reservation to explore the political, religious, and cultural challenges facing the residents as they struggle to reconcile their Ojibway beliefs and traditions with broader Canadian culture and its modern conveniences. Conflict – both physical and philosophical – and compromise are themes running throughout the book. Those familiar with Taylor’s non-fiction will find his approach here recognizable: beneath the playful and light-hearted humour are complex emotions and thoughtful analyses of difficult subjects.

As Maggie, Virgil, and the rest of Otter Lake deal with the white interloper, Taylor brings a modern twist to ancient native folklore. Motorcycles and Sweetgrass is a charming story about the importance of balance and belief – and a little bit of magic – in everyone’s life.


FINALIST 2013–2014 – First Nations Communities Read

“A near-perfect debut, a masterful mythic-comedy balancing contemporary issues and realities with magic and history. . . . Motorcycles & Sweetgrass is a trickster story, but it’s also a fundamentally human account of individuals and of a people struggling to find a place for themselves in the world. . . . A broad, bawdy, raucous, deeply felt and utterly involving narrative, a genuine pleasure to read. . . . Motorcycles & Sweetgrass positively crackles with life, love and magic. What more can you ask of a book?”
— Robert J. Wiersema, Edmonton Journal
“A winning comedy.”
— The Globe and Mail
Motorcycles & Sweetgrass may be concerned with aboriginal community politics, identity, mythology and intergenerational legacies, but it reads like a romp. . . . Yet the book’s real strength is its underlying account of a community struggling to weave an increasingly abstract traditional past with some kind of meaningful future.”
— Toronto Star
“Drew Hayden Taylor’s got no qualms about poking fun at his Native roots, and that’s what makes Motorcycles & Sweetgrass such a pleasure. It’s playful yet soulful, with a narrative that keeps those pages turning. . . . A fun, rollicking book, and Taylor’s voice is fresh and unique.”
— NOW (Toronto)
“Taylor brings a modern twist to ancient native folklore. Motorcycles & Sweetgrass is a charming story about the importance of balance and belief—and a little bit of magic—in everyone’s life.”
— Quill & Quire

“If the great Ojibway trickster Nanabush wrote fiction, I imagine he’d write just like Drew Hayden Taylor. You will find much sadness just below the laughs, and sly humour masked by sorrow. A wisdom exists in these pages that only comes from someone who writes from his heart.”
Joseph Boyden
“Fast-paced, uproariously funny and genuinely thrilling. Drew Hayden Taylor is one of Canada’s finest and funniest writers.”
— Ian Ferguson, author of Village of the Small Houses
“Funny, heartfelt, hopeful and illuminating. Motorcycles & Sweetgrass made me laugh and made me think, sometimes in the same sentence. Drew Hayden Taylor is a master storyteller.”
— Terry Fallis, author of The Best Laid Plans
“Drew Hayden Taylor has woven an epic tale of magic, mystery and charm for the world to discover in Motorcycles & Sweetgrass. This is a novel to savor. A complete delight!”
— Richard Van Camp, author of The Moon of Letting Go and The Lesser Blessed

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
What began as a university course obligatory read quickly turned into congratulating my prof for making us read it! This book begins humorous and poignant and stays that way throughout the entire book while diving deep into many of the issues surrounding Native communities. With the arrival of Ojibwe trickster figure Nanabush turned sexy leather-clad white man with a dreamy motorcycle and even dreamier hazel eyes (or were they green?) comes the reawakening of a reserve that has forgotten it's cultural identity. Enter Virgil and Wayne, two misfits who are honor bound to protect the virtue of Virgil's mother (and the reserve's chief) by learning more about this mysterious white man and driving him away. The raccoons have no trouble helping with that situation, as they seem just as bound to get rid of him, but for clearly different reasons. Surrounding this plot are subtly hidden issues such as the lingering effects of residential school, the historical relationship between Natives and non-Natives and notions of what that relationship is now. An overall amazing novel for incorporating Native martial arts, a steamy lip-lock with an old granny and proving that Indigenous literature is not oppressive and depressing!
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Format: Paperback
Do you love Canadian Literature as I do, but sometimes harbour secret critical thoughts? Do you ever inwardly ask yourself questions like: Does CanLit have to be so depressing? Is everyone in Canada impoverished and filled with self pity? Could Can Lit ever allow its reader's to indulge in a little escapism? Character development is wonderful - but could we cut out about 100 pages of navel gazing? Is any sub group in Canada not filled with lamentations?

It was with this trepidation that I picked up [Motorcycles &Sweet Grass] by Drew Taylor Hayden. Yes, I `d read excellent reviews that promised me that this book would read "like a romp." But, I reasoned, this is a book about life on a First Nations Reserve and that is not generally indicative of a book that will be humour filled. I was most wonderfully surprised in so many ways.

Motorcycles and Sweetgrass is indeed filled with humour and great lines, but it also gently touches on many serious issues. Residential schools, abuse by Catholic Priests, alcoholism, drug abuse, the clashing intergenerational First Nation Culture and many other difficult topics are skilfully brought to our attention. Native mythology is prominent in the book, but presented in such a way that it very understandable to virtually any reader. I also got a real feel for the prejudice that First Nations people are subjected to, as well a look into what life might be like for both adults and children living on a reserve in today's Canada. I was also able to get a very good idea as to what forces - both from within and outside a Reserve - are dealt with by an aboriginal Chief.

This is a most fun and enjoyable read ,but it would be a mistake to say it is simply that.
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By Luanne Ollivier #1 HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWER on March 5 2010
Format: Hardcover
Nanabush (the Ojibwe Trickster) has been dormant for awhile. He is startled back into action by the impending death of a woman he loved from his past.

Lillian was made to leave the reserve when she was younger to attend residential school. She turned her back on Nanabush when she left. Once at school she muses "I thought the world was full of magic. I don't think it is. Maybe once it was. Not any more."

She did return to the reserve and on her deathbed, has called Nanabush to Otter Lake - an Anishnawbe community in Ontario. She is worried about her family - her daughter Maggie, who is now the chief of the reserve, her youngest grandson Virgil, who really can't be bothered with school and her eccentric son Wayne, who lives alone on an island developing an aboriginal martial art form. Will he come? Is there still magic in the world?

Otter Lake is quite taken aback when Nanabush, now calling himself John, arrives in town riding a 1953 Indian Chief motorcycle. And this time, he's decided to present himself as a handsome young white man.

Although John is able to charm Maggie, Virgil and Wayne are suspicious of John and his intentions. And the raccoons don't seem very happy to see him either. They have a long standing feud running with Nanabush. " It was him. and he was back. This was good. In this part of the country, revenge was furry and wore a bandit's mask."

Motorcycles & Sweetgrass open with the line "Hey, wanna hear a good story? Supposedly it's true one. It's a long story but it goes something like this..."

Taylor had me laughing out loud, with the raccoon's revenge and John's antics. But his writing is thoughtful as well, touching on the the importance of family, community and the land.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed reading this book. Haden Taylor weaves together elements of spirituality and everyday life so well and in such a fun way that it was a complete joy to read this book and to fantasize about the implications of the universe of it's characters. I have found myself quoting the book often since I read it, so useful is the everyday wisdom that it's characters portray. As well, a careful study of the book allows the reader to glean knowledge about modern First Nations identities and culture, (although I suggest caution about stereotyping and pan-indigenous assumptions), which is sure to be useful to any Canadian seeking add to their understandings about the Indigenous people of this land.
Finally I think it would be a really useful book for young people living on reserves, to demonstrate that their experience is, at least in some ways, replicated in communities across this country. It helped me to acknowledge that there are some interesting pathways out of the isolation I sometimes feel on reserve, and that at least my experiences are shared by others.
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