The Three Day Road
Like all things in life, there will always be standouts. We see the examples of the Olympic athlete, the world-renowned singer, the jaw dropping sports car or even the perfect weather. The word we use for them is “unique”. But what makes these things or people so unrivalled? It is their personal qualities that make them so prominent, and without these qualities they would be no different from any other. And, although difficult, it is possible to create even novels that are remarkable. The story of Xavier, Elijah and Niska and their tales of war, home and ancient traditions, is surely of the most unique novels ever written, and should be considered an unsurpassed gem. The Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden is a compelling story due to its unique qualities of both aboriginal and Canadian perspective, its variation of distinct and raw settings, it’s stark realism and powerful description, and finally its tangled relationships between the 3 main protagonists. Despite being one of countless world-war novels, Boyden’s use of the aboriginal perspective in Canada’s role during WWI makes the Three Day Road a refreshing and ultimately unparalleled read. Unlike its plentiful counterparts, the Three Day Road is told from the point of view of aboriginal main characters (Xavier and Niska). The following excerpt is a brief summary of the novel itself, which remarks on this unique and fascinating point of view: “Joseph Boyden tells a powerful and dramatic story of two Cree men from Moose Factory, Xavier and Elijah, who experience the horrors of trench warfare in World War I as snipers with the Canadian forces in Belgium and France. Through the perspective of Niska, Xavier's aunt, Boyden presents a parallel story of an Aboriginal woman caught up in rapid cultural change and personal loss. The story is told in flashbacks, alternating between Niska's and Xavier's perspective.” (Bohr) Boyden specifically set-out to honor the numerous Canadian aboriginal combatants, who often volunteered more than any other race. In addition, Boyden meant to recognize the cultural trials and discrimination that aboriginal people’s faced in this period. The tales recounted by Xavier and Niska are completely exhilarating and unique experiences. We personally can empathize with the plights that Native Americans faced at the time, from the widespread-racism to the battle to retain culture and traditions all the way to the horrors of residential schools. Boyden uses many different techniques to maintain this point of view, from the use of native Cree language by Xavier, Niska and Elijah such as “Ashtum, (pg 53) Windago (pg 41), Askihkan (pg 38), Wemistikoshiw (pg 5) and numerous other words, to the unique view of the protagonists on western culture “They were North-West Mounted Police, and their uniform buttons shone brightly in the sun. Their leather boots squeaked with each step, and their strange words broke harshly from thin, tight lips” (pg 47). Citations such as “Long past my father’s death I remember how they laughed at me, a woman living alone in the bush and trapping animals after all my relations had gone to the reserves”(pg48) and “Breech says that it is our Indian blood, that our blood is closer to that of an animal than that of a man”(pg101) truly acknowledge how aboriginals were treated at the time. Second-class citizens both at home and at war, the natives were treated with such distaste that it is a shock to realize that this discrimination took place so frequently. These themes are for the most part alien and unfamiliar; however they are written with such care to detail and precision that one could be forgiven for believing that this is a work of non-fiction. Without this fascinating aspect, the novel itself would surely lose some of its luster. To completely captivate and enchant his readers, Boyden masterfully flip-flops between the two haunting, eerie but beautiful settings of war-torn Europe...
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