Be omnivorous, don't just read one kind of book, read everything. - Richard Wagamese

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Review: Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese [Canada Reads 2013]

Publisher: Douglas & Mcintyre
Released: 2012
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5


Saul Indian Horse has been encouraged to share his story. He’s currently dying in a hospice and coming to terms with his life as a Northern Ojibway boy. He knows there’s too much to just orate, so he begins to write his story. He goes back to the beginning, when he was a boy who was abandoned by his parents and left with his grandmother. His grandmother did her best but died while clutching him in her arms, trying to get them to safely. He was a boy all alone, sent to a residential school, and found solace in playing hockey. A game he taught himself and a game that allowed him to escape his life. When the game became more about him being an Indian, it lost its spark and Saul felt like he didn't belong. He lost the ability to escape within hockey and he became bitter. Saul became a man who was happiest amongst nature, but needed to look for opportunities. He was always searching for a place to call home.


Indian Horse has been selected as a Canada Reads 2013 finalist. I picked it up and wasn't sure what to expect, but I soon found myself captivated by his story. Saul was such a strong character, and to see the bitterness begin, really broke my heart. It was common for Natives to understand that individuals never came home from residential schools the same. They were told to never speak their language anymore, and schooling was less about education but more about labor. Children who died, were buried and never thought of again. Children who spoke up to protect their siblings were beat, and taught to stay quiet. Natives were being assimilated, but didn't know where to go once they left the school. Saul’s escape was hockey, and his talent put a lot of focus on him, but he was shunned by many. He was always labeled “the Indian” and all he wanted to do was play hockey. Once hockey was taken away, he had nothing.

This book was amazing! I loved it, and I started off my Canada Reads reading strong. I don’t know if I will enjoy any of the others as much as I liked this one. I love Canadian literature, and I love Native American literature, this book combined the too. Wagamese is a fascinating writer, and I can’t wait to read more of his books. Indian Horse is a powerful story, healing comes from shared experiences, and solidarity.

There were several themes throughout the novel. Saul finds salvation in hockey; he recognized that hockey was his form of escape, his form of suppressing the nightmares in his life. When he played hockey, he could focus on one thing. He threw himself wholeheartedly into the game. Another major theme of the book was family. Saul learns that family doesn't always have to be biological. Saul’s spiritual connection with his ancestors and nature surrounds him when he most needs the comfort. Rascism and abuse is another major theme. Wagamese never wants the reader to pity Saul, he wants readers to understand his struggles and see when he triumphed and when he was defeated.

It’s obvious that I think this book was wonderful, and I highly recommend it. Residential schools are a part of Canada’s blackest hours; generations of Native American’s who were left scarred, sent to a school to “take the Indian” out of them. Children were removed from their parents, deprived of their language and physically and sexually abused. Many people would be shocked to learn that the last school was closed in 1996. 


  1. I am so glad you reminded me of the Canada Reads program. I love Canadian lit, and meant to follow the selections but forgot! :--) This sounds really good!

  2. Thanks for the great review. I am definitely going to check it out.

    It sounds really good.


  3. I can't believe that these schools existed until 1996!! That is crazy to me! I would love to read this one and see what Saul's experiences of life was like, but I am preparing myself for a sad, if not brutal story. Thanks for the excellent review and for sharing your reactions to the book with flair, grace and understanding.