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Three Day Road Paperback – April 25, 2006

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Editorial Reviews Review

Joseph Boyden's first novel is the story of two Cree friends, Xavier and Elijah, who leave their pristine northern country to end up in the horrific trenches of World War I. Loosely based on the real life of a famous Canadian sniper, the story is told from two first-person views: those of Xavier and his old aunt and only living relative, Niska. After the war, Niska is taking her wounded nephew back home north to the bush in a canoe. Their trip is the three-day road of the title, which also refers to the journey taken after death. The story of the war is told in flashbacks on this journey as Xavier recovers from morphine addiction. Niska also relates various stories to Xavier, believing there is "medicine in the tale."

Boyden is a natural storyteller. Both the Native tales of the north and the grim accounts of the war in France and Belgium have the ring of truth. His images can be subtly appropriate--raiders who go over the top are "eaten by the night"--and his characterizations are excellent, especially the three main players and Xavier's Canadian trenchmates. Eventually, Elijah seems to feed on the death all around him, becoming a "windigo," while Xavier begins to question the sanity of the war and his friend's growing madness, realizing "we all fight on two fronts, the one facing the enemy, the one facing what we do to the enemy." Not for the squeamish reader, this is a powerful novel that takes a new angle on a popular subject, "the war to end all wars." --Mark Frutkin, --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. When Cree Indians Xavier Bird and Elijah Whiskeyjack join the Canadian Army in 1915, they expect to go to France, become warriors and kill Germans. What they don't expect is that the war will drive one of them mad and make the other a morphine-addicted cripple. This is Boyden's first novel (after the story collection Born with a Tooth), a powerful tale of two young men numbed by the horrors and brutality of trench warfare. Boyden vividly portrays the chaos, fear, cowardice and courage of infantrymen condemned to wallow in the mud and blood of the Western Front. Best friends Xavier and Elijah are both expert sharpshooters and, using the field craft they learned hunting in the forests of Hudson Bay, quickly become accomplished snipers. Elijah is outgoing and boastful, while Xavier is quiet and reserved, but both are deadly efficient soldiers. A parallel story line tells of Niska, Xavier's aunt, a Cree Indian prophet and healer, as she tells of the sad decline of Cree culture and waits for her nephew to come home. As the war drags on, one of the men's addiction to drugs and killing causes him to take extreme risks; when he finally commits murder to hide the ugly truth, his friend sees only one solution to save his own soul. Friendship is riven with resentment and war is stripped of glory in this remarkable, wrenching novel, the work of a gifted storyteller. Agent, Nicole Winstanley at Westwood Creative Artists (Toronto). 6-city author tour. (May 9)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 354 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (April 25, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143037072
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143037071
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (134 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #127,715 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Friederike Knabe VINE VOICE on August 6, 2006
Format: Paperback
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.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Scott N. Mcleod on June 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I've heard it said that you shouldn't let the facts get in the way of a great story. One reviewer thought there were better WW1 stories and I'm sure that's true but this is the story of two native soldiers who weren't always soldiers. They had a home on the outskirts of someone else's - occupying strangers with equally strange ways.You weren't good enough unless you were white and no matter how hard you try you can't do it. People only see your skin colour and draw their own pictures. Xavier and Elijah stood out from the other soldiers - being Canadian helped and being true shots (snipers) made them legends, but like a drop of ink in clear water something invades the picture.We get a clear picture of trench life and the walking ghosts it created. The Aunt has her own ghosts to deal with and the power she got from her father. So are you curious yet? I wanted to take all three characters the aunt and Xavier and Elijah home and make them soup and listen to their stories. I miss them now that the book is done.The ending has hope that home was found where it usually starts in the heart. This book maybe hyped but so what? Read and believe the next Canada Reads Book selection. I've got to read it again.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A. Johnson on June 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover
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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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Jane Cosentino on May 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book blew my socks off - I think it is one of the better books I've ever read. It's about these two young boys from Canada (Native American) who go to Europe to fight for the English in World War I. The fate of these two boys absolutely riveted me, I couldn't put this down, and subsequently have told everyone I know that they must read this book. Boyden is so young, and yet he has managed to write with the wisdom of someone twice his age. The novel is heartbreaking and just fantastic. PLEASE, READ THIS!
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