for Joshua and Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

This is an introduction to two books in a single post, both written by Richard Wagamese.  I read for Joshua: An Ojibway Father Teaches his Son before Medicine Walk.  for Joshua was most definitely a father’s passionate message to his son, delivered with a sense of urgency throughout.  Biographical, this book was a potent read, nailed down with so much trauma that, at times, I felt as though I couldn’t breath.  Confessional in nature, Wagamese dug deep into his personal journey with pain, fear and addiction.  Have you ever put a book down so that you could digest or ‘get over’ a chapter?  for Joshua did this to me.

In this book, Wagamese walked with his son in a very metaphorical way…through the pages of a book.  A lifetime of suffering informed these pages and eventually led to a sense of redemption. Steeped in his Ojibway culture, Richard Wagamese experienced a sense of hope through the intimate experiences of a lifetime of struggle.  To some degree, I wondered if he was anticipating an ‘ending’ and I felt an urgency about the honest confrontation of a life lived with determination.

As a contrast,  Medicine Walk was narrative in style, but dealt with the same concerns of pain, fear and addiction.  This book needs to become required reading within the curriculum for high school literature.  I felt, as I read, that this book encompasses so many of the issues facing Indigenous peoples in contemporary society.  While reading from a place of privilege, I thought that the writer gently handed me the lessons of his people and the impact of colonial dominance on the individual.

I don’t know if my readers would agree, but sometimes I think that literature can teach us more.  We connect with a single character and develop a relationship with/to them.  That character can teach us lessons that even an aggressive in-your-face angry person can not teach.  This ‘settler’ requires an opportunity to question, wonder and take in new information…books provide this opportunity.

I think that these two books are partners to one another…one is raw and visceral and the other offers safety and distance, with the very same lessons contained.  From Penguin Random House Canada…this,

“One of the finest novels of the year.” (Vancouver Sun) By the celebrated author of Canada Reads finalist Indian Horse, this is an unforgettable journey of a father and son, set in dramatic landscape of the BC Interior…
     Franklin Starlight is called to visit his father, Eldon. He’s sixteen years old and has had the most fleeting of relationships with the man. The rare moments they’ve shared haunt and trouble Frank, but he answers the call, a son’s duty to a father. What ensues is a journey through the rugged and beautiful back country, and a journey into the past, as the two men push forward to Eldon’s end. From a poverty-stricken childhood, to the Korean War, and later the derelict houses of mill towns, Eldon relates both the desolate moments of his life and a time of redemption and love, and in doing so offers Frank a history he has never known, the father he has never had, and a connection to himself he never expected.
     A novel about love, friendship, courage, and the idea that the land has within it powers of healing, Medicine Walk reveals the ultimate goodness of its characters and offers a deeply moving and redemptive conclusion. Wagamese’s writing soars and his insight and compassion are matched by his gift of communicating these to the reader.

If my readers are open and can be gentle with themselves, these books are invaluable.  Medicine Walk left me in tears during several passages.  Franklin Starlight is a profound character.  Richard Wagamese has left us with powerful gifts through his writing.  I am grateful.