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Book Review - Indian Horse

I love books which keep me turning the pages. That is what Indian Horse did. I read it in three days. I could have read it in one, but I had other things going on. It was one of the most poignant, beautiful, tragic stories I have ever read.

Indian Horse, by indigenous writer, Richard Wagamese, is the story of Saul Indian Horse, an Ojibway boy who is taken to a residential school. I don't know if the US had residential schools for its indigenous people, but here in Canada, they are notorious. While at the school, in the midst of his sorrow and suffering, he is introduced to hockey by Father Leboutilier. Saul is a natural. He has a vision of the game that is instinctive to him, and he is a hard worker, practicing in the cold morning hours with frozen horse piles because he does not have a puck. When he begins to show his skill, he is given a way out of the school and an opportunity to pursue his dream.

Unfortunately, while playing for a minor hockey team, he confronts the inevitable racism. Saul does not want to react to the racism; he does not want to become a fighter. He just wants to play the game, a game he is told is the white man's game. Playing in junior hockey is what robs him of the joy of the game. He returns home, angry and defeated.

I still had grace, the flowing speed, but my eyes were feral beneath my helmet. I blazed up the ice with locomotive force, and when anybody hit me, I hit back. When they slashed me I slashed back harder, breaking my stick against shin pads and shoulder pads. When they dropped the gloves with me I punched and pummelled until I had to be torn off by my teammates. There was no joy in the game now, no vision. There was only me in hot pursuit of the next slam, bash and crunch. I poured out a blackness that constantly refuelled itself. The game was me alone with a roaring in my gut and in my ears. I heard nothing else. When other members of the Moose stopped talking to me, I knew that I was beyond them, the tournament teams, and the game, forever.

The last part of the story is the account of Saul coming to terms with what has happened to him. It is written brilliantly, with the reader walking alongside Saul, discovering things about him as he does himself. That which is buried deep inside of Saul is revealed to Saul and the reader at the same time, so that the emotional impact is shared. Told in the first person, it is a journey of mutual discovery between reader and narrator. And the prose is beautiful.

I cried at the end of the story not only for the sorrow of what happened to Saul, but for the perfect ending that Wagamese provides. It was one of the best endings to a novel I have read.

Canada often likes to portray itself as not having a racism issue. We certainly do, although it is different from the U.S. While we did not go out and seek slaves from other countries, in a sense, we enslaved the people who were here before the white man. Taking away the culture and identity -- which is what the residential schools were designed to do -- is one of the worst things that can happen to a person. That is why when I read comments online about how there is only "one race, the human race" (technically, are not homo sapiens a species, not a race?) I think of how the logical conclusion to that belief is simply trying to drive away a significant part of someone's identity. 

The story of Saul Indian Horse is fiction, but it is by no means fabricated. The record of what happened to indigenous children is residential schools is very real. And this novel might be a good way to get a glimpse.

I have already ordered the paperback (I read it on Kindle) so that I can go back and re-visit those breathtaking passages. I was so intent on finding out how the story ended that I didn't dwell on them nearly as long as I would have liked. This is a book I want to own in paper, not just Kindle.


When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain, I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it Lord, that I should boast
Save in the death of Christ, my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all!

This is not the traditional tune most of us know, but the rendition is really pretty.


If you love writing, read fiction

I am being blown away by words; by fiction.

I started readiing Richard Wagamese's Indian Horse. There is a movie version of it, apparently. The executive producer is Clint Eastwood, someone whose movies I generally like. I don't know if I'll see it. But these words are beautiful. Wagamese wrote beautiful, poignant, prose.

In the section I just read, the narrator, Saul, describes a man with whom he is living:

I knew he missed his wife. He wore it like clothes.

I thought that was a beautiful use of a small amount of words. Not all of his descriptions are that short, but they are all vivid and evocative; the kind of writing where I feel like I'm on the shoulder of the story-teller, watching as he or she moves throughout the narrative. The only other authors who have made me feel that way are Frank McCourt and Margaret Atwood. 

I don't write fiction, although I have stories in my head. Most of my writing is about other things. But every writer who really loves the craft should read fiction.


Shaken complacency

On Tuesday, I returned from a visit west to see my family. I was also able to see some friends; women I have known for twenty-five years. I was exhausted with all the visiting. I don't normally sleep in public, but I allowed myself to nod off on the plane en route home.

The exhaustion was mostly from having too many visits crammed into too few days. The other was some of the information I took in over those days. There are some people in my life with some very serious circumstances. I was aware of the possibility of them, but when I sat down and had them confirmed to me, it was sobering. I think just about every person I visited had a struggle to face, whether it was illness, financial difficulties, problems with children, or relational difficulties. I was reminded of the reality that we all face struggles. I left wondering if anyone comes from a family which does not have some kind of dysfunction. It's trite to say it, but we live in a fallen world. 

My family members are not Christians. Hearing about their struggles and seeing how they are managing (or not managing) apart from Christ was really hard. I was struck by the difference when I had dinner one night with some women with whom I attended church many years ago. How my sisters in Christ are handling their struggles and maintaining joy was quite a contrast to how hopeless some of my family members seem to be. And despite my family's need for the gospel, their complete disinterest in it makes it even more painful. Quiet toleration best describes their reaction to my faith. In discussing women with one of my family members, I referred to human dignity being rooted in our creation by God. Blank stare; momentary pause; move on to the next point.

While I waited to board my plane on Tuesday morning, I checked out Twitter for a while and looked at some articles, and I was restless while reading. What I choose to read online is largely a function of who I follow on Twitter because that's where I get a lot of suggested articles. I saw less about how to minister the gospel to an unbelieving world than I needed that morning. My unsaved family members with serious health issues don't care about what is going on in the Southern Baptist Convention (and for that matter, how does it affect me?) or whether or not someone thinks women of colour should have a special meeting.

I sat on the plane that morning wondering whether or not I have become complacent about those who don't know Christ. We worry a lot about refining our message in the Church and developing atttiudes that are engaging to the world, but what about simply ministering love and care to those who are in need? In my own dark hours, what has helped is understanding who God is; hearing about the cross; understanding what Jesus did for me. I thought to myself, "I want to hear about the hope in Christ." Maybe that is my trouble. Maybe I have been reading more about what to be disgruntled about than I have to be joyful about.

I'm taking a class in the Synoptic Gospels this fall, and it was my plan to read through each one as many times as I can over the summer. I even bought some Scripture Journals for marking (these are great little tools, by the way). And I still do plan on reading those. But I also picked up a Scripture Journal for Revelation, and a commentary by Grant Osborne. I already know how the story ends, but I need to be reminded, and I want to become more versed in ministering hope instead of disappointment.


Fight flabby writing

I finished the book Expressing Theology. Overall, it was a helpful book, not just for writing theology, but for how one approaches the task of distilling it.

The last chapter was the most practical, as it addressed the revising and editing processes (yes, those are two different tasks). I really liked what the author said about word choice, and how we can keep our writing tight:

Also consider other ways in which word choice affects sentence structure. Are you using a string of weak words where one strong verb or descriptive noun will suffice? For instance, do you overuse phrases such as "due to the fact that" when a simple "because" will do? Are you padding your sentences with overblown metaphors and similes? A good writer makes use of all the tools available to craft their piece; recognizing when words are merely padding is part of being a good writer. Keep your sentences tight. Richard Palmer calls this "fighting the flab" and identifies this excess as "waffle and paadding" to be avoided at all cost. A writer waffles "when they have nothing to say and/or no control over their material." This kind of writing happens when you're uncomfortable or unfamiliar with your subject. The best way to avoid wafflling is to do your research and be well-informed before writing. However, if you've already rambled your way through your essay, it's time to cut. Slash your way through unnecessary material and trim your piece down. Padding detrcts from an otherwise well-constructed, clear sentence. One word that is often littered through student essays is "basically." Basically the writer is arguing that the world is flat. My teacher is basically saying that my writing is no good. Just ban it. It serves no purpose and interrupts the flow of your sentence.

I plead guilty to padding when I've not done enough research to really analyze a point well, but thankfully, I've never used "basically" in an essay.