“A shell landed too close to me. It threw me into the air so that suddenly I was a bird. When I came down I no longer had my left leg. I’ve always known men aren’t meant to fly.”
I would normally be doing much better at Bookstravaganza, and would not be basically dead last after only a week. But then, I made the mistake of reading Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden. It spans 400 pages, which, when coupled with the busyness of last week, does not bode well for a reading competition, but that is not the predominant reason behind why it took me a week to read.
Three Day Road should not be inhaled, devoured, or chugged. It should be sipped, savoured, every masterful sentence admired to the extent that you yourself feel any writing skills you may have once accumulated are nothing more than elementary. When every second sentence gives you goose bumps, and every highly visual description of what it would be like to experience trench warfare first hand, you have to take a step back and breathe, because, sometimes, reading Joseph Boyden makes you forget to breathe.
You would suppose that Boyden actually fought in World War I; his descriptions are so vivid, so realistic, that I could almost visualize scenes in my head. I have always found the Great War very difficult to imagine visually; Hollywood is largely American and Jewish and thus focuses its war films on World War II. A few years ago, I went on exchange in France and as part of our program, we visited many French and Belgian WWI sites. I’ve walked through the fields of Flanders, a quiet, peaceful landscape scarred by craters, and, in the case of Vimy Ridge, undetonated mines still lurk beneath the surface. To think that, just under 100 years earlier, these same green fields were carved into trenches, marred by miles of barbed wire, and stained by the blood of dead soldiers. I, for one, still cannot imagine what that would be like, and hold in the highest respect the boys of that lost generation who fought for our country in the hopes that I and future generations wouldn’t have to. That Boyden takes on the perspective of Aboriginal soldiers fighting on the Canadian side makes this book an important one in Canadian literary canon; it is a perspective not often told in literature or film.
I had to put this book down at several occasions in order to process what I had just read, especially following the intense war scenes. This is not a book for the easily disturbed, but it is one we as Canadians should have an obligation to read. I cannot wait for my Iceland Writers Retreat, where I will be able to (hopefully) learn from Boyden, who is surely on his way to being Canada’s next great literary treasure.
Books read so far: 2