A First Nations former hockey star looks back on his life as he undergoes treatment for alcoholism in this novel from the author of Dream Wheels.
Saul Indian Horse is a child when his family retreats into the woods. Among the lakes and the cedars, they attempt to reconnect with half-forgotten traditions and hide from the authorities who have been kidnapping Ojibway youth. But when winter approaches, Saul loses everything: his brother, his parents, his beloved grandmother—and then his home itself.
Alone in the world and placed in a horrific boarding school, Saul is surrounded by violence and cruelty. At the urging of a priest, he finds a tentative salvation in hockey. Rising at dawn to practice alone, Saul proves determined and undeniably gifted. His intuition and vision are unmatched. His speed is remarkable. Together they open doors for him: away from the school, into an all-Ojibway amateur circuit, and finally within grasp of a professional career. Yet as Saul’s victories mount, so do the indignities and the taunts, the racism and the hatred—the harshness of a world that will never welcome him, tied inexorably to the sport he loves.
Spare and compact yet undeniably rich, Indian Horse is at once a heartbreaking account of a dark chapter in our history and a moving coming-of-age story.
“Shocking and alien, valuable and true… A master of empathy.”—Jane Smiley, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Golden Age
“A severe yet beautiful novel…. Indian Horse finds the granite solidity of Wagamese’s prose polished to a lustrous sheen; brisk, brief, sharp chapters propel the reader forward.”—Donna Bailey Nurse, National Post (Toronto)
At the beginning of this haunting and masterful novel from the late Wagamese (1955 2017), eight-year-old Saul Indian Horse is alone, having been abandoned in a blizzard in rural Ontario in 1961. He finds himself in this situation after his parents set off to bury his brother and are never seen again. Saul is left alone with his grandmother; the two then flee the family's ancestral home on Gods Lake to Minaki, trying to escape the cold. After his grandmother succumbs to the cold, Saul is sent to St. Jerome's, a Catholic boarding school run to forcefully assimilate indigenous children and "remove the Indian" from them. While his classmates succumb to disease, abuse, and suicide, Saul escapes when his natural talent for hockey lands him a spot on a local Ojibway team in 1966. Saul's career progresses from unofficial tournaments at makeshift hockey rinks to the minor league in Toronto. However, it stalls after his skills on the ice attract rage from whites "in the black heart of northern Ontario in the 1960s." Denied acceptance in the world of his choice, Saul is forced to reckon with the trauma of his upbringing and carve out a place for himself. In spare, poetic language, Wagamese wrestles with trauma and its fallout, and charts the long, lonely walk to survival.