This #1 internationally bestselling and award-winning memoir about overcoming trauma, prejudice, and addiction by a Métis-Cree author as he struggles to find a way back to himself and his Indigenous culture is “an illuminating, inside account of homelessness, a study of survival and freedom” (Amanda Lindhout, bestselling coauthor of A House in the Sky).
Abandoned by his parents as a toddler, Jesse Thistle and his two brothers were cut off from all they knew when they were placed in the foster care system. Eventually placed with their paternal grandparents, the children often clashed with their tough-love attitude. Worse, the ghost of Jesse’s drug-addicted father seemed to haunt the memories of every member of the family.
Soon, Jesse succumbed to a self-destructive cycle of drug and alcohol addiction and petty crime, resulting in more than a decade living on and off the streets. Facing struggles many of us cannot even imagine, Jesse knew he would die unless he turned his life around. Through sheer perseverance and newfound love, he managed to find his way back into the loving embrace of his Indigenous culture and family.
Now, in this heart-wrenching and triumphant memoir, Jesse Thistle honestly and fearlessly divulges his painful past, the abuse he endured, and the tragic truth about his parents. An eloquent exploration of the dangerous impact of prejudice and racism, From the Ashes is ultimately a celebration of love and “a story of courage and resilience certain to strike a chord with readers from many backgrounds” (Library Journal).
Thistle traces his path from neglected child, then homeless addict, to lauded academic in his powerful debut. Born in 1976, he grew up in Saskatchewan in a volatile household after his mother left him and his older brothers in the care of their alcoholic father. " brash troublemaker," Thistle struggled in his studies, and after high school became addicted to alcohol and crack and ended up on the streets of Vancouver, where he'd "never seen such squalor." The sections about this time are particularly grim, including a startling depiction of Thistle being stabbed in the face. Scarred both physically and mentally, Thistle at one point was so desperate that he attempted to rob a store by pretending that a submarine sandwich was a gun ("I thought, This has got to be the worst moment of my life"). After calling the cops on himself, he went to jail and eventually got clean in rehab. In his mid-30s, he became a student at Toronto's York University where he now teaches M tis studies. Thistle's judicious use of his own poetry between chapters captures his deep suffering ("i swill back the pain; it burns and it belches rage and despair") and underscores how he ended up one of the lucky few to emerge from what he endured. Readers will be gripped. Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated that the author was at one point addicted to heroin.