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Through Black Spruce

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  6,874 ratings  ·  561 reviews

A haunting novel about identity, love, and loss by the author of Three Day Road

Will Bird is a legendary Cree bush pilot, now lying in a coma in a hospital in his hometown of Moose Factory, Ontario. His niece Annie Bird, beautiful and self-reliant, has returned from her own perilous journey to sit beside his bed. Broken in different ways, the two take silent communion in t

ebook, 368 pages
Published March 19th 2009 by Penguin Group US (first published September 9th 2008)
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A great tale of family resilience in remote Ontario settings balanced by narrative excursions to Toronto and New York City. It satisfied me by making me care deeply for its cast of characters, feel connected to their challenging rural environment, and empathize with the plight of Native peoples trying to sustain some identity in the larger society. Most of all I was impressed with the courage the key characters find to take action in the face of threats to their family.

We are treated to two narr
The CBA (Canadian Bestsellers Association) have handed out the 2009 Libris Awards. Joseph won Fiction of the Year for Through Black Spruce. He also won author of the year.

Joseph's skill in making the narrative ring true is remarkable: we learn Will’s story while he lies in a coma, and Annie’s, too, as she hopes that by “hearing” her story, her uncle will fight his way out of the coma. Marius Netmaker, grandson of Elijah, also has his strong role to play.

I read the short, first chapter tw
Jennifer (aka EM)
ETA, 12/22/12: Back one year later, thinking about the Attawapiskat First Nation. Its Chief, Theresa Spence, is heading into her 12th day of a hunger strike, an act of leadership and heroism that has coincided with the explosion of the #IdleNoMore movement. I'm urging all Canadians reading this to join in solidarity with our Aboriginal brothers and sisters in a call for dialogue, collaboration and action. Demand that PM Harper meet with Chief Theresa Spence to make meaningful, immediate progress ...more
In Joseph Boyden’s mesmerizing and beautifully-rendered second novel – a follow-up to Three Day Road—former bush pilot Will Bird reflects, “Something’s there, through the black spruce, just on the other side. I can’t see it yet, though…”

The “something” is a strange place in the road: the place between traditional ways of life and modernity, between nature and the insidious effects of the drug culture, between life and death. There are two stories that are expertly interwoven here: the story of W
Diane Barnes
This is one of those books I would probably never have picked up were it not this month's selection of my bookclub, despite the fact that I have another of Boyden's books on my shelf, (Three Day Road), which I have not read yet. It is apparently a prequel, taking place in WWI with the father of Will, a main character in this one. Through Black Spruce takes place in present day in James Bay, Ottowa. The story is told in 2 voices: Will, who lies in a coma in the hospital, and his niece, Annie, who ...more
Friederike Knabe
History is front and centre of Joseph Boyden's second novel, "Through Black Spruce". Loosely a follow-up to his first, Three Day Road - the story of two young Cree trackers fighting in World War I - this story looks at history in a very personal, intimate way. Will and Annie Bird, the two narrative voices, are the son and granddaughter of Xavier Bird, one of the three central characters in the earlier book. Distinct in their approaches to their individual story, told in alternating chapters, the ...more
Sue Smith
I've had this book on my shelf for - oh about a year and a half. I knew it was good... I've had several people tell me so - gushing on and on - and all the reviews were very very positive. So I knew it was a book worth picking up.. but for some reason or another, I just never got around to it. Me, I got complacent. It was there.... it would wait.

Well - thank goodness for CBC book club on Goodreads! It became one of the first of the group's reads and now I had no excuse not to finally pick it up
Shirley Schwartz
This is the best book I've read all year!!
This book is a deserving winner of the prestigious Giller prize in 2008. I've been wanting to read it for some time, but wanted to read Boyden's first book "Three Day Road" first. As good as that book was, this one is even better. But it was good to read Three Day Road first as it is a precursor to this one and helped me understand the characters a bit more. Like Three Day Road, this book is so difficult to read in some ways because you keep waiting for
"Moosonee. End of the road. End of the tracks," declares Will Bird, a Cree bush pilot lying broken in a hospital bed in this end of the tracks village in northern Ontario. He weaves his story silently, his voice imprisoned by his comatose state. Moosonee is remote, rugged, its Cree Nation inhabitants largely self-sufficient; it is also vulnerable. Poverty fuels drug and alcohol addiction. Those who do leave the community for the excitement and economic opportunity of Toronto or Montreal often fa ...more
I guess nothing untoward can be said about Joseph Boyden, our true native son who has achieved literary god status in the last few years. I read other reviews in this forum before writing this one and the platitudes for this book are glowing. And yet we need to ask the tough questions, despite people’s origins and sensibilities, if we are to mine gems from amidst the oceans of literary flotsam out today. What follows is therefore one reader’s opinion, mine, and many may not agree with me.

First o
This books tells an interesting & compelling story of the life of an aboriginal bush pilot in Northern Ontario. Family loyalty and kinship is thick as is the use of alcohol. The main character is implicated in the attempted murder of a man that has been stalking him. His nieces take off for N.Y.C. to earn money as models and find their own trouble there. Really a good read! One I would recommend!
This author writes beautifully and not just within the natural world descriptions and locale feel. I especially liked how he encompassed you within the hospital room with Annie as she tale her story to her comatose uncle. It's fully a 3.5 star and makes me want to prepare for winter coats and make sure the boots are in sturdy order. I would have enjoyed it far more if the pilot told us more and the dysfunctional sisters told us less. It's me, not the book most probably. Because for the most part ...more
Powerful, well written, and a wonderful story. I think it helps having read Three Day Road first, for the back story and the understanding of Boyden's storytelling style. Had a hard time putting both books down; the stories flowed so well.
THROUGH BLACK SPRUCE isn't the first book it's taken me quite a long time to read, it's not even the one that took the longest to read, but it did take many attempts before I was able to get any traction. This attempt I read the blurb first-up and did a little Google hunting - something I normally try not to do. But this time I really needed it to find out what on earth was going on. Then it dawned on me why I was having so much trouble getting into the book.

THROUGH BLACK SPRUCE is a family stor
Book Review: Through Black Spruce
Viking Canada 2008 Giller Book Prize Winner
ISBN 978-0-670-06363-5

I love Joseph Boyden’s stories. Through Black Spruce is a triumph well deserving of the Giller prize recently awarded to him.
Some of the main characters in this book’s group of Cree people living in and around James Bay are descended from the main character, Xavier Bird - the main character from Boyden’s previous work, Three Day Road. A good part of this story concerns Will Bird, grandson of Xavie
This one was a tough book to rate; the writing is very good, and I cared about the characters, but the story is pretty bleak. There's a lot of alchoholism and poverty, a bleak and cold landscape, and plenty of violence to go around. I really liked Will and Annie's characters, and the story was entirely believable. This is a firm 3 1/2 star book, but I just can't seem to give it 4*. Winner of Canada's Giller Award for best book.

After a long time away from the book, I decided that it merited a hig
Leslie Shimotakahara
I was reading this novel while on vacation in Spain - absolutely loved it! I was particularly impressed by how different the two narrators' voices are. It made me reflect on my own desire to write from more diverse perspectives.... My full review can be read at
Hanusia Tkaczyk
Excellent. Gives insight into the persona experiences of our current First Nations people. He has a great turn of phrase and paints evocative images.
This is a perfect novel written by the writer who just won Canada Reads 2014 with his new novel, The Orenda. The Orenda is the third novel of a trilogy, and Through Black Spruce is the second, so I'm reading the trilogy backwards. As impressive as The Orenda is as a literary achievement, Through Black Spruce is a much more compelling and satisfying read. Now it's time to read the first book, Three-Day Road.

Joseph Boyden might well turn out to be another Michael Ondaatje or Margaret Atwood--a gre
My second 5 star read from Joseph Boyden. I read The Orenda earlier this summer and fell in love with this guy's writing style. This guy can write, really well. I enjoyed the Orenda more but this one was still so very good. Don't expect a lot of action as the chapters alternate between two narrators telling their stories to one another but do expect to get drawn into their stories. At least I did. It seems I'm reading this 'trilogy' backwards but I'm planning on reading Three Day Road next. I ca ...more
This is the story of Will Bird, a Cree bush pilot, and his niece Annie, both brought up in the wilderness of Northern Ontario.
Will, survivor of three almost fatal plane crashes, lies in a coma after a long-term family feud leaves him close to death. Annie, returned from her own wild journey, goes to visit him every night. She talks to him, telling him her story, endeavouring to break through to his unconscious and re-connect him with the world. She is a reluctant healer, gifted with special pow
I've been meaning to read this ever since I read Three Day Road, which I loved. This was excellent as well, but I didn't like it quite as much, probably since it didn't have that war setting that I tend to love so much.

This novel alternates between the perspectives of Will Bird, alcoholic and bush pilot, telling his story to his nieces Annie and Suzanne, and that of Annie, who is talking to Will while he lies in hospital in a coma. Eventually we learn what happened to put him there, and the way
Toni Osborne
The novel is a follow up to Mr. Boyden’s award winning novel “Three Days Road”, recounting the histories and lives of two fictional James Bay Cree families (The Birds and the Whiskeyjacks).

This latest novel centers on Will Bird, son of Xavier Bird, the heroic soldier we were introduced to previously. The story comes to live through two intertwined monologues. We follow Will’s thoughts while he recovers from a serious plane crash, a near death encounter that has left him comatose in a hospital be
I am Canadian born and like to follow what Canadian writers are publishing.Traditionally, Canadian literature reflected the "Two Solitudes"of English and French Canadian culture. Since the 1970's an increasing number of authors of Indian, Chinese and other origins have explored the immigrant and exile experiences from a Canadian perspective.Joseph Boyden adds "the fourth pillar" to modern Canadian literature. His First Nations (Indian) ancestry sets a story in the far north of Ontario in Moosone ...more
Although not as gripping as its predecessor, Through Black Spruce follows the Bird clan post-WWI into modern day. It is structured parallel to Three Day Road, with chapters alternating between two characters separated by an event, slowly unravelling stories and secrets from each narrative. Through Black Spruce was an enjoyable read, but it did leave some lose plot ends - the story arc involving Suzanne's disappearance seemed to be turning into a near-noir detective story, yet it did not deliver, ...more
It is impossible not to compare Through Black Spruce with Boyden’s earlier book, Three Day Road. And Through Black Spruce does fall short of the first one.

Boyden again writes with poetic prose, and has well-developed, complex characters. This story could be read as a sequel of the first – although it does stand alone – in an epic historical account of the aboriginal community in Canada through 4 generations, from the great-aunt Niska, a shaman woman in the beginning of the century and her nephe
Carolyn Gerk
I'm sure you no one wants to hear how this novel compares to Three Day Road, but to be honest, I only picked it up because I had read 'Road' and was amazed at Boyden's writing; it earned five spectacular stars from me. A lot to live up to. Through Black Spruce does not fall flat. It is an engaging tale of (again) two narrators bonded by family, tragedy and culture. Annie and Will Bird, descendants of the Birds of Three Day Road, tell us, and each other, their story.
Annie, a young Cree woman liv
When I started to read 'Through Black Spruce' I was somewhat surprised, for two reasons: one is that I was struck by the understanding that I had never read a book about the people populating this book - native Indians of the North American continent - despite the great and outstanding potential inherent in the history of these fascinating people, and although they are occasionaly portrayed in television and film media. The second reason is that even in the summary on the back of the spine, the ...more
Through Black Spruce is a follow up to Joseph Boyden’s earlier book “The Three Day Road”. It won the Giller Prize in Canada. The characters in this book are descendants of the characters in the earlier book. Though I didn’t enjoy “Through Black Spruce” as much as I did “The Three Day Road” nevertheless it is a good book.
Once again in “Through Black Spruce” we see the effects of trauma the Native People of Canada have suffered following their treatment in the hands of the settlers to Canada. Ther
Through Black Spruce, winner of the 2008 Scotia Giller prize, is a novel about the lives of aboriginal Canadians in northern Ontario. If you're interested in how they survive in the bush by hunting moose, rabbits, beavers and geese, this is a novel for you.

However, I was disappointed to read about the culture of drugs, drinking and violence that still infects the growing up of aboriginal children and their fate.

In 2000 I'd read Monkey Beach, a novel by Eden Robinson, that also portrayed the
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CBC Books: This topic has been closed to new comments. * 2008 - Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden 1 7 Aug 31, 2013 01:01PM  
THE LISTS: My 2nd Novel 9 13 Jan 14, 2012 01:45PM  
  • Indian Horse
  • The Bishop's Man (The Cape Breton Trilogy #2)
  • Clara Callan
  • Monkey Beach
  • The Time In Between
  • Late Nights on Air
  • The Stone Carvers
  • River Thieves
  • No Great Mischief
  • The Englishman's Boy
  • A Good House
  • The Colony of Unrequited Dreams
  • The Book of Secrets
  • Mercy Among the Children
  • Kiss of the Fur Queen
  • The Polished Hoe
  • The Jade Peony
  • February
Joseph Boyden is a Canadian novelist and short story writer.

He grew up in Willowdale, North York, Ontario and attended the Jesuit-run Brebeuf College School. Boyden's father Raymond Wilfrid Boyden was a medical officer renowned for his bravery, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and was the highest-decorated medical officer of World War II.

Boyden, of Irish, Scottish and Métis heritage
More about Joseph Boyden...
Three Day Road The Orenda Born with a Tooth Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont: A Penguin Lives Biography Kikwaakew

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“When I die, nieces, I want to be cremated, my ashes taken up in a bush plane and sprinkled onto the people in town below. Let them think my body is snowflakes, sticking in their hair and on their shoulders like dandruff.” 11 likes
“There’s something sexy in cooking for a man who likes my food. Am I growing up?” 4 likes
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