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Monthly Group Reads > April '11 - Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden




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message 29: by VWrulesChick (new)

VWrulesChick | 995 comments I enojoyed reading this book, as it was a little different as the story is told from two different perspectives. Will, an old bush pilot who is in a coma in the hospital and Annie, who is his neice and just returned from New York to try and locate her missing sister.

Petra & Shannon - you both bring interesting findings about the gun that owns Will, and though it written in a different aspect and almost becomes a character, I think.

Regarding Annie, who liks playing her sister, as it allows her to be part of the 'in' crowd where at home, she was not treated this way growing up. I find Gordon an intriguing character...and a survivor and protector of Annie.

I love the quote "I’ve tasted beluga; too oily, give me KFC anyday." It made me laugh when I read it.

Even though Annie is away from home, she has situations that appear to her to show her that living in the city, she can still be in touch with her cultural with community and music.

While Will was out in the bush, he became lean and relied on nature to provide just enough for his needs, yet struggled with his hunger for the drink and cigarettes. And Annie, had Gordon and her looks (similar to Suzanne) to rely on, whilst in the city and modelling industry and yet still struggled to be herself (while acting like Suzanne) and the continuous search for her sister.

Regarding the three plane crashes, is a situation of survival and guts to deal with it (take charge, not just let it happen while sitting on his laurels). Interesting insight there, Shannon.

I found that while reading this story, it was like Will and Annie were at confession or talking to a therapist. Therapy for both of them as to get off their chests what has been holding them down/back.


message 28: by VWrulesChick (new)

VWrulesChick | 995 comments Finally, finished reading the book last night! Thanks for your patience and I will shortly give my two cents worth. hehehe

Another question for the group:
Will comes face to face with two bears, under very different circumstances. Discuss the symbolism of these two bears and what they contribute to Will’s journey as a character.


message 27: by Petra (new)

Petra | 402 comments Oh? When others are there, it'll be interesting to hear how they read it and discuss. It could be read differently. I pondered whether Boyden meant it that way but decided he did. It fit.


message 26: by Shannon (new)

Shannon (sianin) | 107 comments I thought I would go back and see what I said abouthte book in my original review and thought I would share...
A double narrative that reads like oral tradition. Boyden's book brings to life two Cree tales that parallel each other and take us on a journey of self-discovery. We travel through black spruce to the city with Annie, and through black spruce to the edge of death as Will lies in his coma.

While we read about alcohol and drug addiction, biker gangs, muggings and rape, Boyden treats us to a Shakespearean style comedy where the narratives turn on mistaken identities, morals triumph, bad guys getting their just desserts and the good guys prevailing in the end.


I think rather than weakening FNs the book paints a portrait of what is the experience of many FNs. I wonder if in the next book we will see further transitions.

Again, re the gun, Will's grandfather had a love hate relationship with the gun if I remember corectly and because of his experiences in the war became addicted to morphine and had to overcome that particular wendigo. I think he may also have tried to get rid of the gun and couldn't but I may be getting the two books mixed up.

Re your spoiler - I either totally forgot or read it differently because I do not remember it...


message 25: by Petra (new)

Petra | 402 comments Shannon, your comments on the gun have given me lots to think about.
I think that maybe the gun is representative of how Boyden sees the state of the First Nations.
In Will's father's time, the gun saw true (the First Nation are strong (or, for lack of better words, "clean" from the problems that will follow).
Over the next 2 generations, the gun's aim is not so true. Focus to self/community is lost (drugs, alcohol, poverty reaches the community). The People are losing control not only in the modern world but within their own community.
In this book, Will states to Antwan that the gun's aim is off but it can be brought back to the true (the modern problems can be solved); indicating that Boyden has hope for his people's future.
This hope lies in the people themselves (Will can't get rid of the gun; it's his).
It does change the scope of the book when seen like this. Do you think this is what Boyden is trying to say?


message 24: by Petra (last edited May 03, 2011 10:57AM) (new)

Petra | 402 comments The point about the gun is interesting. From what you're saying, the gun allowed the owner/user to focus. In this book, the gun does the opposite; it's aim is off (by about 3 ft). So, it's not so much focusing on an event but shifting away from it.
Also, Will can't give the gun away. He tries but no one will take it. It's a burden(?) that he has to carry with him (and that the future family has to carry?).

I almost hesitate to say this but doesn't this book weaken the First Nation people by keeping them in their isolated community and showing that they cannot leave/integrate themselves into modern society? The book gave me the idea that the author thought the First Nation People do not have this opportunity of choice because they cannot adapt, so they continue in their isolation.

(view spoiler)


message 23: by Shannon (new)

Shannon (sianin) | 107 comments Petra wrote: "I finished this book today. Can't say I liked it much. It has beautiful descriptions of the country and life in the woods but....really.....the story dragged and only plodded forward.
Has everyon..."


Sorry that you didn't like it Petra. I agree his descriptions were wonderful. I did like the story but parts of it I felt could have been edited to move them along a bit but perhaps the overall tone was meant to mimic experience and that is that sometimes things do plod in life.

I like your observations about the black spruce. I agree they do seem to represent all of those things.

Regarding the gun, I felt that it really was minor to this book but is much more important in Three Day Road. The gun comes to the family during World War 1 (I believe) where Will's grandfather takes it from a German sniper who has been freakishly accurate as he picks off Will's grandfather's troop. Will and his buddy end up being expert snipers themselves and they and experience life changing things often through the scope of that gun. I don't want ot say more because a) I don't want to ruin the story and b) I am not eloquent enough to say what I mean in a way that will make you want ot read the book. The book was better than Through Black Spruce in my opinion (and I really did like TBS).

It sounds like everyone is finished reading it now if you do have more thoughts on it...


message 22: by Shannon (new)

Shannon (sianin) | 107 comments VWrulesChick wrote: "I am almost done - hoping to finish tonight. Then I can discuss.

Here is another question:

Will tells the stories of his three plane crashes. What do they represent to his character, and to w..."


I think more than anything the three plane crashes remind us that Will is used to living near death and that he has always pulled through in the past. This is what gives us hope and reason to believe that he will pull through this experience as well.


message 21: by Shannon (new)

Shannon (sianin) | 107 comments VWrulesChick wrote: "Annie is surprised to find a tight-knit Native community living beneath the overpasses of Toronto and to hear DJ Butterfoot mixing Native songs with modern beats. Discuss the role that old traditions play in contemporary society."

I really liked the way that Boyden brought the traditional into contemporary and rural into urban. I think it did it all with a just hand - actually his whole treatment of modern reserve living was done justly without any over the top dramatics, or blaming it was just matter-of-fact and I thought that was great. I did like the communities under the bridge and I suspect it would be a surprise for a number of people what a society it really is living on the streets.

Doesn't really answer your question but really just my own observations.


message 20: by VWrulesChick (last edited May 02, 2011 11:25AM) (new)

VWrulesChick | 995 comments I am almost done - hoping to finish tonight. Then I can discuss.

Here is another question:

Will tells the stories of his three plane crashes. What do they represent to his character, and to what extent does his own hubris play a part in those crashes?


message 19: by Petra (new)

Petra | 402 comments I finished this book today. Can't say I liked it much. It has beautiful descriptions of the country and life in the woods but....really.....the story dragged and only plodded forward.
Has everyone finished? I don't want to give away any spoilers by discussing points that haven't been read yet.

Getting back to the questions:
I think the gun represents Family (past, present, maybe future) and the protectiveness & sense of belonging that family gives to one; but especially protection. That gun always got the Family out of a bind.
The spruce, too, seem to be part of the family. They protect, watch over, share & hide secrets, feed, etc. They keep the family together in those ways. They're also barriers.


message 18: by Petra (new)

Petra | 402 comments That's the section I'm on now, VW.
I'm having trouble with Annie's story. I'm just not that interested in what's happening to her. However, I'm really interested in Will's story. I'm hoping that Annie's story picks up again.


message 17: by VWrulesChick (new)

VWrulesChick | 995 comments Question: Will undergoes a significant physical transformation during his time in the woods, and Annie finds herself turning into a shadow of her sister while in New York City. How do their physical changes reflect their spiritual changes?


message 16: by Shannon (new)

Shannon (sianin) | 107 comments I read this a couple of years ago now but as I think more about it, one of the things I loved was the healing power of story-telling.

I also really liked that it was an honest look at how many aboriginal communities are without laying blame or being over the top.

Re. the black spruce, I agree they are a barrier but like a gate, or iron fence or curtain. One you can see through to the other side but one tha tis not easy to pass through. If you see black spruce, they grow like that too. In each instance I think the black spruce are protecting the passsage of different things. Culture, afterlife, and probably more but I can't remember now. (Sorry that my commetns are not as detailed as I would like but I am not actually rereading it - just remembering).

Re. the gun, if you like through black sprice then go back and read Three Day Road. that is where the gun comes from. (We can discuss more once you are all finished reading).

Julia, what an unusual tourist trip you did. when others were choosing Hawaii you chose Moosenee? Good for you and yes, I think having any experience iwth the landscape makes the story more real and the setting tangible.


message 15: by Petra (new)

Petra | 402 comments VWrulesChick wrote: "Question: The gun that Will inherits from his father is described as “a rifle he’d lost but that had come back” and “a burden, not a gift” (p. 50). Discuss the gun’s history and what it represents ..."

Does the gun come back into the story? I'm in Chapter 5 and the gun has been mentioned once.
It might represent Will's family past, as it was his father's gun and it's mentioned that the gun is very old, which may mean that it was his grandfather's gun, too?
Perhaps the "burden" of the gun are the family secrets that follow each generation.
I'll be keeping an ear out for more mention of it.


message 14: by Petra (new)

Petra | 402 comments Shannon wrote: "Through Black Spruce is not different. As you are reading think about the title and when you are done let me know if you like the title and what you think it means. ..."

Shannon, so far, I see the Black Spruce trees are a barrier. Not sure yet if they are keeping the traditions in or whether they are keeping the White man's world out.
They're also somewhat representative (perhaps) of the difficulties that the Indians face with the drugs, alcohol, isolation, etc. If they can break through the trees (their problems), they can enter a larger, freer world?


message 13: by VWrulesChick (last edited Apr 18, 2011 04:42PM) (new)

VWrulesChick | 995 comments Petra wrote: ""Your mother is a good woman but she’s been weakened by Oprah."

"I’ve tasted beluga; too oily, give me KFC anyday."..."


Thanks for the quotes - I am just getting into the book

Here is another question for the group to ponder:

Annie is surprised to find a tight-knit Native community living beneath the overpasses of Toronto and to hear DJ Butterfoot mixing Native songs with modern beats. Discuss the role that old traditions play in contemporary society.


message 12: by Petra (new)

Petra | 402 comments Shannon, what a great Christmas tree story! I don't think I've ever heard a Black Spruce story. Thanks for sharing!

(I've never chopped my own Christmas tree, either. That must be fun!)


message 11: by Petra (new)

Petra | 402 comments "Your mother is a good woman but she’s been weakened by Oprah."

"I’ve tasted beluga; too oily, give me KFC anyday."


This is turning into an interesting story. It seems to revolve around Indians being torn or pulled by the coming together of "tradition" and "modern White world".
I'm looking forward to my commute home. I'm listening to this book on audio in the car.


message 10: by Shannon (new)

Shannon (sianin) | 107 comments I agree they do show up often and I think have some commonalities to them for each person but come to represent something more than just trees.

(I remember reading this a year and a half ago and we had a black spruce for a Christmas tree - hiking through the snow to find it was interesting as it gave the book that much more immediacy for me).


message 9: by Petra (new)

Petra | 402 comments Just started listening to this book today. I like the Narrator's tone of voice and his peaceful, calm way of speaking the voice of Will Bird.

Shannon, already the Black Spruces of the area are a feature in the book. In the first chapter, Will speaks of flying his plane through the black spruces and in the beginning of the second chapter, his niece Annie looks out the window to the spruces. They seem to be a large feature in this book, with people noticing them every day.


message 8: by VWrulesChick (new)

VWrulesChick | 995 comments Question: When Annie goes to the big city, she is often mistaken for her sister Suzanne. How does this affect her sense of identity and the journey she undertakes?


message 7: by VWrulesChick (new)

VWrulesChick | 995 comments OK - I will. Thanks for the insight re: gun


message 6: by Shannon (new)

Shannon (sianin) | 107 comments I think the gun's history will be hard to discuss unless Three Day Road was read first.

I have to say that I love Boyden's titles. Through Black Spruce is not different. As you are reading think about the title and when you are done let me know if you like the title and what you think it means.


message 5: by Petra (new)

Petra | 402 comments Gracious! The book is still "in transit"!
I hope to be joining you soon.


message 4: by VWrulesChick (new)

VWrulesChick | 995 comments Petra wrote: "I'll be joining in soon. The book is "in transit" from the library. I should have it by early next week."

NO worries...I just picked up my library copy today. :) I am looking forward to reading this book!


message 3: by Petra (new)

Petra | 402 comments I'll be joining in soon. The book is "in transit" from the library. I should have it by early next week.


message 2: by VWrulesChick (new)

VWrulesChick | 995 comments Question: The gun that Will inherits from his father is described as “a rifle he’d lost but that had come back” and “a burden, not a gift” (p. 50). Discuss the gun’s history and what it represents to Will and his family.


message 1: by VWrulesChick (last edited Apr 01, 2011 10:42AM) (new)

VWrulesChick | 995 comments Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden

April 2011 Canadian Author Challenge for the group - Have you read this book? Well then, you are in luck as we have some questions for you. You can answer any or all the suggested questions below. Plus, you add questions to the group about the book/characters.

Have fun and discuss with the other group members!


How did you experience the book? Were you engaged immediately, or did it take you a while to "get into it"?

Describe the main characters — their personality traits, motivations, inner qualities. Are their actions justified? Do you admire or disapprove of them?

Do the main characters change by the end of the book? Do they grow, or come to learn something about themselves and how the world works?

Is the plot engaging? Does the story interest you? Is this a plot-driven book: a fast-paced page-turner? Or does the story unfold slowly with a focus on character development?

What main ideas/themes does the author explore? (Don't forget to talk about the title, often a it's clue to a novel's theme.)

What passages strike you as insightful, profound or even funny?

Is the ending satisfying? If so, why? If not, why not... and how would you change it?


Please discuss below....


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Books mentioned in this topic

Through Black Spruce (other topics)
Three Day Road (other topics)