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The Back of the Turtle

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  2,644 ratings  ·  305 reviews
This is Thomas King’s first literary novel in 15 years and follows on the success of the award-winning and bestselling The Inconvenient Indian and his beloved Green Grass, Running Water and Truth and Bright Water, both of which continue to be taught in Canadian schools and universities. Green Grass, Running Water is widely considered a contemporary Canadian classic.

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Hardcover, 518 pages
Published September 2nd 2014 by HarperCollins Canada (first published August 12th 2014)
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Kyle Armstrong I never caught that! Totally! Crisp to me was Pan representing nature and Chaos. The whole goat leg thing, wild beard, Sonny (Jesus) told not to visit…moreI never caught that! Totally! Crisp to me was Pan representing nature and Chaos. The whole goat leg thing, wild beard, Sonny (Jesus) told not to visit him in the 'lakes of fire', how early paganism was villafied by Christianity and the devil shaped after Pan. (less)

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Average rating 4.09  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,644 ratings  ·  305 reviews

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Oct 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
"And he was rude," said her mother. "Told us that stories about women falling out of the sky were inappropriate in an educational setting."
"Pregnant women falling out of the sky," corrected Mara's grandmother. "Rose was always specific about that detail."
"Then he went on and told us about that naked couple in that garden," said her mother.
Mara's grandmother pursed her lips. "After that, it got ugly."

It is not often that I come across a book that appeals to me on so many levels; a book that makes
J.K. Grice
Aug 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Thomas King writes about the relationship between Native and non-Native people of North America in a humorous and thought provoking manner. My favorite thing about his books is that he raises environmental consciousness concerning natural resources and how we treat our planet. There were parts of THE BACK OF THE TURTLE that I thought were very funny and sharp as well. And yet, I felt a bit of a disconnect from most of the characters and sometimes felt the mythology and story direction were convo ...more
My first Thomas King novel, but undoubtedly not my last. When I started this novel, I was somewhat reluctant—reading something recommended, rather like taking medicine. Promised good results, but feeling it was a bit of a chore.

That feeling was completely gone within the first chapter. The cast of characters (and they are characters) are charming, even the poor CEO, Dorian, who I came to pity. The scientist, Gabriel, who obliquely caused an event known as The Ruin, comes home to the scene of the
Dec 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Couched as a lightly humorous and sweetly human tale, King takes cracks at the chemical industry, the gun lobby, capitalism and other forms of human enterprise that are degrading the planet.

A conscientious scientist, Gabriel, returns to his home to commit suicide when he discovers that his invention, used indiscriminately as a defoliant, has killed off his entire native reserve somewhere in British Columbia. All the birds and turtles have left Samaritan Bay as a result of this environmental cala
Oct 30, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014, can-con, indigenous
He turned towards the eastern mountains, angled the drum to catch the rising sun, and began a memorial song. But the elk skin was too soft now, too damp. The beats slid off, and his voice was drowned in the rushing water. In the distance he could see the dog laid out on higher ground.

And in that moment, in that moment, he thought about retreating once again.

But the path back was only memory now, all safety choked off as the sea ringed the Apostles in ink and foam.

He began the song anew, picki
Steven Langdon
Nov 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: super
The Canadian literary fiction prizes for 2014 have diverged dramatically with three different novels receiving recognition. Of the three, I have to say, I have been most pleased by this book winning the Governor General's prize. "Us Conductors," the Giller victor, is an interesting novel that will propel a new author, Sean Michaels, into prominence. "All My Puny Sorrows" by Miriam Toews, awarded the Rogers Writers Trust prize, is very emotionally powerful. This book, though, has a fierce bite an ...more
Megan Baxter
Nov 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
...So I was very glad to get back to normal fiction, written by one person with one viewpoint and writing style, and that it was Thomas King, whose Green Grass, Running Water absolutely blew my mind a couple of weeks ago was an added bonus. Add into it an edge of science fiction dystopia (just an bit, but this easily fits into the emerging "cli fi" genre, wherein climate change and the effect on the world and the landscape, are at the centre. Particularly when you look at corporations and the ef ...more
Carol Harrison
Sep 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Thomas King's wit and humour run through this book like the oil that threatens the environment--he uses it to tell a story that has important messages about the world, but not at all in a preachy way. He uses some First Nations myths, and some Christian symbolism, to tell the story of Samaritan Bay, a fictional reserve on the British Columbia coast destroyed by an error in calculation when a newly developed defoliant is used to clear vegetation around a pipeline site. The various participants an ...more
Devoured this in one day.

It reminds me a little of Neal Stephenson's "Snow Crash". Mix of light dystopian fiction and fantasy/magic realism. This book catches you by the collar, shakes you around a bit, then shouts "LISTEN". And listen you must.

We already know King is a master storyteller. But with this book, he's topped the shelves. Spend some time with this one. You'll never want to stop.
Shirley Schwartz
This is a truly wonderful book told by a master storyteller. I wasn't sure what to expect with this book, but it won the 2014 Governor General's prize for fiction, so I thought it would be worth a read. The book is absolutely stellar! King hasn't written a book for 15 years since his Canadian classic Green Grass, Running Water. Maybe it takes 15 years to create a book of this magnitude. I can't say enough good things about this book. King is a major literary talent. His stories are chock-a-block ...more
Nov 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
One of those amazing books that I'll miss for a long time, now that I'm finished. Engaging storytelling, complete with broken characters that you can feel for and a plotline riddled with suspense. Topical larger issues: environmental disaster, corporate greed, corporate takeover of education, religious ideologies. Still I was enthralled with the narrative, including word play that made you think, where "salvage" is substituted for "salvation"...

A must read--I would read it again!
Emily | lattes.and.literature
Madly intelligent and intricate. A story stuffed full of connections and themes and depth. Impressive.
Meaghan Ethier
Jul 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
What a beautiful story, and so easy to read!
Carolyn Walsh
Nov 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
4 stars
I would probably rate the book higher if I were to reread it. I very much liked the beginning and the conclusion, but got bogged down and bored at times. Now that I understand how everything fits together I would rate it higher in retrospect.
The book starts with despair, chronicles a dreadful environmental and human disaster, and ends with a glimmer of hope.
We meet Gabriel while he is waiting for the tide to sweep him out to sea to his death. He plays the drum and sings while awaiting
Cathryn Wellner
Oct 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels
Though I was captivated from the first words, I stumbled over the first half of this book. Not for a minute did I consider NOT finishing it. I loved the differing perspectives, the people caught in a web not of their spinning. But I was confused at the start. I had read nothing about the book, just picked it up from the Quick Reads shelves at the local library. I love Thomas King's writing and knew I would appreciate whatever he wrote.

But I felt as if I was in the middle of a post-apocalyptic n
Oct 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Thomas King makes me laugh while telling the truth about quite frankly awful situations and histories. This book is no different. The characters are wonderful, complete and human, from Gabriel the scientist and Mara the artist, all the way to Dorian the CEO (and even Soldier the dog!) The story is a truly awful tale of environmental disasters, how little it all matters to the big wide world, and how we can't always save the people we love. Although he does end on a note of optimism and shows how ...more
Dec 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I will admit I almost didn't read this book because I hated the cover. Then I saw it was Thomas King and the cover and title suddenly made sense. I am so glad I decided to read this book. It may very well be one of the best books I read in 2014. King's prose is so believable and seemingly inevitable that I found myself researching every disaster he mentioned. It reminds me of The Handmaid's Tale in that it is a warning of what is to come if we don't change our current mindset and practices. It i ...more
Environmental disasters caused by human greed and arrogance. Family etched with abandonment. First Nations. A resilient, determined turtle. A "dog of the world." Romance? These elements are deftly woven into a compelling tale of guilt and recompense, of connections and consequences. Much of the power of this story derives from the very gradual revealing of the connections that build the plot and the incremental character development. The patience to savor the slow pace is well rewarded. Probably ...more
Feb 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I love this man. I consistentlyl had goose bumps reading this book. Amazing. Side note: my almost two year old son is enthralled with King's picture on the back cover. It makes him smile and he laugh. I think he recognizes the big heart. ...more
Sonja Greckol
Dec 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Clever and sly. Enjoy King immensely.
Nov 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I can't say enough great things about this book!

The writing is magical, the story is gripping and it's thought provoking, surprising and beautiful all at the same time.

Can't wait to get my hands on another one of Thomas King's books.
Eric Wright
Dec 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
The reader unravels the mysteries in King's novel like peeling off the layers of a very, very large onion. Voices shift rapidly within each chapter between Gabriel, a brilliant scientist, Mara, a bossy woman, Soldier a stay dog, Sonny who runs a dilapidated motel, and Nicholas Crisp, a rascally old soul. The scene is set at the devastated Smoke River Reserve where Gabriel, the author of the environmental disaster not finding his mother and sister ineptly attempts suicide.

Almost everyone is miss
Oct 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
Sonny is energetic, confused, and determined to watch the beach for salvage and guide the turtles back to Smoke River. Crisp is generous, larger than life, and works to keep what's left of the community from falling apart. Mara paints her pain, portraits of the dead to accompany her in the deserted reservation.

And finally there is Gabriel, who has destroyed everything: his career, the reservation, his family and the lives of all those who used to live in Smoke River Reserve (human, animal, and
Noor Al-Shanti
Jul 02, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
I tried hard to like this book, but just couldn't. It started off very slow, with every little detail of food, furniture, etc, being described, but not much reason being given for me to care about the characters.

There was a little mystery to hook readers, but it was in the very background, with the main part of the novel being taken up by the characters' boring musings about the things around them. With one character, who was suicidal, I guess the pointlessness of it all made sense, but I found
Shauna Roth
Jan 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
From Page 15… “Aristotle had said that we make war so we may live in peace. Dorian wondered if the old Greek had ever realized just how wrong he had been. We make war so that we may destroy our enemies. We make war so that we may control resources and markets, and make money.”

Page 157… “The fog had thickened. Someone else might have gotten lost, but Mara’s feet knew the path. Even in the dark she could travel the land on the rhythms of the ground and found her way there and back.”

Like the lyrics
Aug 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Thomas King's The Back of the Turtle is a rare gem that explores topical themes like environmental destruction, corporate corruption, and the legacy of colonialism without letting the reader lose hope. The book takes place after an environmental catastrophe has destroyed a small coastal town, driving away the turtles and the tourists, killing residents of the local reserve and leaving much of the area deserted.

With wit and tenderness, and copious references to both Shakespeare and Indigenous my
Jun 17, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I haven't read Thomas King before so had no basis in comparison. I do know that An Inconvenient Indian has had stellar reviews and feedback so I expected good things from this, his first fiction work in 15 years.

It was a difficult start and took some time for me to find the groove of his writing style; I found the changes in time periods a bit confusing sometimes each paragraph was in a different age! But, once I got the style of Mr King's writing I was completely immersed in this strange world
Katarina Ross
Oct 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book is easy to read, with its short chapters and accessible language. It is also a very interesting read. The characters are intriguing, both in their own right and in conjunction with other characters. The subject matter is very relevant to our times, the primary concern being the degradation of human rights and the environment.

It is a story of humans, from many segments of life who each bring their perspective to bear on the world that they face. Everyone is sympathetic and no one is per
Mar 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Book 3/45. I am so behind on my reading goal. whoopsie!!!
Anyhow, I love this book. Mr. King is probably my favourite Canadian author due to his wit, flow, and creativity. The Back of the Turtle does a great job looking at the environmental and community impact of toxic spills/deliberate contamination, especially in vulnerable communities. Although I am pro on GMO technology when studied and safety checked (for our food it very much is, I don't know about modifying bacteria as a defoliant though)
Kathleen Nightingale
Why was this book written?
How did it ever get published?
Why are there anal readers like myself who continue to read this book to find a reason?

Mr. King has written some wonderful books. I have had the opportunity of meeting him at book signings/readings and he is delightful. Loved his wife. he is full of wisdom and I adore his sense of humour. There truly was no point to this book, it was 520 pages full of information solving nothing, engaging the characters in nothingness. There must of been a
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Thomas King was born in 1943 in Sacramento, California and is of Cherokee, Greek and German descent. He obtained his PhD from the University of Utah in 1986. He is known for works in which he addresses the marginalization of American Indians, delineates "pan-Indian" concerns and histories, and attempts to abolish common stereotypes about Native Americans. He taught Native American Studies at the U ...more

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