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The Back of the Turtle

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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.

In The Back of the Turtle, Gabriel returns to Smoke River, the reserve where his mother grew up and to which she returned with Gabriel’s sister. The reserve is deserted after an environmental disaster killed the population, including Gabriel’s family, and the wildlife. Gabriel, a brilliant scientist working for DowSanto, created GreenSweep, and indirectly led to the crisis. Now he has come to see the damage and to kill himself in the sea. But as he prepares to let the water take him, he sees a young girl in the waves. Plunging in, he saves her, and soon is saving others. Who are these people with their long black hair and almond eyes who have fallen from the sky?

Filled with brilliant characters, trademark wit, wordplay and a thorough knowledge of native myth and story-telling, this novel is a masterpiece by one of our most important writers.

518 pages, Hardcover

First published August 12, 2014

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About the author

Thomas King

178 books1,107 followers
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 University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, and at the University of Minnesota. He is currently a Professor of English at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. King has become one of the foremost writers of fiction about Canada's Native people.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 355 reviews
Profile Image for BrokenTune.
750 reviews202 followers
February 17, 2016
"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 me laugh and makes me think; that has me in despair over mankind and, yet, leaves a lot of room for hope.

The story, or rather stories, of The Back of the Turtle deal with the aftermath of an environmental disaster, referred to as The Ruin. Bit by bit, the individual stories of the characters reveal how the Ruin was caused and how the characters were involved in or affected by it.

We get to meet Gabriel who attempts to end his life but instead ends up rescuing a girl from drowning in the sea. We meet Sonny, a boy who has lost his dad and spends his solitary days looking for salvage. We meet Mr Crisp, who is an old sea-dog and a storyteller. We meet Mara, an artist who returns to the reserve only to be confronted with the loss of her family. And we meet Dorian, the CEO, who is the loneliest of all of them.

Even though it might sound like a depressing plot, I loved being transported into the world of this story. King's writing was superbly observant of his characters' moods, and this in turn was expressed in some great dialogues. His mocking portrayal of the hapless corporate machine made me laugh out loud quite a few times.

In contrast to this, he created the group of downbeat underdogs, who despite the devastation caused by the Ruin don't give up searching for ways to return to their way of life. Again, I would have expected this aspect to be quite somber, and while it did make me think, King kept the plot spirited and quite fun - after all, the events described in The Back of the Turtle ring true enough, are real enough, that they might happen any day, and what could possible be more serious than that?

"THE light vanished, and the colours dimmed and died on the canvas. Mara put the brush down. She hadn't accomplished much, but tomorrow she would do a little more. And, after that, a little more. Until Lily and Rose and baby Riel came back to life.
There it was.
Standing at the easel, looking at what she had created, Mara realized that she might have found a purpose, something that would help her make the world whole again."
Profile Image for Wanda Pedersen.
1,860 reviews370 followers
July 21, 2015
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 crime, intending to see the devastation he caused and to commit suicide. However good he may be at creating toxic substances (the ironically named GreenSweep), he is not very good at self-destruction. He meets a woman who used to live on the Smoke River Reserve that was closed after The Ruin (Mara), the keeper of the hotsprings who speaks in biblical phraseology (Nicholas Crisp), and a young boy who survives by salvaging items from the beach (Sonny).

You cannot help but care for all of these people, who are finding their way in the wake of the disaster, taking care of each other to greater or lesser extents. Their stories are in marked contrast to the CEO of the company which caused the disaster, Dorian who runs Domidion. King takes a lot of pokes at our current system of capitalism through the life of Dorian. One of Dorian’s main scientists has gone missing and can’t be found (that would be Gabriel). Two dams on tailings ponds in the Athabasca area have broken, releasing toxic sludge into the Mackenzie River system and eventually the Arctic Ocean. While investigating this disaster, the media learns of the defection of Gabriel and the connection to GreenSweep and the Smoke River Reserve—Dorian is only saved from disaster by the advent of a bigger news story. But his wife has left him and he is reduced to shopping to try to make himself feel better. We witness his random purchases—expensive ties, extravagant watches, exclusive scent. When he arrives home and is still sad, he attributes the feeling to the fact that he did not buy TWO watches, when really how many watches can one person wear? He truly is the poor little rich man.

Despite its very intelligent swipes at capitalism, environmental problems, consumerism and the like, this is a highly engaging, highly entertaining work which will leave you with a good feeling about the world.
Profile Image for Debbie Zapata.
1,779 reviews35 followers
August 14, 2022
Aug 12, 845am ~~ Review asap.

Aug 14, 230pm ~~ This is one of those books that I loved but have a little trouble thinking of a coherent way to talk about.

WOW seems too simple, so I will at least try to say something more sensible.

I am reading King as a little personal project during this third quarter of the year. This is the second-to-last book I have at the moment, but when I finished this one I ordered three others I had overlooked. A book of poetry, another novel, and what is described as a non-fiction. The idea was to read them next year but I imagine I will dive into one as soon as they all arrive and I can decide which should be first in line.

Well, see this isn't working all that great, is it. I wanted to talk about THIS book.

Let's start again.

The Back Of The Turtle is a masterpiece that weaves together themes from many of King's earlier books. I could see that more readily because of my recent readings of so many older titles.

The creation story, the environmental concerns, the need for community in order to survive, the foolishness of money money money and buy buy buy. (Naturally King expresses it all much more eloquently.)

There is a scientist with a guilty conscience. An artist who has no desire to paint. A young man who misses his dead father and the turtles that used to lay eggs on the beach. An older man who seems to know everything. A dog who DOES know everything. and an evil capitalist who is only happy spending obscene amounts of money.

I have absolutely loved Thomas King since I first discovered him. But if you can only read one book of his, please read this one.

I am back to WOW.

Profile Image for Krista.
1,366 reviews541 followers
January 24, 2015
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, picking up the beat and raising the pitch, so that his voice carried above the slicing surf. The sun was in full force now, the sky blue and polished. It was going to be a good day.

Thus are we introduced to Gabriel: a stranger new to Samaritan Bay, bent on suicide by ocean tide until his singing seems to conjure people from the waves that he must rescue; perhaps auguring a new beginning; a "time for the twins to walk the earth again and restore the balance that had been lost". And although The Back of the Turtle is told from the alternating points of view of five different characters, this book seems to be Gabriel's story most of all as he reveals and confronts his own past and the terrible results of his life's work.

Samaritan Bay used to be a popular tourist destination on the B.C. coast, with people flocking to see the annual hatching of baby sea turtles. But then The Ruin happened: the Smoke River ran bright green and killed everything it coursed through; including the turtle nesting grounds; including a large swath of the ocean where the river meets the sea; including a Native Reserve which became so contaminated that those people who weren't killed were dispersed to other Reserves, their own land condemned in perpetuity. As Gabriel discovered back in his life as a biochemist in Toronto, it was an industrial accident with the uncontrollable defoliant he had developed -- known as GreenSweep and never approved for real world use -- that poisoned the Smoke River and eventually had devastatingly personal results for him; small wonder he turns up in Samaritan Bay, climbing the rocky pillars known locally as the Apostles, ready to make a sacrifice of himself. Having saved the sea people and lost the high tide for now, Gabriel gets to know some of the locals as he waits for it to return: locals like the curiously named Nicholas Crisp (with a bald head and "a red beard that floated around his face like a cloud on fire" making Gabriel fancy "the fellow had somehow got his head on upside down"), who speaks even curiouser, here in conversation with Gabriel:

"The Apostles is good exercise at low tide, if ye have no aversion to climbing about on carcasses and bones. But watch your back. The sea's a shifty slut. She'll tide in behind and suck ye up in a salty slurp."

"I'm not sure how long I'll stay."

"There's wisdom enough in that for shirts and pants to fit us all."

Gabriel also meets Sonny, the young proprietor of the perpetually vacant Ocean Star Motel, and as Crisp describes him, "The boy's poorly lit, but a sweet neighbour" (think of a cross between Norman Bates of Psycho and Tom Cullen of The Stand). Always on the lookout for salvage on "his beach", Sonny carries a pouch with a hammer, wire cutters and a multi-head screwdriver that jig-jig-jiggles against his thigh as he walks and picks up interesting items:

Sonny holds the drum to his nose and discovers that it smells like bacon. Not exactly like bacon, but something tasty that has smoke and fat in it. He can't wait to show Dad the drum. When Sonny shows Dad the drum, Dad will surely take him in his arms and say, Behold my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.

Wham-wham, hammer-hammer.

Gabriel also meets Mara -- a Native woman who had been living in Toronto, working as an artist, when The Ruin happened, who has returned to the community to confront her own guilt about abandoning her mother and grandmother on the Reserve -- and Soldier, an apparently talking dog (if Crisp's translations are to be trusted).

Meanwhile, back in Toronto, we meet Dorian Asher: the cartoonish paragon of corporate capitalism; the CEO of Domidion (a villainous conglomerate -- part Monsanto, part BP -- housed in an underground concrete bunker); and Gabriel's former boss. Dorian responds to environmental and human disasters in terms of dollars and PR, and soothes stress with luxury shopping sprees. When Dorian learns that a tanker ship of GreenSweep has been lost at sea, he's happy that he won't need to keep looking for a Third World country to take it off his hands for containment (even though he's well aware of the devastation it will cause in the ocean and that there is a crew involved); when he learns that a tailings pond in Athabasca has failed, spilling heavy metals into the waterways, Dorian goes on a PR blitz (making a sordid comparison to the NRA's aggressive reaction to the gun control efforts after the Sandy Hook school shootings), and when he learns that the only human casualties resultant from this pollution are on Reserves, he's satisfied that he'll be able to blur the line of culpability by blaming the known high-mortality-rate-due-to-lifestyle among Natives; even flipping through a Sports Illustrated that recalls the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction, Dorian comes to an odd conclusion:

World hunger can't make the back page of TV Guide, but an almost bare breast can destroy the morality of a nation. Dorian shook his head. No wonder democracy and Christianity had been such failures.

A few implausibilities: I recall that in The Inconvenient Indian, Thomas King described "Christianity as the gateway drug to supply-side capitalism" and he had little respect for either -- and as a Native, that seems fair enough -- but would Dorian plausibly think that democracy and Christianity had been failures? Would an executive involved in extracting oil in Athabasca refer to them as the "tar sands"? When Mara looks at the abandoned Reserve where she grew up, she notes that it is ringed now with barbed wire, with a school bus parked to block the entrance, upon which someone had spray-painted "Indians go home". Would even the lowest of a low-life redneck ignoramus paint "Indians go home" at the entrance to a Reserve?

I make the complaint about implausibilities because this book could have been more compelling without the exaggerations. Gabriel and Mara were both interesting and complex characters and their paths back from guilt and depression would have been more effective if their situations had been completely honest -- the over-the-top depiction of Dorian Asher (whose sections were often funny and bitingly satirical, arguably making him the most interesting character in the book) detracted from what could have been a powerful message: there certainly are environmental disasters occurring, which disproportionately affect marginalised people, but if the guy responsible is portrayed as Goldfinger or Dr. Evil, it's easy to dismiss his actions as either sensationalism or propaganda (which, perversely, gives him a free pass to behave as he likes).

I wish that there had been more backstory for Crispin and Sonny -- as the only two white men portrayed on the West Coast, their eccentricities could have been better explained -- but I totally believed and empathised with Mara's story. On the other hand, there seemed to be blanks in Gabriel's history: I have no idea why he and his father moved to Minnesota together, leaving his mother and sister behind in Lethbridge (described as "small town cruel", which can also be explained by information in The Inconvenient Indian) or why the women would then disappear to B.C.; there are hints as to how Stanford educated the ethics out of Gabriel, but I would have liked more information about his job at Domidion, to learn if he was conflicted at all in the moment; and writing the names of man-made disasters all over the walls of his home before running away seems like the act of an unhinged man, but that's not really the Gabriel that we meet (despite the suicidal impulses).

Thomas King is certainly a gifted writer and I believe that he was sincere in his efforts to write an important message book here, but as so often happens with such projects, the ultimate value of the message is in the hands of the reader: those who agree with his politics (those who would say "tar sands" instead of "oil sands") will likely rate The Back of the Turtle higher than those who bristle at such usage. The plot here had many, many interesting developments (even if they weren't exactly surprising), fine characters, and King is positively lyrical when writing about nature. In the final analysis, I found this book to be flawed but human; an interesting contribution to the national conversation.
Profile Image for Shane.
Author 11 books253 followers
January 4, 2015
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 calamity. And yet he has to wait until the tide rises higher to succeed in his mission. In the meantime, he comes across a motley band of survivors who give him a reason to reconsider his decision: Crisp the archaic-tongued philosopher who knows the history of the place, Mara who is painting the images of dead people in order to recapture what existed before the fateful event, Soldier the dog who follows Gabriel faithfully, Sonny the boy who is building a tower on the beach to bring the sea creatures back, and the mysterious sea people who keep coming out of the waves and disappearing.

On the other side of the country, Gabriel’s boss, Dorian, the CEO of Domidion, the company responsible for the defoliant, peregrinates through his empty life, heading off other environmental disasters caused by the company, shopping extravagantly to justify his wealth, roaming the streets at night to discover himself, looking for the perfect condominium investment, and trying to find out why his wife is intent on divorcing him.

Between these circular perambulations, King gets to make comments on the ills facing our industrialized society: “agricultural research pursued for profit leads to environmental disaster,” “there are too many rich and poor” (i.e. the hollowing out of the middle class), “capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all,” “we need more guns, not less,”“a lie oft repeated becomes a truth,” and “democracy offers its enemies a means of destroying it.”

But natural evolution trumps human-induced disaster and the turtles start returning to the island, along with all those who had fled. Even the defoliant carrying vessel makes a re-appearance on Samaritan Bay before breaking adrift and heading back from whence it had come. The mystery of the sea people is solved, and Gabriel discovers that sleeping with a woman is not that bad an experience, while his boss finds out that sleeping alone is the best course open to him.

I found the characters enjoyable, even Dorian is charming in his way, and I did not mind spending time with them in this rather slow-paced novel that moves through all the principal characters’ POV in circular fashion. Just as I finished reading, I read in the newspaper that the author had won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction for this novel, and I thought that this was astute upon the part of the judges to highlight a book that brings most of our current political pre-occupations to the forefront and addresses them in a non-didactic fashion: the harsh treatment of native populations, the pollution of the environment, corporate greed, and the silencing of the scientific community. And King rounds it off by having the human spirit triumph above all these challenges.

Profile Image for Steven Langdon.
Author 9 books47 followers
November 24, 2014
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 and a scathing urgency that provoke superb satire and a crucial environmental critique. The award to this novel will underline the importance of Canadians reading it.

At the heart of this book is a small B.C. Indian reserve, just beside the fictional coastal settlement of Samaritan Bay. Previously a sanctuary for turtles and other wildlife, it has been virtually wiped out, people included, through the mistaken application of an Agent Orange type defoliant called GreenSweep by the giant Canadian multinational Domidion. This is the same corporation, as the book opens, that is suddenly experiencing dangerous outflows of toxic sludge from its holding pools into the Athabasca River in Alberta associated with tar sands oil production. The novel plots how a series of sharply sketched characters move through the days that follow -- there is aboriginal Gabriel the genius scientist who developed the defoliant, fought against its release, then deserted the company to flee secretly to the stricken reserve where he now plans a guilty suicide -- there is Mara the aboriginal artist who had fled the reserve and has now returned, also afflicted by guilt at her absence when disaster hit and by new doubts over her attraction to Gabriel -- there is Crisp the white keeper of the local hot springs who has his own source of guilt since he did not contact Gabriel as soon as he should have when the scientist's estranged sister asked him to -- and then there is Dorian Asher the self-centred and narcissistic CEO of Domidion who is a focus of blistering amusement and contempt for author King. The latter is a man who doesn't read, who cannot get any enjoyment from the arts, who is untouched emotionally by his wife leaving him in the middle of the book, and whose deepest agonies focus on whether to buy one or two luxury watches.

Asher is the most obvious figure of ridicule in this sharp-edged book. But it is fair to say that King is generally dismissive of the humans who populate the novel. Nowhere does Gabriel really have an explanation, even to himself, of why his beliefs in science, rooted as they were in ethical ideals, led him to the work in which he engaged and the sorts of products which he produced. Nor does Mara ever come to terms with her relationship with Gabriel. She demands that he stay, not commit suicide, for her sake. But she cannot ever seem to let herself actually reach for him. Crisp, too, is too much the gnomic observer to actually build a strong relationship, except with the dog; even the ties with Sonny his nephew seem stilted.

In the end, this is a satire about human weakness. Perhaps we are all just like shipwreck victims, the powerless figures pushed by tides and powerful waves; we ride on the backs of turtles who carry us to our fates.

Maybe this should be seen as a book about the power of nature itself -- of the non-human forces that have a resilience and strength of endurance that many people lack. Perhaps the real hero of this book is Big Red, the giant turtle that King seems to suggest may even have made her way all across the country from Toronto to the ocean in B.C. This, then, is not just a book about the threats to the environment that come from our irresponsible corporate sector, our misguided politics and our easily distracted media (though these are all targets for King.) This is also a novel with some sense of hopefulness, based on the drive for survival that nature embodies.
Profile Image for pennyg.
654 reviews20 followers
February 17, 2023
A wonderfully entertaining novel about a corporate industrial disaster that has polluted the air and water of a town or reserve of indigenous people, killing them and the wildlife among them and the corporate greed and government apathy that caused it. One of the scientists responsible lost his family in the disaster and returns to face a reckoning.

Doesn't sound very funny but it's written with such wit and the most marvelous characters. This is my first Thomas King but certainly not my last. Highly recommend. Couldn't help but think of the small town of East Palestine, Ohio, while reading this, hoping for the best.
Profile Image for Carolyn Walsh .
1,472 reviews597 followers
July 11, 2017
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 his suicide. It is interrupted when he sees a girl with almond shaped eyes and long black hair who appears to be drowning. She must have fallen from the sky into the sea. This resembles Native creation folk lore about a woman who fell from the sky. Gabriel rescues her and then others appear thrashing in the water. He struggles to save them, and exhausted discovers they have all vanished. Magic realism or something else?
The tide is now wrong for his suicide, so he must wait. We learn that Gabriel was a brilliant scientist who developed a defoliant called Green Sweep. This was used by a company called Domidon to remove vegetation around a pipeline, and was never approved for use. Gabriel has come to the town of Samaritan Bay on the BC coast.
This town was a popular tourist destination where people flocked to see the annual hatching of the baby turtles and their journey to the sea. Then came the 'Ruin' when the rivers and sea became poisoned, destroying the turtle nesting ground, fish, animals and sea birds. Stores and other businesses shut down. A nearby Native Reservation was horribly affected. Many died and the survivors were moved away. Gabriel's mother and sister were among those who died.
Gabriel feels guilty and depressed. He decides to visit the few people who remain in the town while he awaits suicide. We and Gabriel meet Sonny, a sweet young boy, who may be intellectually challenged, psychotic, or both. Sonny lives in the vacant motel and spends time scavenging on the beach and tapping with a hammer. There is Crisp, an eccentric, older man who spends time soaking in the hot pools. His way of expressing himself is lyrical and one of the most entertaining part of the book. Mara, a native woman, has returned to the reservation from Toronto where she was an artist. Her mother and grandmother died when the reservation was poisoned. There is also Soldier, a dog, who attaches himself to each character.
The story shifts to Darian, the CEO of Domidon in Toronto. He seems to care little for the environmental damage and human deaths caused. He is scrambling and scheming to do damage control through lies while twisting and minimizing the facts. He combats stress by daily purchasing extravagant goods and services or thinking what to buy next.
As Sonny, Mara, Crisp and Gabriel interact the story heads to an interesting and exciting climax. Gabriel is again sitting on a ledge waiting for the tide to sweep him away. The ending was unexpected as we learn the reason for the interruption of his previous suicide attempt at the start of the book. There are hopeful signs pointing to the future rebirth of Samaritan Bay.
Profile Image for Megan Baxter.
985 reviews656 followers
November 10, 2016
...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 effect of the profit margin above environment impact. Or really, any impact.)

Note: The rest of this review has been withheld due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
Author 2 books5 followers
September 30, 2014
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 and victims each have their sub-stories and the result is a fast-paced book that, despite its 518 pages, I finished in 2 days.
Profile Image for cenobyte.
51 reviews5 followers
July 17, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Jessica Pratezina.
23 reviews5 followers
February 8, 2018
I didn't enjoy this book as much as I hoped. The main thing I didn't like was that it seemed to be a story about Indigenous Peoples vs. science. Like you can't be a scientist and be Indigenous without betraying yourself. Also I felt the portrayal of the super-rich Mr. Asher to be off. In the end nothing much happens and the characters don't really change. The environmental themes were timely, but the execution left me unmoved.
Profile Image for Chantel.
366 reviews156 followers
April 23, 2022
I enjoyed reading this story. Though the book itself was long at around 500 pages, the way that the chapters were broken up helped ease the progression of the story so that it didn't feel treacherously long. In this same breath, I appreciated that the chapters were short. Though, there is something to be said for longer chapters & the way they allow for the inclusion of further thought & dialogue; these shorter chapters worked well with the story & the amount the reader was able to experience at any given time.

This is a strange aspect to try & explain but, I didn't feel as though the characters were very complex. The focus of this story was the events that transpired due to human decisions & explorations in science rather than the detailed experienced of each character which meant that none of them were very complicated to understand or imagine.

For example, Gabriel is filled with guilt after having taken part in the scientific research & execution of a product that lead to the destruction of an entire community of people & wildlife. His desire to go to the land which he participated in destroying with the intention of burying himself along with his family, is not complicated to understand.

Though the characters might slightly appear to be acting in a random fashion, once you understand the basic gist of the storyline, none of their actions or reactions are very overwhelming or shocking. This is a factor that I did appreciate because it does ring true to so many aspects of our own lives & communities.

Overall, this book was well-written. It's not a complex story nor is it necessarily shocking. However, I do think the intention is partly for the reader to finish the book & reflect on all the ways that the destruction of nature in this story has also been present in our realities.

Life/nature does find a way to heal itself though it is constantly being stunted by the inabilities of the general populace. Perhaps someone might read this story & decide to be better; to pay closer attention to the earth that houses us & to the animals with whom we share this home & this life.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Shirley Schwartz.
1,111 reviews59 followers
December 27, 2014
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 full of lifelike characters living real-life lives-with humour, pathos, sadness, depression, hope and many other human emotions. They live and breathe on the page because of his skill. King's description of native emotions and folklore s evocative and haunting. We also get an insider's look at big oil and agricultural companies and how they travel roughshod over our environment, and this appalling and insightful probe into the big issues in the environment is handled with a light hand and a twist of humour. The book ends on a surge of hopefulness when we see life returning to a tiny decimated seaside community. I highly recommend this book. Thomas King is a Canadian treasure.

Profile Image for April.
330 reviews
December 3, 2014
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!
Profile Image for Jenn.
38 reviews
February 24, 2015
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.
Profile Image for Diana.
Author 1 book3 followers
November 13, 2018
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.
Profile Image for emily | pagewraith.
101 reviews25 followers
December 31, 2014
Madly intelligent and intricate. A story stuffed full of connections and themes and depth. Impressive.
Profile Image for Cathryn Wellner.
Author 21 books16 followers
April 12, 2016
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 novel, when I was actually reading a post-horrible-environmental-accident novel. That is a different kettle of fish, no less appalling for those in the path but not engaging the entire planet.

The characters were compellingly described, the forward thrust of the novel engagingly written. In spite of my having to shift gears, from global disaster (what I thought at first) to regional disaster (what I came to understand), I was caught from the first page and not released until the end.

As a BC resident, I fear the impact of all the potential disasters our premier is giddily proposing for our province. Thank you, Thomas King, for taking one of those proposals to its ugly potential. Now if only our provincial politicians will read this book, internalize the excesses it proposes, and act for the planet...!
Profile Image for Noor Al-Shanti.
Author 10 books30 followers
July 2, 2018
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 all the characters to be kind of floating in a space of detachment and nothingness.

I particularly disliked Dorian and Crisp, but Sonny was also super annoying. Anyway, I kept going, because I read two of King's non-fiction books and loved them, so I kept telling myself it was going to get better, but nope. It didn't. I finally gave up at the hot springs party about half way through.

I think this is what people call literary fiction. Another reminder that I really should just stick to fantasy and sci fi. I think I've read enough to rate it - and all it gets from me is one star, but if you're in to that slow, everybody sucks and life is pointless kind of literary fiction where not much happens you might enjoy it. >.>
Profile Image for Kathleen Nightingale.
459 reviews26 followers
October 24, 2015
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 reason but it simply escaped me. Although, as arrogant an egotistical as Dorian was I did like this character, while others in my group totally disliked him. I loved the humour in the book and the writing was just fine. but I literally continue to wonder why i carried on reading the book because it told you nothing.
Profile Image for HadiDee.
1,457 reviews8 followers
March 28, 2021
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 we can sometimes save others we didn't know needed saving.

Have to go back and read his other fiction.
Profile Image for Vee.
493 reviews22 followers
December 21, 2014
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 is also a story of beautiful characters. I am fairly certain I am in love with Crisp. If you only have a chance to read one more book this year please read this one. It just might change your life.
Profile Image for Terry.
1,570 reviews
May 31, 2016
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 actually a 4.5 star rating, but I am rounding up in deference to King's body of work.
Profile Image for Emily.
12 reviews
August 17, 2022
Well written but but too slow of a pace for my taste!!
Profile Image for Eric Wright.
Author 13 books29 followers
December 23, 2014
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 missing in the Reserve, killed or forced to flee by the environmental catastrophe that destroyed all life, human, animal, plant, fish.

Far away in Toronto, Dorian, Ceo of the powerful Domidion corporation has his own personal and corporate problems. Where has Dr. Quinn (Gabriel)disappeared to and why was he collating lists of all of the corporate disasters that have plagued mankind? The scene occasionally shifts from the Smoke River Reserve to Dorian in Toronto with focus on his power, wealth, and his own rather ineptness.

King gives us a parable of the carelessness of our culture in the face of environmental dangers. Money talks, forget about future dangers.

"Science was supposed to have been the answer. World h8unger. Disease. Energy. Security. Commerce. Biolgoy would save the world. Geology would fuel the future. Physics would make sense of the universe. At one time, science had been Gabriel's answer to everything....Love. Friendship. Family. ...He could see his errors now." p. 446.
Profile Image for Mook.
344 reviews31 followers
October 1, 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 plants alike). Gabriel has come back home to kill himself. But he finds himself saving people from the sea, rediscovering the past through different eyes, and maybe finding a reason to keep living despite himself.

Thomas King is a fantastic novelist. It's easy to guess at his literary background; his work is full of references to other works, stated outright or hidden within sentences (I'm sure there were many more than the ones I spotted). The book does not have a neat resolution. There are a lot of things left hanging in the air: Domidion's responsibility for several catastophes that is never addressed, the ambiguousness of Mara and Gabriel's friendship, the hesitancy between Crisp and Sonny. But as Gabriel notes, life is rarely a neat circle. Some things can't be forgiven or forgotten - but life moves on regardless.
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