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Three Day Road

(Bird Family Trilogy)

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  23,016 ratings  ·  1,803 reviews
It is 1919, and Niska, the last Oji-Cree woman to live off the land, has received word that one of the two boys she saw off to the Great War has returned. Xavier Bird, her sole living relation, is gravely wounded and addicted to morphine. As Niska slowly paddles her canoe on the three-day journey to bring Xavier home, travelling through the stark but stunning landscape of ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published March 14th 2006 by Penguin Canada (first published March 17th 2005)
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Míchílín I am interested in this same topic from a Canadian perspective. I wouldn't recommend Boyden at all to satiate this curiosity as he has recently been o…moreI am interested in this same topic from a Canadian perspective. I wouldn't recommend Boyden at all to satiate this curiosity as he has recently been outed as an imposter. Of course, anyone with an understanding of First Nations literature on Turtle Island would have been able to tell just by reading Boyden's books that he doesn't really have any First Nations heritage -- he writes very much in the tradition of CanLit where conflict with nature is a major theme in contrast to FN authors for whom connection to the land is almost always a central theme. Boyden is not an authentic voice in the project of #Reconciliation.

If you're looking for First Nations authors describing the Canadian context, I recommend Richard Wagamese first and foremost as he manages to tell the painful truth about colonialism in Canada while keeping you rolling on the floor with laughter. _Keeper'n Me_ and _Indian Horse_ should be required reading in all high schools in Canada. Thomas King is another great FN storyteller with much literary merit and conscious things to say. I would start with these two.

It's also interesting to contrast with the US experience as the British learned from watching the bloody "Indian Wars" in the US that the deceit of treaties would be the path of least resistance to obtaining land on the portion of Turtle Island now known as Canada. Also, many nations were artificially divided by the US-Canadian border and that is an ongoing issue on both sides of it today. There was a time, for example, where a Mohawk woman from Ontario would lose her Indian Status if she married a Mohawk man from New York. Two of my favourite FN authors writing in the US side of Turtle Island are Sherman Alexie and Leslie Marmon Silko.(less)
Jennifer I’m not sure which version of In Search of April Raintree would be appropriate but both that book and the are great.
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 ·  23,016 ratings  ·  1,803 reviews

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"My body hums with Nephew’s pain and with the realization that he has come home only to die."

Xavier Bird has returned to northern Ontario after living through the hell of the fighting and trenches of WWI. He is wounded, dispirited, and addicted to morphine. The one soul who still cares for him in this world will journey several days to meet him at the train station and bring him home. Niska, or ‘Auntie’, is the last of the Ojibwa-Cree awawatuks, those that have rejected the ways of the white man
Aug 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone who can read.
Shelves: 2008
I found Three Day Road when a notoriously late friend was more than an hour late to meet me and I had time to browse a local bookstore. I didn't pick the book up that day, but i noted it.

Later, while near the bookstore I went back in and grabbed it. The idea of the book crossed a number of vectors of interest for me. War history (wait, don't stop reading yet), snipers (please, keep reading), and early 20th century Natives.

I expected it to at least titillate my love of snipers, and war and the
Matt Quann
Nov 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: oh-canada, favourites
A novel that begins at the end, and ends with a beginning. Three Day Road is a stunning debut from one of Canada’s foremost writers, Joseph Boyden. When Xavier Bird returns from WWI addicted to morphine and wounded, his aunt Niska embarks with him on a three-day journey towards their home in the Northern Ontario bush. As Niska paddles along towards their home, the reader slides seamlessly between Xavier’s remembrances of his time at war and Niska’s account of Xavier as a boy. Central to the nove ...more
Jon Grice
Oct 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I'm so glad I discovered Joseph Boyden. He is one of the most gifted writers working today. THREE DAY ROAD is one of the top 10 books that I've ever read. Boyden just blew me away with his prose and characters. I am still in awe of this novel. ...more
This seemed like a serendipitous discovery when I stumbled on it in an Ontario bookshop last week. Not literally stumbled – although, come to think of it, there were several piles of books on the floor there which gave browsing something of a parkour flavour. But I had negotiated those hazards successfully. No, I meant stumbled on in the metaphorical sense that I found it by chance. Anyway, can we move on? I have a review to write.

So yes, I hadn't heard of Boyden before, but clearly he's somethi
Aug 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone!
Recommended to Debbie by: my dad
I loved this book! I read it several years ago, but the overall story's message still haunts me. It's a story about WWI but from the perspective of two Canadian Indigenous young men.
Highly recommend!
Jan 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Howard by: Michael
The gold standard for novels about combat in World War I has always been All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, first published in 1929. I first read it many years ago and have since re-read it a couple of times.

There are a number of fabulous goodreads reviews of this classic novel, reviews by Ted, Kemper, Larry Bassett, and Diane Barnes. If you haven't read the book, you should read these reviews and then you may want to.

But I also wish to express my gratitude to several goodr
Connie G
Xavier Bird struggles on crutches as he descends from the train in northern Canada in 1919. He is in terrible pain and addicted to morphine since a war injury resulted in the amputation of his leg. The relentless horror in the trenches of the Western Front have also taken their toll emotionally. His aunt Niska, an Oji-Cree medicine woman, takes Kavier home in a three day journey in her canoe.

The Canadian government had a forced residential education program, attempting to eradicate the First Nat
Whitney Atkinson
edit: it’s been about a month since i’ve read this and i’m increasing my rating to 5 stars. the plot of this book and the main character’s thoughts have just stuck with me so much, and after finishing an 8 page paper about this book it just made me fully comprehend how genius it all flows together. highly recommend.

4.5 Stars.

My war literature professor is just out here trying to make me cry, huh?

This book was beautiful. It's gruesome and explicit, and at times highly uncomfortable, but it's not
Feb 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
Book Review: Three Day Road
Joseph Boyden
Viking Canada Penguin 2005
ISBN 0-670-06362-2
Once in a long while one reads a book that you cannot put down and the overall beauty of it leaves one gasping. Three Day Road, is such a book. It tells the story of Two Cree young men who find themselves in WW I fighting in the trenches of France as snipers using their hunting and shooting skills they learned in the bush growing up near James Bay.

The story begins with the protagonist, Xavier Bird, has retur
Jul 27, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
I'm a huge fan of Boyden's work. I was really impressed by The Orenda and Through Black Spruce, and loved his stories in Born with a Tooth. When I finally got around to his debut novel, I think it proved to be a bit underwhelming.

Stylistically, Boyden is as strong as ever in this one; his writing is sharp, observant, and transportive. The ways in which he weaves together both Niska and Xavier's stories is excellent. And the tension that builds throughout between Elijah and Xavier is palpable.
Mar 04, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wwi, fiction, france, canada
The time setting is 1919, and at a train station in Northern Ontario a Native Canadian woman, Niska, meets her nephew, Xavier Bird, on his return from active service in WWI. Xavier returns from the war a broken man in every sense. One leg has been amputated below the knee, he is addicted to morphine, and he is suffering from severe post traumatic stress. The two make a three day canoe journey back to Niska's camp, and during the journey the story of Xavier's wartime experiences is told in flashb ...more
5 stars

I'm not sure I've read any other books inspired by the First World War, but I am sure Joseph's story is different than anything else ever written.

Agreed, I was slow to get TO it (heard him read first chapter in Whistler 2007), and to really get into it, but oh -- when I did, I couldn't turn the pages fast enough!

I read this, for the most part, on the beach while vacationing in Mexico. I couldn't help but react out loud: his battle scenes, e.g., are so vivid, chilling. But saying that sim
I love Erdrich's blurb for the book: "a devastatingly truthful work of fiction, and a masterful account of hell and healing. This is a grave, grand, and passionate book." This is the story of a three-day canoe journey home for Cree Indian Xavier Bird, who arrives by train in northern Ontario severely damaged from his experience as an infantry soldier in World War 1. He has lost a leg and is addicted to morphine. He is accompanied by his only family member, his aunt Niska, a medicine woman who ra ...more
Susan's Reviews
Jun 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: all-my-favorites
Truly heroic characters in terrible circumstances. I've read most of this author's books. Couldn't finish the Orenda - waaaaay too violent for me, but the fair chunk of it that I did read was very well written. Through Black Spruce was my favourite of all of Boyden's books. ...more
Mar 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a phenomenal and haunting book. Loved the story despite most of it being set in the WWI. Maybe because it not the traditional stories told of WWI. The characters are deep and complex. So powerfully written that it makes you stop and wonder what hell is going on with society. It's like a stab to the heart. It will make you very uncomfortable.

The story follows Xavier Bird, a young First Nations Canadian, journey through leaving the bush, enlisting in and serving as a sniper in WWI, then t
Jennifer (formerly Eccentric Muse)
This is two of my favourite reads: a "futility-of-war" novel by a Native Canadian writer, and with a unique Native Canadian angle.

Xavier and Elijah are Ojibwe-Cree from "the North Country" (which in this case means James Bay area) who sign up for WW I, and - because of their hunting prowess - make for excellent warriors. Niska - X's auntie - welcomes a deeply changed X home, and does what she can to help X cope with all he has seen, suffered and lost.

The novel is about killing and healing and in
Tara Rock
Oct 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A most staggering depiction of World War I centering on two Canadian Indians who were utilized most effectively as snipers. The story moves back and forth between battles and the men's early life in the Canadian wilderness. A raw and brutal telling which is at once beautiful and memorable. ...more
Mar 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: wwi
Word is that the French lost 150,000 men in the fighting here, and the British 60,000. Those numbers are impossible to keep secret. They are impossible for me to understand. I ask Elijah. “How many does that mean?”

He smiles. “A very difficult question to answer,” he says.

I can see that he has the medicine in him. His lips curl at the edges in a slight smile and his eyes shine. When he is taking the morphine he forgets all about his British accent.

“Think of all the trees we passed canoeing to t
This book is loosely based on the famed Native Canadian WW1 sniper Francis Pegahmagabow. It is about WW1 trench warfare; it is about the role Native Canadians played in this warfare and it is about mystical Cree beliefs. I think this book goes a step deeper. It is about warfare in general and also about taking another person’s life outside of the war setting. I am left very troubled by the ending. I have more questions after reading this book than before. Am I a pacifist? Am I against all wars? ...more
Possible spoilers.
Native Americans, and The First World War.....strange to think that the these two subjects, each exhaustively written about in both Historical Fiction and non fiction, could come together in one book,

I hadn’t previously known that Native Americans had fought alongside our allies in this horrific conflict, but once more, Historical Fiction proved to be enlightening and informative, sending me off to read more about the role these men played in the Great War.
I found lots of furt
Jul 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Haunting! Boyden is a true master of writing characters that get under your skin and bore deep into your heart. But here is the amazing thing-he does it in a quiet way. And before you know it you are mesmerized. There are many before me who have shared the plot . Therefore I just want to share my experience. Mr boyden painted vivid pictures that have stayed with me (some more graphic than I would have chosen)however it left me with a deeper compassion for the people who have returned from wars t ...more
Jan 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Rosana by: book club pick by Georgina
I love this book. It is definitely in the pack of books I would carry with me from a burning building. I read it 2 years ago or so, and recently browsed through it again for a book club discussion. I feel surprised with myself that a book with so many graphic descriptions of battles and death does not however make me put it on the list of books never to reread. For all the sadness and destruction it describes, still it does not leave me downhearted. I guess I see the characters' struggles as an ...more
Doug H
Jan 08, 2017 rated it really liked it

"I'm gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside
I ain't gonna study war no more"

Three Day Road is presented as the intertwined narratives of two Cree Indians: Xavier Bird (a soldier returning from the battlefields of WWI) and his aunt Niska (a fierce Medicine Woman). Dipping in and out between the past and the present as they paddle homeward in a canoe, their sad stories have a floating quality that matches the river environment and the healing properties of water.

Boyden's writing i
Sep 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Aubrey by: Friederike Knabe
7/16/17 edit: after Boyden's revelation of his extremely shaky claim to indigenous roots, take this review with a bag of salt.


I've spent increasing amounts of time wondering what the ratio of literature to propaganda masquerading as such is in regards to the stacks upon my shelves. Books in the vein of The Guest and Almanac of the Dead and Novel Without a Name make such considerations necessary, and the anything goes approach the reading community largely plays with dehumanized portrayals ma
Diane S ☔
Nov 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Thoughts soon.
Friederike Knabe
Nov 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: canadian-lit
Linking Cree hunting stories with World War I frontline accounts would seem an odd undertaking, to say the least. The wild Canadian North with its harsh yet beautiful landscape and tough living conditions for those surviving off the land is a far cry - physically and spiritually - from the trenches and the killing fields of Ypres and the Somme. Yet, Boyden has successfully merged these seemingly disparate themes through his telling of the life stories of the three protagonists: Xavier, Elijah an ...more
if you like this review, i now have website: www.michaelkamakana.com

030811: powerful story weaving together the madness of civilization destroying itself by war, and the end of a way of life, beautifully told by interwoven narratives. it is difficult to imagine any vision of war worse than the slaughter of the great war. it is also an elegy for a way of living that does not ignore its perils, a way of so many generations, disrupted by modernity, by madness, by racism- and there is no escape for
Apr 03, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ojibwe_country, 2009
This is an exceptional book, although harrowing - I'm not sure I could say I enjoyed it; my feeling is closer to respect, and admiration, for what the author achieved.

Three Day Road is the story of two young Cree men who volunteer for service in WWI. Only one returns - Xavier - and the novel follows his progress as he travels back downriver, with his aunt, to his home. He's broken, physically and mentally, by the war, is addicted to morphine, and as he slips back into the past and relates the st
Nov 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
I learned much from this book. I learned about trench warfare, the primary method of fighting in World War One. I learned about the Native American bush Indians of Canada and the hardships and racism that they survived. I learned that the white americans admired their hunting and tracking skills and transformed these individuals from hunters of animals into hunters of men during the war and the toll on their spirit that this transformation wrought.
I learned that every war through history has cre
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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

Other books in the series

Bird Family Trilogy (3 books)
  • Through Black Spruce
  • The Orenda

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