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Reading List > Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden - Discussion

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message 1: by Rosana (new)

Rosana | 599 comments The discussion on Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road will start on July 15th. I am starting this thread a bit earlier because I am taking off on a trip. Once the discussion starts, we do not worry about posting spoilers, therefore, if you haven’t finished reading it, be aware.

Until the 15th, general comments about Boyden or the reading experience of Three Day Road can be posted on the thread The Next Book – Boyden – a have a link to it here:

message 2: by Rosana (new)

Rosana | 599 comments This is Joseph Boyden’s bio as per his website:

In the summer of 1945, my father was invited to Buckingham Palace by the king. The war in Europe had ground to an end in the streets of Berlin. As George VI pinned the Distinguished Service Order upon my father's uniform, he proclaimed him the most highly decorated medical officer in the British Empire.

In the summer of 1945, Erl, my dad's older brother, was living a traditional lifestyle in a teepee near Algonquin Park, selling crafts to tourists. Uncle Erl had experienced World War I and was too old for this second great war, but I doubt he would have wanted to participate anyway. He enjoyed life in the woods of northern Ontario in summer and the life of a world wanderer in winter.

I'm forty years old, the third youngest of eleven children born into a strict Irish Catholic family. My age betrays the fact that my father sired a number of my siblings, including me, when he was quite a bit older than most fathers. I grew up with history and myth swirling around me, stories of my father's war exploits and my uncle Erl's Ojibwe ways inseparable. I was born into a family from a very different era and listened to stories of how my father and Erl and their younger brother Robert had to form their own gang when they were young because they were Mick Catholic bastards in a world of Orangemen. My father was older than most of my friends' grandfathers, and had actually delivered a number of my schoolmates' fathers into the world.

My father was blond and blue-eyed. Erl was brown and high-cheekboned and had a hooked nose. Robert looked something in the middle. My father chose one route. He became a doctor and a war hero and brought his family to the city. Erl took the other route. He lived in the bush and made his own clothing out of hide and travelled the world with only a few coins in his pocket, somewhere along the way picking up what now sounds like the horribly racist moniker "Injun Joe." There are still postcards of him in full Indian regalia floating around Algonquin Park trading posts. Robert chose a quiet life somewhere between the two.

My dad died when I was eight. Erl took the three day road years earlier. Robert died not long after my father. My ravenhaired mother, strong and still beautiful, was left to raise my sisters and brothers and me. She was no stranger to war veteran relatives, either. Her father, Guy, had been a motorcycle dispatch rider in World War I, had had the dubious distinction of being wounded on November 11, 1918, the last day of the war. He spent the rest of his life blinded in one eye from shrapnel.

With so many children to keep track of and a full-time job as a teacher at the local elementary school, my mother was forced to grant a certain amount of lenience to my wandering ways. Just like my Indian uncle, I had a taste for the road and for adventure. The punk rock scene of the early 1980s was a nice fit for my rebellious sensibilities. In deference to my uncle I wore my hair in a mohawk, and lived on the streets of Toronto in the summers, returning home to pursue my schooling in the autumn. At the time, I didn't recognize the parallels between my uncle and me.

At sixteen I began travelling to the United States on my own. More and more I felt the inexplicable pull of the Deep South, making close friendships with a group of misfits in South Carolina and Louisiana. I became a roadie for their band and criss-crossed the U.S. and Canada with them. Responsibility, the ghostly apparition of my father, always pulled me back to continue with my schooling. I kept all kinds of jobs in order to feed my growing passion for the road: gravedigger and groundskeeper at a cemetery, tutor, dishwasher, waiter, and bartender. But always, as soon as my last exam was finished, I'd climb on a Greyhound or stick my thumb out or jump on my motorcycle and hit the road once more.

I fancied myself a writer, eventually enrolling in the MFA program at the University of New Orleans. Here I finally learned to focus my energy and work ethic in a city that seemed too good a fit at times. I met my wife, Amanda, here, a trapeze artist, contortionist, and writer.

But the pull of my home and my family is strong. I returned with my wife to Ontario and took a job as professor of Aboriginal programs on James Bay in the far north. Here I was introduced to the Mushkegowuk Cree, northern cousins of the Ojibwe. Stationed in Moosonee, I worked for two years up and down the reserves of the west coast of the bayMoose Factory, Fort Albany, Kashechewan, and Attawapiskatteaching communications, my wanderlust satisfied by moose and caribou hunts and snowmobile treks into the frozen wilderness of Hudson Bay. Over the last ten years this gateway to the last great wilderness has become my muse and obsession, refusing to loosen its grip on me even now that I am back in New Orleans teaching in the same MFA program that birthed me. I visit what have become old friends on James Bay a number of times a year.

It seems I'm a bit of a split personality, a combination of my father and my uncle Erl. I have my father's responsibility and my uncle's belief that the world is to be travelled. I split my life between the Gulf of Mexico and the gulf of the Arctic. I write and I teach writing. My heart is part Irish, part Ojibwe. I'm a Canadian in America. I'm grounded by history, and I am inspired by legend. I'm part my father, part my uncle. I am a father to my son, Jacob, and I am a writer.

message 3: by Rosana (new)

Rosana | 599 comments Here Boyden reads excerpts from Three Day Road for the Minnesota Public Radio:

message 4: by Jane (new)

Jane | 2056 comments Capitu,

What a fascinating background! I will wait until the 15th to post my thoughts about the book, but thanks for giving us the biographical information.


message 5: by Sherry, Doyenne (new)

Sherry | 7635 comments Thanks from me, too, Capitu. I just finished this fascinating book last night, but like Jane I will wait until tomorrow.

message 6: by Kenneth P. (new)

Kenneth P. (kennethP) | 804 comments I have a question. The book is entitled Three Day Road which we know to be the journey one embarks upon in death. Home from the war, crippled, Xavier is on a three day canoe journey with his aunt. Does he live or die?

message 7: by Sherry, Doyenne (new)

Sherry | 7635 comments I had the feeling that he lived, based on his aunt's positive "dream" with his children in it. I think his "three day road" was the one from sickness/death and back again--almost a reverse journey. He had already been in hell.

message 8: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 9386 comments Speaking of hell. I've read many books with WWI battle scenes. But the ones in this book are truly the most horrendous I've ever read. They seemed so real, that unfortunately, they've already almost obliterated the rest of the book in my memory.

message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

Ruth wrote: "Speaking of hell. I've read many books with WWI battle scenes. But the ones in this book are truly the most horrendous I've ever read. They seemed so real, that unfortunately, they've already alm..."

Exactly what I feared, and why I stopped reading the book, it was so painful I couldn't continue. Maybe I didn't read enough to truly judge properly, only about 60 pages or so, but the writing seemed a little, I don't know, flat maybe, although that doesn't express my feeling properly.

message 10: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 9386 comments I think the writing came alive in the battle sections, that's what made them so memorable. Where I thought it was flat was in the return canoe journey, and, to a lesser extent, in the Indian life stories.

message 11: by Sherry, Doyenne (new)

Sherry | 7635 comments Not for me. I loved those parts. They were a welcome relief.

message 12: by Janet (new)

Janet Leszl | 1163 comments Funny, my reaction was the exact opposite of Ruth's. To me, the sniper/ battle scenes seemed laborious, filled with repetitive details . The only reason I didn't skim through more of them was I was afraid I'd miss some important storyline elements (which I almost did a few times). While I was reading, I wondered if it was a sexist thing -as a female I tire of extended action/chase scenes in movies, preferring the relationship parts. I guess this just goes to show it doesn't matter the gender, what one person finds interesting, another will find boring.

I just finished the book a few minutes ago. I was late starting, then out of town for the Library convention in Chicago, and then needed to catch up with silly chores like laundry. There are a great many things to discuss about the book. I was surprised there were not more posts on it here already. Are we waiting for Capitu to return from her trip to get things going or is the discussion in earnest elsewhere?

message 13: by Jane (new)

Jane | 2056 comments I thought that both Xavier and the aunt were already dead and this was their three day road to the next world. At the beginning, the aunt says that she received news that Xavier was dead, and Xavier thought she was dead. I felt it was her job to lead him away from the terrible suffering and pain he experienced in the war. I know these supposed deaths were explained elsewhere in the book, but I didn't see how Xavier could survive his wounds and addiction.

I thought the book really showed the horror of trench warfare. I had read other accounts and this made it seem so real as some of you have already said.

Feel free to discuss whatever comes to mind.


message 14: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 9386 comments Janet, I'm usually one to skim thru battle scenes. I'm doing it now with War and Peace. But there was something about the scenes in this book that kept me riveted.

message 15: by Janet (last edited Jul 17, 2009 01:32PM) (new)

Janet Leszl | 1163 comments Jane, I did not feel they were dead. Near the end the author revealed why there was confusion and misinformation:

Niska’s words are not translated properly in the letter to her nephew. Since it was written by someone else, words intended as encouragement to survive and procreate to continue their lineage are mistaken as informing him of her death. (He is the last of the family line- pg 278 & pg 294 in my book)

Fed up with war and orders he is sure will be disastrous, Xavier disgustedly throws his dog tags away. Others find Elijah's personal effects on Xavier while he is unconscious and erroneously assume he is Elijah. Through the fog of pain, morphine, and hearing and language difficulties- he initially can't correct the misinterpretations. He then chooses not to inform others of his real identity. Because of the army's error in indetification, even the aunt was confused at the start of the novel when she was expecting to pick up Elijah and it was Xavier there instead.

Progressively throughout the novel the deep friendship between Xavier and Elijah turns into resentment. Time and again Xavier does not get recognition for his skill, perhaps because often he was the spotter of the team. Elijah’s skill as a sniper, fluency in English coupled with the perception of an affable temperament by fellow soldiers throw him into the limelight. I wish I’d marked the place, but I thought a particularly telling part was when in the company of fellow soldiers, Elijah twice attempts to shoot a distant (duck?) and misses. Feeling the need to step out of his friend's shadow, Xavier makes the difficult shot which kills the bird and then nonchalantly walks away from the group.

I’d like to make one further comment about the writing. I understand the use of flashbacks to make a story more interesting. However, I found it rather confusing at times. Not only did the author alternate between Niska’a and Xavier’s point of view, but at times there would be flashbacks within flashbacks. For me, it was difficult at times to figure out where in the timeline of events a side-story fit in.

message 16: by Denise (new)

Denise | 389 comments It's funny, but it never even occurred to me that Niska and Xavier might not actually be alive.

I appreciated the structure, because I needed the relief of spending a little time in the far north woods between scenes in the gruesome trenches.

I did like this book, but it's one of those cases where I might have liked it more if I'd never heard of it. I had such high expectations, it was tough to meet them.

message 17: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 9386 comments I had never heard of it, and I liked it quite a lot.

message 18: by Kenneth P. (last edited Jul 17, 2009 08:40PM) (new)

Kenneth P. (kennethP) | 804 comments Well this is an outstanding start to this discussion. I love Jane's idea that Niska and X are dead. They are on the Three Day Road. Remember, Niska is supposed to be dead. Xavier is supposed to be dead. Can they be alive and dead at the same time? Is there a difference between this world and the next? I'm not sure if I disagree with Jane's reading because I have a legitimate refutation or because I'm just a romantic who likes things to just work out. But here is why I think X survives-- He is the dancing bird, his name in the Canadian Army is Bird. He never flies so high in his life until he is blown up, losing his leg. That horrible explosion legitimizes his identity. He is a bird again on the canoe trip home when Niska feeds him birdlike from her own mouth.

The terrible fire that Elijah and Xavier live through foreshadows the Hell that they are about to encounter in Europe. Conversely the recovering burnt-out landscape on the the canoe trip home, a forest re-emerging from nothing, foreshadows Xavier's survival.

message 19: by Sherry, Doyenne (new)

Sherry | 7635 comments Oh, I like that Kenneth. I hadn't picked up on the "bird" connection and symbolism. One thing that just occurred to me was that Elijah stole Xavier's identify in a way. He learned shooting and hunting from him, and because of his personality and his language, he acquired the reputation. He wanted to fly in a plane because he thought that would make him feel free, but the only thing it did was scare the bejeezus out of him and realize how much he was not in control. Elijah was the one that should have flown. He was the bird.

message 20: by Kenneth P. (new)

Kenneth P. (kennethP) | 804 comments That's nice Sherry-- Elijah stealing X's identity. And yes the privilege he enjoys comes from his roots in the Caucasian world. There is justice, however, when Xavier is mistaken for Elijah near the end-- he is treated (correctly) as a great hero, officers kowtowing to him. Could this be regarded as a literary doppelganger?

message 21: by Janet (new)

Janet Leszl | 1163 comments The novel inspires contemplation of moral dilemmas. When do certain actions cross the line when it comes to survival instincts? Is consuming human flesh of someone who has already died when you are starving to death (Windigo) more repugnant than emotionless, active hunting and killing of humans during war?

message 22: by A.J. (new)

A.J. For the Oji-Cree, the Windigo myth grows out of an absolute taboo. Killing people in wars is acceptable to that culture; eating them is not.

Not that the Oji-Cree are known as warlike ... the landscape they call home is so inhospitable that they didn't, generally, have a lot of time for warfare, nor agriculture, nor art.

Elijah doesn't cross the line until he starts taking scalps and eating flesh. At this point, he's gone Windigo.

Margaret Atwood wrote an essay (or two, or three) on the Windigo myth in Canlit, which Boyden is surely familiar with ... read Survival A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature and/or Strange Things The Malevolent North in Canadian Literature. The latter has an extensive discussion of the Windigo myth. She suggests that the subtext of the myth is that when the starving man eats human flesh to survive, he becomes a monster, i.e. ceases to be human; the myth expresses the fear of those who would stoop so low.

Re Niska and Xavier being dead, it would make Through Black Spruce difficult to explain.

message 23: by Jane (new)

Jane | 2056 comments Janet,
"Is consuming human flesh of someone who has already died when you are starving to death (Windigo) more repugnant than emotionless, active hunting and killing of humans during war?"
That is a good question. There are certain taboos that most societies won't break and one is eating human flesh. Elijah seemed to be turning into a Windigo when he started taking scalps, and one time he told X that they were eating human flesh. Then he said he was just kidding when he saw X's horror. I was wondering about the name Elijah, as in the Prophet Elijah. This is from Wikipedia:
"In the Book of Malachi, Elijah's return is prophesied 'before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord', making him a harbinger of the Messiah and the eschaton in various faiths that revere the Hebrew Bible." Is that name significant?

message 24: by A.J. (new)

A.J. I'd say that name has to be significant, associated as it is with Xavier (Saviour).

message 25: by Janet (new)

Janet Leszl | 1163 comments When I read the portions about windigo in the novel, I couldn't help but be reminded of a real event of the Donner Party. I just wonder about the mindset of someone faced with starvation. This was horrific. Yet reading the vivid accounts of war described in this novel I began to wonder about how one action is justified and the other is taboo.

message 26: by Kenneth P. (last edited Jul 19, 2009 07:40PM) (new)

Kenneth P. (kennethP) | 804 comments Janet your point is well taken. Members of the Donner party, innocent children included, managed to survive and lead productive lives. Others, while delving into cannibalism, began to lose their grip and fell into very dark places. The Cree people seem to have associated madness with the consumption of human flesh. Isn't it possible that protracted hunger was the culprit, that the ordeal of slow starvation triggered psychotic behavior (windigo)? I worked for a while in a group home with people afflicted with Prader-Willi Syndrome, people with a brain malfunction that results in perpetual hunger. Very strange and psychotic behaviors emerged in these kids. Working there I always wondered what it would be like... always hungry...always hungry. My conclusion: it would be torture.

message 27: by Wilhelmina (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 856 comments I do not, in general, enjoy war novels, but this one went far beyond my expectations. I enjoyed the structure of the book - alternating between the horrific war scenes and the healing memories of the canoe voyage home made the war scenes more bearable.

The difference, to me, between the Donner party and the people who become Windigo is that the Cree people lived constantly with the threat of starvation. The taboo would have to be a strong one to prevent cannibalism from becoming a regular event. I do plan to read the Atwood essay - thanks, Andrew!

message 28: by Rosana (new)

Rosana | 599 comments Hello everyone, what a great discussion!

Janet, that Niska and Xavier were dead never occurred to me, but had Boyden considered it, it could had added another layer to this already intense book. I can see that it could made this book more “literary” but personally I do like the fact that the end “lightens up”, and we glimpse of the possibility of Xavier finding some normalcy in his life. It is not only my personal affection for his character but also because I seem to think of him as metaphor for the whole First Nations experience in Canada, and the idealist in me wants us to arrive at this moment.

Andrew, thanks for the links. I too will try to get a copy of Atwood’s book.

Janet, your questions were exactly what made me so engaged to this book the first time I read it. How as a society that averts cannibalism, we accept war? It also made me think of what is madness? Elijah’s actions at the beginning were driven by a necessity to be accepted in the “white men’s world”, but he crosses a line that even in the mists of such atrocities that could not be crossed. How is eating human fresh any more atrocious than letting the wounded drown in the mud at Passchendaele? Yet, it is.

In this last reading of TDR though, I realized how utterly Canadian this book is. Much is said in Canada about the victories of the Canadian Army in WWI being the point in which we first perceive ourselves as a Nation, shedding forever the image of colonials to the British Empire. The Battle of Vimy Ridge is still celebrated today as the transformative event in the Canadian consciousness, and Canada has erected a monument at the site to remember the over 60 thousand Canadians who died in that war.

But we cannot negate that at the birthing of Canada as a Nation is also the terrible legacy of Residential Schools and prejudiced views and incomprehension towards the indigenous cultures, which we are to this day trying to heal. It occurred to me that, if there is such a thing as a national collective karma, this is the Canadian issue. But I am probably getting off topic and too exoteric here, so please forgive me.

Changing subjects, the character of Niska also captivated me. But I will write more later...

message 29: by Rosana (new)

Rosana | 599 comments I just come across a small interview with Boyden – the bio info I already posted is there too, the interview is just bellow it.

But, here is an quote that I found interesting:

Much of the novel is about the act of storytelling. Why is this so important for the book and for you as a quote writer?

I got a kick out of being able to create a novel that is like one of those Russian Matryoshka dolls, the ones where you open up the doll to find other, smaller dolls inside. But instead of the "dolls" in my novel getting smaller, they get bigger. I didn't even realize or plan on doing this until I was well into the first draft. Niska tells Xavier stories of her life, Elijah is obsessively compelled to tell Xavier war stories and poor Xavier is too damaged to speak of his own stories and so relives them in his morphine-addled head.

(...) Niska and Elijah tell their stories to Xavier, and Xavier tells his own stories to himself. In the end, of course, the reader is the recipient, and hopefully the reader feels like a participant in a type of confession, a sharing and cleansing.
Of course, the Cree and Ojibwa tradition of storytelling is as deeply rooted as any other part of the culture. Storytelling is the lifeblood of the anishnabe. It is how lessons are taught, family histories are kept alive and good times are had.

As I said in my previous post, I have been ruminating about the character of Niska. One of the many things I found interesting about her was her believe that there was healing in stories. Then, it occurred to me that in our love of fiction and literature we might just be reproducing a process as old as when men first sat by the fire and language was born.

Any comments?

message 30: by Molly (new)

Molly | 283 comments Capitu - that is extremely interesting to me. I loved how Niska used the story of her life and memories of Xavier as a healing tool. That kept me grounded as a reader and gave a nice respite to the main stories of the war which were very graphic.

And I was gripped completely by his war memories - they seemed so vivid and real - I could almost feel the trench rot. It reminded me very much of Saving Private Ryan in that I could not tear my eyes away from the images because they were so real - as awful as they were.

And that terror gave me such a higher level of appreciation for my grandfather and others who have served their country and witnessed such horrible things. This story illustrated for me just how much one can be haunted internally even though on the outside they desensitize themselves to get the job done.

Thank you for recommending!

message 31: by Janet (new)

Janet Leszl | 1163 comments Capitu,
Your comments on Niska's storytelling ring true to me. In this story Niska tells her nephew versions of her history to help his healing and to motivate his desire to live. I think she also relates accounts of her own actions and choice of lifestyle to also to justify them to herself.

Perhaps the healing power of stories is why so many authors say they found the process of writing to be cathartic. Not only does it heal one’s own spirit but lessons learned can be conveyed so others can relate and vicariously learn truths from the author’s point of view. As was stated, storytelling is integral to many cultures. Anyone raised with Christian teaching will recognize the use of parables (storytelling) was an important tool used by Jesus to illustrate points he wished to make.

message 32: by A.J. (new)

A.J. our love of fiction and literature we might just be reproducing a process as old as when men first sat by the fire and language was born.

Joseph Campbell would agree. So would Northrop Frye. We have only a few stories, and we tell and retell them.

Boyden consciously plays with this, I think. He overlays the three-day road between life and death with a three-day journey from another mythology, i.e. the resurrection of Christ, just as the religion imposed by the residential schools overlays native traditions. In a sense, Xavier is dead -- he was, after all, reported killed -- but the end of this three-day road will find him resurrected.

The name Xavier (Saviour) points explicitly at this idea, as does the biblical name Elijah. Elijah is supposed to ascend to heaven in a chariot; Boyden's Elijah attempts the journey in a biplane but doesn't quite make it. What are we to make of that?

Boyden is quite consciously playing with mythology throughout, making connections between his story and the great stories. It is about stories, as much as anything else.

message 33: by Janet (new)

Janet Leszl | 1163 comments Andrew, I love your observation linking Xavier's story to Christ being dead and then resurrecting!

message 34: by Mary Anne (new)

Mary Anne | 1420 comments I have just finished the book, and the discussion here is great. Here are a few observations:

There seems to be a parallel between some of the themes already discussed here - windigo, death, flying, floating on a river - and the morphine addiction of first Elijah, then Xavier. Xavier's observations of the addiction, and how it takes hold of Elijah and eats him from within, are almost as graphic as his war descriptions. Elijah can't eat, can't deficate, and becomes a super killing machine. Kenneth's comments in message 26 about being always hungry but never satisfied, reminds me of Elijah's addictive behaviors, and the progression of the devastation to his body. Why was Xavier seemingly the only one who knew or cared about the addiction? Only in war, could one get away with being a killing maniac, and called a hero and given honors.

Later, when Xavier was being treated for his wounds, and the caregivers thought he was Elijah, the medical personnel were very quick with the morphine, and really brought on Xavier's dependence. Did they know all along about Elijah's addiction and need for the stuff? Also, much earlier, I was struck by a passage on pp. 194-5: "...Elijah finally admits to me that he sees that the medicine has caused him to lose too much weight while at the same time he's not able to relieve his bowels in any satisfying way for a long, long time. I'm not sure why he tells me all this. Maybe he feels guilty. Maybe it's because he and I are two of the same in a place of strangers. Probably he sees that I am depressed and he gives me little bits of himself as an offering." Reading that second to last sentence gave me a shiver. What is meant by the phrase "he and I are two of the same"? This book is rife with literal meanings and figurative meanings. Literally, they are two Canadian Chees fighting a white man's war in Europe. But figuratively, one could make a case that Xavier and Elijah are like yin and yang, two sides of the same person. Ego and alter-ego. And the last sentence, with the giving bits of himself reminds me of cannabalism.

Going back to Jane's comment about thinking that Niska and Xavier are dead, one can look at this question literally and figuratively as well. But it says right on the book flap "as Niska paddles him three days home..." It surely is more than a coincidence that Boyden tells us about the Cree belief in a three day death process and his choice in making this voyage a three day trip.

Molly mentions Saving Private Ryan, which was on TV last week. Picture MAP, putting down this book to watch that movie! Yoi and double yoi.

message 35: by Rosana (last edited Jul 22, 2009 09:44PM) (new)

Rosana | 599 comments MAP, it is very nice to have you join in the discussion. Your observations on the addiction to morphine and the “metamorphosis” into windingo are very fitting. The image of the Russian dolls that Boyden refers to in his storytelling seem to also be appropriate in the many themes within this book, as if each - war, madness, cannibalism, windingo, addiction – were one encompassing of another.

Andrew, again thanks for the reading references, you are going to keep me busy reading for a while. The Christian analogy did escape me, although now that you mention it, it is quite clear, from the names of Xavier and Elijah, to the resurrection after 3 days, or yet the tomb/womb aspect of the sweat lodge.

I am now wondering about what other mythologies I may have missed, and I remember the lynx which was deeply connected to Niska. Here is what I found when I searched its mythology:

The Lynx is an elusive, ghost-like animal that sees without being seen. Often called "the keeper of secrets of the forest", its magical appearance stems from the mystery that such a creature's secrecy can also be its strength. The Lynx teaches us that even the smallest can succeed in life, and that the world can unfold itself to those who stop and listen.

I now wish that I had known this before reading the book, as it is so explanatory of Niska’s character.

Molly, I don’t know if I can take Saving Private Ryan yet. I may need some distance from TDR to see it again.

message 36: by Kenneth P. (last edited Jul 24, 2009 08:42PM) (new)

Kenneth P. (kennethP) | 804 comments Kudos to Andrew for his sharp eye with regard to biblical connections. I think, MAP, that you are on to something with your last post when you emphasize the quote of Xavier's that "he and I are two of the same." Surely it runs deeper, as you correctly suggest, than two Indians in a white man's war. The yin-yang, ego-alter ego suggestion should give us a lot to chew on. I mentioned the literary doppelganger earlier because I was hoping someone would shed some light on that phenomenon as a device used by writers. Personally I'm not that well versed on it-- there was the ghost in MacBeth and the double in Conrad's Secret Sharer and this seems to be a deliberate device employed by Boyden here. The two characters are inextricably entwined throughout the story with Elijah being more of a product of the white world. He learned the gift of gab in the English language and he learned a bit of white windigo while being fondled by a nun. Both characters learn to survive diverse situations. It's interesting that Elijah was obsessed with flying while it was Xavier who was the Bird. Elijah not only failed at flying in an airplane (remembering your post Sherry) but he failed at flying on the ground with morphine. Was his obsession with flight an obsession to become Xavier? He became a famous sharpshooter with Xavier his sidekick, his Ed McMahon. Was Xavier's jealousy of Elijah's fame an obsession to become the latter? X was more skilled, more of an artist while E was just a better killer. Yin-yang, Jekyll and Hyde. Ultimately Elijah is dispatched to the 3 day road by X in the healing Cree tradition of auntie Niksa and her father. In the end X robs dead E of his identity. E returns, spiritually, to Niska's makeshift sweat-lodge in an evening of healing and reckoning. Gimme some help here with the literary double. It seems to be all over the place.

Another important theme is race. It can't be ignored. These two dudes were moose-poop in the white world until they displayed a prowess for killing.

message 37: by Rosana (new)

Rosana | 599 comments Kenneth, your post also deserves some kudos! The ideas of the double and the doppelganger are both very evident as soon as someone mentions them. The” double” more than anything: the yin and yang, light and dark, introvert and extrovert, etc, etc...

I have tried to remember other books where this was also the case, and I am drawing a blank at the moment, but I will think more about it.

message 38: by Rashida (new)

Rashida | 13 comments Though late, I did want to chime in a few words. I usually don't like War tales, neither in biblio form or cinema. But I did greatly enjoy this one, because the story at the heart of it, and Xavier's character, especially, were so emotionally resonant. I happened to be reading both this and Catch-22 at the same time, and though they describe different wars, and are written in complete different styles, the futility of it all shines through like a beacon and at times made me want pull out my hair as I read of one more young man being taken away.

You have all covered so much already, with the symbolism of the names, the animals, the multiple journeys down three day roads, and the mirror nature of Elijah and Xavier.

Knowing from the beginning that Elijah would end up dead (or at least missing) and that Xavier would lose his leg made every battle scene almost unbearable. I began to feel that they were both blessed and cursed. They would be getting through this battle in front of them, but eventually it would catch up with them. That quote that is referenced above about war being fighting with the enemy and what you have to do to the enemy, truly brings this home to me. Xavier certainly feels this weight crushing him as they head toward that last battle. And I think that his journey down the three day road, which ends at "Home", is just as much about shaking his physical addiction to morphine as it is about dealing with the lasting psychological impact of being the one who survived.

message 39: by Mary Ellen (new)

Mary Ellen | 1308 comments What a wonderful discussion! It has kept me going in the reading of this dark book.

I almost closed the cover for good after the horrific description of the murder of the young woman & her baby by Niska's father. (sorry, I do not read it as "healing"!! A bit too much relativism there for me -- he killed them in cold blood and the poor young mother fought her death all the way, mad though she was. I agree with Wilhemina'a observation that, perpetually living on the edge of starvation, the Cree needed a very strong cannibalism taboo.) And I think the parallel killing by Xavier is a bit too heavily foreshadowed & obvious as a "climax" of the book. I am not quite to the end, so it may be that the true climax is yet to come, in which case I'll amend this slight criticism of such a well-written and fascinating, if grueling, novel.

But I think the concept of healing by storytelling is marvelous. Niska is, in a sense, truly giving Xavier his life back, recalling his deeper history and helping him overcome the burden of the memories of his more recent, horrible past.

Mary Ellen

message 40: by Molly (new)

Molly | 283 comments I'm wondering if anyone from this discussion or otherwise has read the next installment - Through Black Spruce? Another group I belong to here on GR is reading it now and seems to be enjoying it very much. I liked 3 Day Road enough to where I'm wondering if the next one would be a let down.

That's an interesting point you bring up Seattle - about Elijah seeking Xavier's identity - when in the end Xavier inherited Elijah's.

message 41: by A.J. (new)

A.J. Through Black Spruce is also quite good, although quite different: set in the modern day and narrated, in part, by a man in a coma. I think it's definitely worth reading.

I read these in reverse order -- Through Black Spruce first, Three Day Road second -- and I think I liked Through Black Spruce more. I found Three Day Road a bit overlong.

The windigo symbol continues, as does Boyden's concern with the impact of addiction on the Cree.

message 42: by Molly (new)

Molly | 283 comments Thanks AJ - I was engrossed in 3 Day Road - his depiction of the battle grounds and action was difficult for me to shake. I will put Through Black Spruce on my list.

message 43: by Seattle (new)

Seattle | 7 comments I am currently writing a book report on Three Day Road, and am in need of deep interview questions for Xavier, to which I can create extensive answers.
Does anyone have any suggestions?

message 44: by Molly (new)

Molly | 283 comments Well I no longer have my book as it was from the library so I'm not going to be of very detailed assistance to you Seattle. Have you checked online book discussion lists for the book? There are also many good points and links here in this discussion of course. Or try sending the discussion leader, Capitu, a message through Goodreads and see if she's got some ideas for you.

message 45: by Rosana (new)

Rosana | 599 comments Hello Seatlle. when I noticed that this thread was active again i had to come here and check it out. What an interesting assignment. It has been a while since I read the book, so it is hard to come with specific questions to Xavier. But I think that if I had a chance to sit down and talk to him years after the events in the book (I am assuming here that he did survive and found some form of “inner” peace), my questions would be about his perception of the cultural crash between the two cultures, and how an individual “survives” this crash. Or was it possible for the 2 cultures to co-exist side by side? What elements would have been necessary so that individuals in both cultures came to understand each other? Also, how one makes sense of war.

I know I am not helping you much. I am sorry. I am not being elusive on purpose. It also just occurred to me that Xavier may not have had any of the answers either.

Good luck on the assignment, and if you feel comfortable with it, please post some of the questions and answers you did come up with. We are not teachers, so no need to worry about grades around here.

message 46: by Seattle (new)

Seattle | 7 comments Thank you Capitu! the following is what I have written so far:
1) Do you feel that the slaughter of men in battle is justified?
For me, there is no honour in turning killing men. It is what we are told is good in war, and what is necessary. I was not killing to defend the women, the children and the elderly. I would not be honoured by the warriors code. The first time I saw a comrade kill a man was when I was spotting for Elijah, and he snipped a man in his head. The act, and the spray of blood, like rivers of life source streaming from his body, disgusted me. I turned away, and my stomach was sick like I had eaten bad meat. I wretched. My reaction proved to Elijah that he had hit his target, and a wide grin spread across his face. At that point, I don’t know if I was more appalled by the death, or his delight in destruction. It reminded me of the time when we were twelve winters, and we went off by ourselves. Elijah followed behind me, his feet heavy and loud in the cold snow, despite trying to be quiet. When we reached our trap, he an ahead of me, he was ecstatic at the death. This was different though. This death was useful. The fur would be used, the animal would be thanked and honoured. Now, in war we were the animals.

2) What do you feel is the significance of stories?
My auntie Niska fed me with stories when there was nothing else I could consume. She spoke of days when it was very cold, and the only thing to keep her and her family warm, and away form starvation were the words that fill your belly and your spirit with a strange fire. It was the fire of fascination, the fire of determination. It was the fire of love, and the fire of wisdom. Niska passed the nourishment of her years down to me, to fill my mind with something other then the frightening stories I was telling myself, stories I needed to remember, to acknowledge, but learn to accept and forget. Finally, I am cleansed of my grief and the poison of that horrible place, when in the shaking tent I tell my story to Niska, and admit my guilt to the manitous. When I explain the death of my friend Elijah, and he gives me his forgiveness. When this happens, the weight is released from my body in words, and I am free, like the bird I once was, and that I am destined to be.

3) Why did you feel the need to kill Elijah?
Elijah Whiskeyjack was mad with bloodlust. I could not tell if he was joking when he said we were feasting on human flesh. The madness of the disease of war and the silver liquid that he injects in his veins had taken over every part of him. The old Elijah was there on fewer and fewer occasions. I missed him. Elijah had gone Windigo. When my oldest friend turned on me, I knew that I must do what I was destined, as a WIndigo killer. It was my sad duty to take his life. Now, I’m not sure who the madness plagued more, if I should have done what I did. The question of purpose is no longer significant, because I am now forgiven.

message 47: by Molly (new)

Molly | 283 comments Seattle - those are wonderful! I think you captured Xavier's voice very well and I happen to agree with your interpretation of things. I'm glad you included question #3 as that is surely the one I most would have asked Xavier myself. How someone so repulsed by the sniper act of death from afar could kill someone he knew face to face. Elijah's death had a purpose - the others did not.

message 48: by Mary Anne (new)

Mary Anne | 1420 comments Excellent, Seattle!
All three of your answers contained a thread that I don't think I noticed before, and that is food, or eating or the stomach. If that was discussed earlier, I apologize that I have forgotten it, but we could have really gotten into that theme. Thanks for making me see it.

message 49: by Seattle (new)

Seattle | 7 comments Thank you Molly and MAP!
I just re-read my work, and noticed how many errors I had made!
I didn't create the theme of stomachs/food/eating purposely.
There is, to some extent in the novel, the common thread of nourishment, both physical and spiritual.
Thanks again.

message 50: by Mary Ellen (new)

Mary Ellen | 1308 comments I echo the kudos, Seattle. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

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Books mentioned in this topic

Three Day Road (other topics)
Strange Things: The Malevolent North in Canadian Literature (other topics)
Through Black Spruce (other topics)
Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature (other topics)

Authors mentioned in this topic

Joseph Campbell (other topics)
Northrop Frye (other topics)