I couldn’t put Michelle Good’s Five Little Indians down. She offers beautifully, well-rounded, fully-human characters in a story about the resilience and fragility of the human spirit. The book follows five small children who are taken from the homes and have to face the abuse and isolation of a church-run residential on the Central Coast of B.C.
Longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize 2020, this book will stay with me for the rest of my life. The author is a Cree lawyer and she gives us the lives of five characters who as children survived the un-survivable—violence, inhumanity, dislocation, and all the other impacts that go along with the trauma inflicted on children by the residential schools system. Herself a member of Saskatchewan’s Red Pheasant Cree Nation, Good reaches into the depths of her characters and her knowledge of her mother’s and grandmother’s experiences of residential school to craft a story about the everyday-ness of the long-term impacts of residential school. The book has a universal impact and spans fifty years, beginning in the 1960s and ending up int he 1990s.
Five Little Indians is Good’s way of telling the stories of all the survivors of residential school. It’s the details that really pulled me in: the daily ways a trauma survivor interacts with a world that was never safe to them as a child; the necessity of facing up to emotions that are difficult, perhaps unbearable, in order to move on in life, but the near-impossibility of doing so; the desire, above all, for love, and the inability, at the same time, to receive it. These are such hard realities to write, but Good deftly weaves all these details and more into the lives of her five characters, Kenny, Lucy, Clara, Maisie and Howie. And although her characters live in a deeply troubled world, Good writes with so much compassion and hope grounded in realism that we find ourselves on a path through trauma toward the story of the future—the path toward the sovereignty and survival of the Nations whose children were taken.
This book is a must-read for everyone in Canada so that we all can begin to understand and respond to the intergenerational impacts the residential school system has had not just on the students and their children but on the entire country.
- Paperback : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1443459186
- ISBN-13 : 978-1443459181
- Publisher: Harper Perennial (April 14, 2020)
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