Indian Horse, by Richard Wagamese
First thing I want to say: Richard Wagamese is an amazing writer. This book is so well written that I didn’t want it to end, despite the tough subject matter.
Second, this isn’t a book about a horse. It’s a book about racism, residential schools, and hockey. The residential school parts were as difficult as I expected, and then got a bit worse. The racism parts were just as tough to read, and as senseless and cruel as racism is today. The hockey part was pretty cool, even though I’m not a hockey fan. Yes, I’m Canadian. I also don’t drink much Tim Horton’s coffee. I’m sorry.
Though I don’t watch hockey and I thankfully have no experience of residential schools, I could still relate to the character in this book. This is because, at it’s root, Indian Horse is a book about connection. It’s my opinion that we are all born wanting to belong, to feel connected, and we actively seek it. The character, Saul Indian Horse, finds that connection with nature as a boy. Though he doesn’t feel it with his parents as much, because of their brokenness, he is strongly connected to his grandmother. Later, in the residential school, he finds connection with the game of hockey, and the priest that enables him to play – and he longs for connection so strongly that he blocks out the abuse inflicted by that priest until much later in his life. As an older man, after a heart-searing journey through an uncaring social landscape, Saul is finally able to return to the one healthy community he has a connection to, and rebuild his life among those he can trust.
What Indian Horse expressed so well to me is that longing we all have for home – and by home, I don’t mean a physical place. We long to be seen for who we are. We want that which is good and pure and unique within us, to be both recognized and valued by those around us. And sadly, the book showed how if we aren’t valued, for whatever reason, whether it be racism, sexism, ageism, religious intolerance (beliefism?), or any other ism out there, we tend to fall into shame and self blaming. We’ve all seen it happen, and, to varying degrees, we all know how it feels to be rejected and harmed by people who say they’re on our side.
But there is hope, as Saul Indian Horse discovered. When we confront our pain, we mature and grow wiser, and realize that maybe the society or group that rejects us isn’t where we belong – and then we go looking for that place where we are truly accepted. And in that way, this book is about courage too, because I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been decimated as a child can understand how much courage it takes to trust a safe place as an adult when you didn’t have a safe place as a child. Indian Horse gives us a view of that in one boy, then in one man, who had the courage.
To sum up, I found Indian Horse to be an amazing book. Very well written, wise, and compassionate. It was difficult to read in places, but worthwhile, even in the tough parts. In hindsight, maybe especially in the tough parts. A soulful book.
Indian Horse, by Richard Wagamese: highly recommended.