Three Day Road

Joseph Boyden

Penguin books

ISBN 0670063622

What if the qualities of a good hunter were twisted so much that it made the man turn windigo? That is what happens in Joseph Boyden’s novel Three Day Road.

A Windigo, or in our case, Ajaan, is someone who has a taste for human flesh.

Once a person is known for that, traditionally the person must be killed for the sake of the community.

The year is 1914 and the First World War rages. Some of our boys take up the call and enlist. Years later, in 1919, Xavier returns with only one leg and his innocence taken away and just enough morphine to last him a couple of days. He comes home to his auntie Niska in Moosonee / Moose Factory. In the story she picks him up at the train station. On their return to home they have to paddle three days back.

Three day road also refers to the journey one makes after they die. In those three days Niska tells Xavier the story of how their family came to be windigo killers. In turn Xavier tells of his experiences on the battlefield with the friend he left behind. Elijah. The story tells of a part of our history that hasn’t been told too much. It tells of the very real horrors of war and the ways people coped.

Unfortunately, one of the ways was to get high on the morphine that was used as a battlefield medicine. As partners, the talkative Elijah and the quiet Xavier made a name for themselves on the battlefield as expert marksmen. Able to slip in to no mans land at night “to hunt for Fritz,” they get a reputation throughout the army. Even their comrades cast a weary eye on them.

More and more they fall into dark ways. To survive they harden. They summon their hunting instincts and adapt it to the situation at hand. There were a few proud moments for me throughout the book. One of them was when they met some other soldiers to which the talkative Elijah announces, “We are James Bay Cree.”

Right then a feeling pride came through me. I was proud of what our people gave to the war effort. Then their painful downward spiral starts. Xavier recounts to us their steps into darkness. The morphine habit that takes his friend Elijah turns him into someone he doesn’t recognize. I could just picture Elijah as the talkative one the one who gets all the credit for their exploits out in “no mans land” because he’s the one who tells the stories to all the other soldiers. Then more and more Elijah relishes being out there. He regards the outings as a hunt, his reality gets twisted to the point where he asks Xavier to, how we say, midin-saawaa or to burn the shoulder blade to divine where your hunt is. Unfortunately, it was the shoulder blade of a German.

All the while Xavier tells us his story the old woman Niska recounts her story to Xavier. Even if she thinks Xavier can’t hear through the fog of the morphine she continues anyway. He managed to stay away from the stuff until he got wounded and needed morphine to keep the pain away. She tells of a culture invaded. It is a side also seldom seen. A girl who grows up out in the land her family refusing to move into town but risking starvation to stay free. She tells of the struggles the people faced when the move to the towns were a necessity to keep from starving. This book opens chapters of our history seldom seen and is highiy recommended.