Book Review: Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

Book Review: Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese


Saul Indian Horse has been encouraged to share his story. He’s currently dying in a hospice and coming to terms with his life as a Northern Ojibway boy. He knows there’s too much to just orate, so he begins to write his story. He goes back to the beginning when he was a boy who was abandoned by his parents and left with his grandmother. His grandmother did her best but died while clutching him in her arms, trying to get them to safety. He was a boy all alone, sent to a residential school, and found solace in playing hockey. A game he taught himself and a game that allowed him to escape his life. When the game became more about him being an Indian, it lost its spark and Saul felt like he didn't belong. He lost the ability to escape within hockey and he became bitter. Saul became a man who was happiest amongst nature but needed to look for opportunities. He was always searching for a place to call home.


Indian Horse was selected as a Canada Reads 2013 finalist book. Today the 2020 Longlist was announced if you follow CBC Canada Reads. When I picked it up Indian Horse I wasn't sure what to expect, but I soon found myself captivated by this story. Saul was such a strong character, and this book really broke my heart. It was common for Natives to understand that individuals never came home from residential schools the same, but parents were forced to surrender their children. These children were told to never speak their language anymore, and schooling was less about education but more about labour. Children who died, were buried and never thought of again. Children who spoke up to protect their siblings were beaten and taught to stay quiet. Natives were being assimilated but didn't know where to go once they left the school. Saul’s escape was hockey, and his talent put a lot of focus on him, but he was shunned by many. He was always labelled “the Indian” and all he wanted to do was play hockey. Once hockey was taken away, he had nothing.

This book was amazing! I loved it. Wagamese was a fascinating writer, and I  will get through all of his books throughout my lifetime, he passed away in 2017 but his writing has left a huge impact on me. Indian Horse is a powerful story, healing comes from shared experiences, and solidarity.

There were several themes throughout the novel. Saul finds salvation in hockey; he recognized that hockey was his form of escape, his form of suppressing the nightmares in his life. When he played hockey, he could focus on one thing. He threw himself wholeheartedly into the game. Another major theme of the book was family. Saul learns that family doesn't always have to be biological. Saul’s spiritual connection with his ancestors and nature surrounds him when he most needs the comfort. Racism and abuse is another major theme. Wagamese never wants the reader to pity Saul, he wants readers to understand his struggles and see when he triumphed and when he was defeated.

It’s obvious that I think this book was wonderful, and I highly recommend it. Residential schools are a part of Canada’s blackest hours; generations of Native American’s who were left scarred, sent to a school to “take the Indian” out of them. Children were removed from their parents, deprived of their language and in many cases physically and sexually abused. Many people would be shocked to learn that the last school was closed in 1996. This is a book I would love to see taught in schools today.

Publisher: Douglas & Mcintyre
Released: 2012
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

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