Indian Horse, a serious yet beautiful novel by Ojibway writer Wagamese, concerns Saul Indian Horse, a former hockey star undergoing treatment for alcoholism. Saul chronicles his life story as a means of identifying the source of his addiction.

Saul’s story begins in the northern Ontario bush where he enjoys a traditional life of hunting and fishing with his parents, grandmother and older brother Ben. The family hopes living far outside town will keep the boys from residential school. But government men hunt them down, and take Ben at gunpoint.

Saul’s devastated parents turn to alcohol. They leave the bush, moving from campground to campground in the rundown margins of towns. Ben’s return years later — he has run away from school — reignites the family’s hope. They return to the bush, this time heading much deeper in, to God’s Lake (Manitou Gameeng), which according to legend, is their spiritual home.

When Ben dies of tuberculosis, Saul’s embittered parents abandon him and his grandmother. He lands, inevitably, at St. Jerome’s Indian Residential School, where “education” describes a perpetual cycle of abuse. A degree of respite arrives in the form of Father Leboutilier. The young priest introduces the students to hockey. Saul develops a passion for the game and an uncanny, almost preternatural gift.

The residential school is a horror story. A nun viciously beats a boy who refuses to deny his father. A little boy routinely has his hands tied behind his back to prevent him from wiping his nose with his sleeve. The child hangs himself from the rafters in the barn. He is six years old. A little girl is placed in a box — the Iron Sister — for repeatedly wetting the bed. After she dies mysteriously, her sister stabs herself to death. There are no funerals for these children. They simply disappear.

But Saul escapes the horror by the grace of his hockey skills.

Read my review of Wagamese’s earlier novel RAGGED COMPANY. Another excellent novel.

This is a must read!


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