Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Three Day Road - Joseph Boyden


It is not often that when I close a book I don't tell my partner if I liked it, and then give him a little synopsis.  This morning I closed a book and could not speak.

Despite having christian names, Xavier and Elijah are Canadian First Nation people.  As small children they were removed from their people and taken into a "proper" educational facility, to be taught to read, write and forget their tribal ways.  They remained close friends and joined the Canadian forces to cross the Atlantic and fight in WW1.  As first class hunters at home, they were soon given the job of snipers at the front, and from then on the reader is thrown into the visceral horror of the battlefield.  Readers' feeling are not spared, and if you are faint hearted, this book is not for you.

The two friends have many "kills" under their belt, but when one of them become addicted to morphine he becomes different - a better than ever shot with a kind of madness taking over.  How they deal with their place in the war and with each other as the horror mounts is not an easy read. But their story is intertwined by Xavier's aunt, his last family member, who has gone to meet a boy returned from the war and to take him home.  And so she relates to him stories of her childhood and his childhood, whilst she paddles the three day journey.

Perhaps I should not use the word recommend about this book even though for me it ranks as one of those books about war that everyone should read.  It is not "All Quiet On The Western Front"  - but as a description of how men cope (or not) with warfare, it is difficult not to recommend it.  And although we refer to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome these days as though it was always known of;  until very recently men who returned traumatised  from WW1 were referred to as shell shocked.  However, it is made very clear indeed in Three Day Road that it would be easy to go off the rails and become shell shocked.  War is hard, and life is harder still if you survive another day whilst living through it.

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