Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden is a historical fiction that changes narrative from Niska, an Oji-Cree woman, to Xavier, her niece, enabling a wide range of readers to relate to the characters. Not only does the narrator change, but the story is written in an unsorted manner, going back and forth in time. I found that from the start the reader is in a state of uncertainty.
The small section at the beginning contains a lot of foreshadowing in my opinion. Xavier and Elijah, a boy who lives with Niska and Xavier, are children and hunting. On the second page, the children kill a marten, stuck in their trap. I believe Xavier’s feelings towards the killing and the pain of the animal, already familiarize the reader with his character. Elijah does not seem as phased, he mentions that Niska will be proud, again teaching the reader about who he is by showing he is able to justify an action his gut tells him is wrong. Since we know the boys will go to war later, their killing of the marten and their reactions to it could be directly related, foreshadowing perhaps, to their actions as soldiers. At the end of the section Elijah asks Xavier “We are great hunters and best friends, yes?” (Boyden 2) Elijah’s question seems to me like one of a small, insecure child. It could be telling the reader that Elijah is dependent on Xavier, that maybe he fears not being those two things: a great hunter and Xavier’s friend. It also may be foretelling of the events that the reader will discover later, possibly the boys’ friendship will fall apart because of circumstances.
As early as the first chapter, Boyden introduces themes such as isolation, due to colonization, and man-versus-man.
The reader understands the struggles of Niska, her inability to accept and be a part of the new society. After Xavier arrives, Niska sees just how broken he is, and once thinks “I want to cry, watching him from the corner of my eye as he bends and tries to pick up wood and then finally sits and pulls rocks to him slowly, making a fire circle” (8). I believe it must be even harder for her to see Xavier like this, than it would be for a white person to see their son or niece so damaged. A white person at that time would be fighting for a nation that fully embraced them, but that was not, and often still isn’t, the case with Aboriginals and other people of colour.
Being a soldier at war is already a difficult thing, but being a Native soldier, having to deal with the consequences of colonialism and its effects make it even harder to bear. Although it might be due to the reader never hearing Elijah’s thoughts unlike Xavier, as a soldier, Elijah seems to fit in easier. He seems more flexible when it comes to putting aside his culture and beliefs. Xavier on the other hand does not seem as ready to conform. I don’t believe it is simply the language barrier that prevents him from fitting in, but he acknowledges and puts more emphasis on his differences: race, culture, and personality. Although I DO believe he sees himself as a part of the society, or perhaps tries to, because he is physically fighting for that same society.
I also find Xavier’s views on war interesting and thought provoking. “The ones who order us are as crafty as wolves. To have men cheer as they march off to the front is not an easy accomplishment” (16). He is observant and skeptical. Later he compares the men who fought in the battles the year before to “walking ghosts” (22). He understands the cost of being a soldier. People often refer to veterans as heroes, and only vaguely speak of the price they’ve paid in battles, and I am strongly against that. It needs to be acknowledged that war is never necessary, that people do not kill and die to spread peace and civilization.
There are still many gaps to fill. Why was Elijah living with Xavier and Niska, prior to the boys enlisting as soldiers? After so many years of colonization, why and how is Niska still so loyal to her culture? Why was Niska told that Xavier was dead, and Elijah would be coming home, when really it was the opposite? Why was Xavier told that Niska had passed away? What did truly happen to Elijah, and between him and Xavier? I can tell the novel has a lot more themes that will be introduced later, and perhaps many more sensitive subjects, like colonization and war, will form the plot. I look forward to reading it all.
Boyden, Joseph. Three Day Road. Penguin Group, 2008.