“To understand this story, it is important to know the People and where they came from and what they went through.” So begins a haunting story that explores with frank and honest words the dark legacy of the residential school system and its impact on individuals, families and communities.
James Nathan and Jake Noland have been best friends for life. After finishing mission school, they return to their Gwich’in community in the Northwest Territories. Their lives revolve around bootleggers, the bar, drug abuse and meaningless sex. James and Jake try to dull their painful memories of the school. Each hides a dark secret that fuels his nightmares.
Enough alcohol silences the demons for a night; a gun and a single bullet silences demons forever. When a friend commits suicide and a former priest appears on television, the community is shattered. James and Jake confront their childhood abuse and break the silence to begin a journey of healing and rediscovery.
“A terrific book that deals with present day concerns. Its narrative strategy is one that North American readers aren’t going to be used to … But for Native readers, what they’ll hear is some of the overtones of oral literature and oral story telling.”—Thomas King, Governor General’s Award nominee for Green Grass, Running Water and author of Medicine River and The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative
• Thursday, October 1, 2009
Robert Arthur Alexie on Tour in October 2009
"Porcupines and China Dolls uses narrative to uncover unrelenting truth that pierces through individual differences to the empathic core of common humanity. Alexie’s statement that words “can’t describe shit like this” is extraordinarily powerful. Although the agonizing abuse of characters set in Aberdeen, Northwest Territories was much more widespread than demons of alienation and shame led them to believe, immense supernatural power was required to impel them to purposefully acknowledge what occurred in the dark places where they were confined as children. Alexie’s insistence on expressing the horror that the Residential School system wrought in First Nations communities is poetically magnificent. The “shit” is seeing your children taken away, “knowing their brown bodies were going to be scrubbed by white hands . . . knowing they were going to be forever ashamed . . . knowing they were going to cry that night . . . knowing it was going to sound like a million porcupines screaming in the dark . . . knowing there was not a thing you can do about it.” With the double-entendre inherent in the protagonist’s use of sex and intoxication to bury the self-directed question “who’re you,” Alexie is a blacksmith pounding the English language until it can be put to his own purposes."