Three Day Road (Book Review)

Three Day Road (Book Review)

For too long, I looked at my new copy of Three Day Road, as it sat in the pile of books that I want to read over the summer. Over and over again, I read the back of the cover, interested in what it was saying, but never taking the plunge to opening it, and starting to read it. I’m not sure what was holding me back. It seemed like the book would be too heavy, or too intense, or maybe the blurb was just a tease about the story of the First World War.

Regardless, I finally did open Three Day Road, and only a couple of days later, I have finished it.

32Joseph Boyden has created a wonderfully crafted narrative that intertwines the story of three First Nations people before, and during the time of the First World War. The story in Three Day Road is engrossing, graphic, and tragic.

Two main perspectives are used to narrate the story: Auntie Niska, one of the last Cree women to live off the land in the old ways, tells the stories of her life while she paddles her Nephew, Xavier Bird, down the river after he has returned home from the Great War crippled, and addicted to morphine. Xavier provides the second voice in the novel, telling the incredible tales of himself and his best friend, Elijah Whiskeyjack, as they volunteered to join the war effort, and then go to Europe to experience some of the most horrific battles that the war had to offer. Xavier is haunted by what transpired in the trenches of Europe, of what he had to witness, and of what he saw happen to his best friend, Elijah.

The war tales are brilliantly written. They provide excitement and suspense, but Boyden does not hold back on his violent descriptions of trench warfare, or of the sniper warfare that Xavier and Elijah embark on. Their exploits lead them to becoming decorated soldiers, well respected among their peers, but Xavier is forced to watch as his best friend in the whole world deteriorates before his eyes. Riddled with addiction, to drugs, and to killing, Elijah transforms as the war wears on. Xavier must acknowledge these changes, and recognize them in himself as well.

Can people not only survive the war, but survive it with a part of their soul still intact?

Boyden takes us on a journey that visits the most infamous/famous battles of the war, specifically from the Canadian perspective. We go to the Somme, to Vimy Ridge, to Passchendale. Xavier and Elijah are a part of a very strong unit, one that is a victim of its own success, being continually sent somewhere new after doing well. The only reward for being strong soldiers is more work, which leads to more problems, and more death.

33The storytelling of the novel is a central way in which the plot is advanced. Niska tells stories of her youth to Xavier, in hopes of making him feel better upon his return home. Here we learn of the changing world in which these First Nations people lived. The birth of the residential schools, the atrocities that happened within, the separation of the old ways and the new. Niska is brave and strong, living off the land as her ancestors had done, rarely feeling the need for the city living that had been brought to them by the British and the French. In her tales, Niska also describes the childhood of Xavier and Elijah, the blooming of their friendship, and their lives together.

Xavier himself tells the stories of what lead them to the war, and many of the descriptions of the events that transpired during those terrible years. He tells these stories to the audience, but not to others, as he is the quiet one, often wanting silence more than anything, especially from the constant ringing in his ears. He also tells stories to Elijah to pass the time during the war. The stories of when they were younger, and more innocent men, before they had come to Europe to experience all of the terrible things they had to.

The final set of stories are those told by Elijah to Xavier, as he becomes more prone to sneak off in the night to hunt the Germans. He returns with stories that horrify Xavier, and lead to the slow downfall of the man, and friend, who is perceived as a war hero.

Three Day Road is a story that describes the savagery of the war in perfect detail. There is blood, and guts, and it is not pleasant. This is not a sugarcoated version of what transpired in those trenches, but an honest one. He does not restrain himself in describing the explosions of blood, or the random limbs found on the battlefield. It is how our characters are able to deal with these atrocities that truly drives this novel forward. There are the small things that the men cling to, in order to keep them human. And there are the things that are done that are barely human, but either keep them alive, or keep them sane, or make them think that they are staying the same.

This novel is about coping with brutality, and how to survive it.

It is also the story of the First Nations, and their forced transitions into the world of the Europeans, and of the army. There is the desire to be seen, to be respected, all while trying to maintain who they are, and where they came from. The traditions are thrown in direct conflict with the modern, and Xavier spends much time trying to strike a balance between the two.

This is a highly entertaining read, and one that is wonderfully written, and full of drama to keep you turning the pages. There is not just one solid story here, but three. The story of Niska, the story of Xavier, and the story of Elijah. They are all three very rich characters who are developed incredibly well by their actions, and by the stories that they tell.

I enjoyed this novel so much, that even before completing Three Day Road, I had already ordered another Boyden book, to read more about the cultures, and the deep characterization that he is able to create.

Joseph Boyden is already a great Canadian author, one who has piled up the awards and prizes for his work. Upon completion of Three Day Road, I can already understand why.

A definite great novel to put on your personal reading list. Just don’t let it sit for as long as I did.

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World Cup Final: Show Your Pride

World Cup Final: Show Your Pride

Ok. Like so many North Americans, I admit to knowing very little about the beautiful game of soccer. I know the best teams in the various European countries around the world, I can name a few of the best players in the world, and I know which teams win in places like England, France, and Spain each year.

And, like most, I will watch the World Cup, and I will watch the European Championships. But that’s about it. It is unbelievably rare that I will watch a league match, or even a Champions League game during the year. I need to save myself up for the big tournaments, I suppose.

There is something about the World Cup, regardless if you are a soccer fan or not. It is incredible that there is one event that is bigger than any kind of sport we follow in North America, bigger than the Olympics. The fact that there will be about a billion people watching the Germany-Argentina game this afternoon is mind-blowing. Soccer is the universal sport. Everybody can play soccer. It is not expensive, it is simple enough, and it is loved like religion across the globe.

Everybody has a team. And in a place like Canada, where people’s backgrounds are incredibly diverse, it is awesome to see, and learn, who people are cheering for.

Myself, I will cheer for a few teams (I don’t feel the need to be especially loyal). I always cheer for Italy, because my great-grandfather immigrated from Italy when he was a teenager, setting up the lives of so many people after him here in Canada.

I will cheer for any team from the former Yugoslavia. My grandmother came over from Yugoslavia when she was young, her family settling in Edmonton. Her hometown is now in Serbia, but I will cheer for any of the teams from the region. This year, it was Bosnia and Croatia. Neither did especially well, but in the case of Bosnia, it was great to see the continually rebuilding nation even make it to the World Cup. They also won a game, which is a massive step in the right direction for the small country. These places mean a lot to me, because they are a part of my bloodline, but I have also had the opportunity to travel there, and see what incredible countries they are.

I also often cheer for teams that are favorites from my travels. I cheer for Argentina, because I love Argentina. I don’t know a lot about their particular brand of football, but the country was amazing, and I want them to do well.

worldcup3It is great to see how people band together to love the sport that is generally unloved here most of the time. Little Italy explodes in the city. The Greek community comes together for every single game. The large French population is out in droves to watch their team succeed. Being Canada, a large number of our populace is of British descent, so every England game is a big deal. There are car flags, and jerseys to be seen everywhere. You learn about where people came from, based on who they cheer for. It seems like the Dutch come out of the woodwork every four years. Where are these guys the rest of the time? Who knows. But they are Dutch, and the success of their team lets you know that they are secretly orange clad crazies every four years.

I love it. I love seeing the pride in our national heritages. Of course, if Canada ever made it to the World Cup again (we only made it in once before, in 1986, I believe), it may be a different story, as the majority of people could get behind one team. But it is awesome to see the blending of heritages that we have in this city, and in this country. It’s okay if your neighbor cheers for the Germans and you are English.

As for this tournament, it has been incredible. Big upsets, some high scoring games, the usual array of extremely impressive goals and individual performances. There hasn’t really been a team that has stood up and dominated the entire tournament, but it is difficult to argue against Germany and Argentina being here (I really want Argentina to win this thing!). They have been the most solid teams throughout, and neither has dropped a match thus far. That will change in a couple of hours, of course.

worldcupThe Germans have to be the big favorites here, especially with their shocking dismantling of the home team, and tournament favorites, Brazil, 7-1 in the semi-finals. I had to re-read that score several times to make sure it wasn’t a mistake.

Like many people around here, all I want to see is an exciting game, where teams exchange chances, and the better team comes out on top. I would also be happy if it ended before overtime, because penalty kicks is no way to win the whole thing (even though it worked for my Italian side in 2006).

Best of luck to the two teams, and let’s go Argentina!

 

The King Returns: A Fringe NBA Fan’s View

The King Returns: A Fringe NBA Fan’s View

I am not a very big basketball fan, to say the least. I find it difficult to watch games on TV, as, like many people, I find they drag on in the waning minutes of each game, where each team seemingly has an endless supply of timeouts, and a final minute can take a half hour to play out. I have been to a couple of NBA games, and find the in-person experience much more entertaining. I follow who the stars are, and can tell you who won the championships in each year, but that might be it.

For me, like millions of people, the heyday of the league was during the days of Michael Jordan and the reign of the Chicago Bulls, when every kid with a basketball hoop on their driveway was a Jordan fan. For me, those days are long gone.

But I have been trying to pay more attention to basketball over the past couple of years, even engaging in a fantasy league that I inexplicably won (I had Kevin Durant, and I’m pretty sure that’s what did it for me).

Like the rest of the sporting world, I have been following the LeBron James Decision 2.0, and have opinions, just like any other fan of sports.

Back where he belongs.
Back where he belongs.

Today, James announced that he would be leaving the Miami Heat for his former, and hometown, team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

And this is great news. For a few reasons.

Like many people, I had been trained to hate the Heat after they created the Big 3. Cheering for them would be like cheering for the New York Yankees, a team that simply buys themselves a championship, and seems to be devoid of a soul. We all knew what Miami fans were. Fringe fans, who would only go see a winner. Their attendance records over the years definitely reflect this. They didn’t seem like a city worthy of having such a dynastic team. And the Heat did well, the experiment worked. They went to four straight finals, and won two of them. Sure, they probably should have won all four to make themselves legends, but that is still a pretty impressive record, leaving the rest of the Eastern Conference chasing them since the day James told us he was taking his talents to South Beach.

With his return to Cleveland, James is coming home. He is from Akron, was drafted by the Cavs, and spend the formative years of his career there. They even went to the finals once, getting rightfully whipped by the Lakers when they got there.

But now, the Cavs are a team on the rise, and having the best player in the world rejoin them makes them an immediate contender. They are a young team, and in a couple of years, if they are able to keep it all together, they have the look of a team that can win year after year, giving the downtrodden fans of Cleveland something to cheer for in their title-less town.

James will join a plethora of young talent, and a group of fellow #1 picks. Kyle Irving, Anthony Bennett, and Andrew Wiggins (unless he is traded for Kevin Love) will be a part of the future that will soon dominate the league. This is to go along with Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters as well. Seems like a pretty good group. If they can grow together, they will truly be a force to be reckoned with, and the Cleveland championship drought should end at some point. They are good side pieces to the best player in the game, which, let’s be honest, is important in basketball, where having one great player is enough to make you a good, contending team.

I believe that LeBron made the right choice by going home. He should probably have never left Cleveland in the first place, as it made him look like a mercenary. He was the best player in the league, and should have convinced others to join him in Cleveland, instead of him packing up and moving somewhere else to chase a title. It made him look less great than he really was, like he was the piece, instead of the centerpiece. If, and more likely when, he wins in Cleveland, he will be a legend. Going back to a small market makes him look like a better person. Trying to win for his home makes him look like someone who truly cares about Ohio. And this is good for him.

With one choice, James has, in my mind, gone from being one of the greatest villains in the NBA, to one of the good guys. He is already cleaning up his image by making this choice. It will be easier to cheer for him now that is a Cav again. In the same way that it was always easy to cheer for Jordan, even though it is in our nature to hate the greatest player and the greatest team.

In another way, this is a cool thing for the Canadian basketball fan. The Canadian Cavaliers, with three Canucks on their roster, were already on their way to becoming Canada’s Team (except for those few people outside of Toronto that actually cheer for the Raptors). Now, it is much easier to cheer for them, because we know that they will be good. It is nice to watch our homegrown talent play at the highest level, it is even better to watch them when they aren’t completely terrible.

In my opinion, the Return of the King is nothing but good things. It brings a star back to where he belongs, it ruins a troublesome partnership in a city that is tough to cheer for, and it turns a villain into a returning hero.

Great choice by LeBron, and it will be interesting over the next few years to see how well the Canada Cavaliers are able to do. I may still be a fringe fan, but this one move is something that could help draw my interest back to the NBA.

World War Z (Film Review)

World War Z (Film Review)

New to Netflix Canada this week is the Brad Pitt interpretation of the incredible zombie novel, World War Z.

The first thing I will say about this film, goes to those who have read the book. The film is nothing like it. Might as well forget that you have actually read the thing. In order to enjoy this movie, don’t worry about the connections to the book, as this is as loosely based on a novel as possible. The basic idea is the same, and…that is about it.

WWZThe novel did not set itself up to be a movie. It was based on a series of interviews conducted after a zombie apocalypse, in a variety of locations across the globe. In order to get a real interpretation of the novel, the film would have had to be ten hours long.

As a film, this one is mildly entertaining. It really felt as though there was a lot of buildup and a really quick payoff, finishing with an unsatisfying voice-over montage to conclude. Some good things about the movie were the special effects, Brad Pitt himself, not too much cheesiness with him trying to save his own family, a pretty interesting way to avoid the zombies, and the creatures themselves were the fast kind, not the slow, moaning type. I like a good zombie that can put up some serious 40-yard dash times.

There is some good violence to be seen in here, but this isn’t a splatterfest as some zombie films are. It is more cerebral than that, and it does it in a pretty entertaining way. They think about the zombies, where they came from, and how to identify what the issue is. The concept behind the film isn’t simply Armageddon survival tactics, with Brad Pitt saving the world, and going across the planet to save his family. There is more to it than that.

Zombie movies are awesome, for the most part, and World War Z sort of fits into the middle of them. It is not the best one that is out there, but it definitely isn’t the worst. Watching this won’t be a waste of a couple of hours.

Just forget that it is based on a novel.

Golden!

Golden!

Sometimes, waking up at 5 AM is well worth it.

The Canadian men’s hockey team made it well worth while for the millions of Canadians who crawled out of bed at ungodly hours of the morning (or pulled university-style all nighters), by winning the Olympic gold medal with a dominating 3-0 win over Team Sweden.

The morning never seemed so sweet. Or so golden.

goldThis was a dominant performance. The Canadians went to work, won the battles, controlled the puck in Sweden’s zone. Over the course of the game, despite a couple of very good chances turned away by Carey Price, it seemed like the Swedes never really had a sniff. I feel for them, because they are a great team and probably deserved a better game, with their three main offensive forces not in the game due to injury. But that’s the way the tourney goes, and they are definitely a worthy silver medal team.

Canada, once again, can relish in the victory.

This Canadian team was maligned, as most Canadian teams are, from being under a microscope for so long. Sidney Crosby, the best player on earth, was criticized for not contributing enough offense. He scored the important 2-0 goal on a breakaway today, and has been Canada’s best player over the past two games. Even Chris Kunitz, who most people didn’t think belonged on this team in the first place, scored the defining 3-0 goal on a beautiful laser of a slapshot. Jonathan Toews, another forward who had been held goalless, put away the winner in the first period.

This was a team effort, and regardless of the plethora of NHL megastars on the roster, the Canadians played like a team. They remained committed to the team game through the tournament, especially on the defensive side of the game. They could have got nervous and broke down and tried for the offense that the crowds wanted, but they refrained, playing a well-structured game that looked impenetrable against the offensively gifted Americans and Swedes.

At times, it looked like Team Canada was just toying with them, playing keep-away in their end of the rink.

What I liked most about this team, is that they strapped on their hard hats and went to work in a very mechanical fashion. They did what they needed to do, played how they needed to play to win. They didn’t celebrate their goals too hard, or their victories too much. They just scored when they needed to and won games. All of the games. Even upon winning the gold medal, their celebration was sedate compared to the amazing anarchy of Vancouver. They had done their jobs, and done them well. Their goal was accomplished.

For an Olympics that lacked the raw excitement of a home country hosting, such as in Vancouver 2010, this was a great cap to an incredible few days of hockey, and overall, a great Olympics by Canada. 25 medals, including 10 gold. Pretty impressive for our small nation of 33 million people. We can compete with the big boys, the Americans and the Russians, as well as the other winter powers, such as the Dutch, Norwegians and Germans.

We didn’t end up with the most gold, or the most medals, this time around. But because of the men’s hockey, it feels like we won the Games.

Olympics: Scared of Switzerland

Olympics: Scared of Switzerland

I was listening to the post-game summary following the Canada-Finland game at the Olympics, and the hosts were discussing how neither Switzerland or Latvia (the two teams who play to decide who faces Canada in the quarter finals) pose a serious threat to the Canadians in the elimination round.

Well, I strongly disagree.

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 5 - Latvia v SwitzerlandI am scared of the Swiss.

A team that plays that solid of team defense needs to be one that is able to strike fear into the Canadian team. All three games that Switzerland has played, have all ended up with scores of 1-0 (the won two of them). That means that they already have garnered two shutouts against Olympic competition. Granted, beating the Czechs this year isn’t the most difficult of tasks, but it still says something about how well this team can play together.

And they have the most important thing: a hot goalie, in Jonas Hiller of the Anaheim Ducks. He has been playing extremely well, and this should be considered a problem for Canada.

Plus, they are a massive underdog, with nothing to lose, going against a hockey juggernaught, a team with some of the highest expectations entering the tournament.

Strangely, the Swiss have been a team that have caused Canada fits over the years, which may be surprising to many. Whether it be in the World Championships or the Olympics, the Swiss always play the Canadians tough, and we struggle to get through their stalwart defensive system. The Canadians need shots, lots of them, and traffic in front of Hiller. They need to collapse on their net, and hope for some lucky bounces. It needs to be anarchy out there, and the Canadians need to use their big bodies in order to create havok.

I am confident that this team can win. They have the best players in the world, and their confidence should be boosted after a hard fought win against Finland. By no means are they scoring like they should be, but at least they know that they can play in a tight game, which is probably what they will end up with against the Swiss. As long as they remain confident in their team, and not get rattled by the tight D and make foolish mistakes, they should be fine.

But it doesn’t change the fact that Team Switzerland scares me in this tournament.

Olympics: Hockey so far…

With the men’s Olympic hockey tournament underway, here are a few thoughts I’ve had from the opening games. At this point, all teams have played at least two games and we really are already separating the good from the bad and the ugly, as happens every year. The prelims really are just a warmup for the teams we know are going to make it to the medal round anyway, as they try and fuse a team together and get some momentum before the elimination games really begin.

Olympic-rings

  • Great job by Slovenia, the tiny former Yugoslav nation with fewer than 200 registered male hockey players, on getting their first ever Olympic win, over the reeling Slovakian team.
  • Even though Finland hasn’t dominated, as a Canadian fan, I am scared of what Tuuka Raask could do in the medal round.
  • The US team has looked dominant, maybe the best team in the tourney so far.
  • 4 goals by TJ Oshie in the shootout against Russia? Incredible. That will be seen as a classic game in no time.
  • Tough blow for Sweden, who were the favorites in my mind. Losing Henrik Zetterberg really hurts. He is a beast, and probably their best player. They have good team depth, however, and should be able to make a run at a medal without him. That D combination of Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson is terrifying.
  • The uniforms: as awful as they were when they were released, they actually look pretty decent on the ice. That goes for most of the teams. I really like the Finnish flag jerseys, the Czech whites, and the Canada reds. Still a huge thumbs down for the black Canadian alternates, and those Russian ones look like a big mess with the white eagle heads. And is Austria just wearing the Canadian jerseys from 2010 with a different logo? No points for creativity there.

Now, specifically on the Canadian team:

  • I want Carey Price as my goalie moving forward. Luongo played well and got a shutout, but that was against Austria. I just don’t trust him to rise up like I would Price.
  • Crosby has been quiet, which shouldn’t really be a concern. He didn’t do tons in Vancouver, either, before scoring that one little goal of his…
  • I am endlessly impressed with our defense. Weber and Doughty have been great in both ends of the rink. Everyone else has been solid as well. No glaring giveaways, and it looks like they are all playing well together. This bodes well as we move forward, since in these short tournaments, D and goaltending are paramount.
  • Why is Rick Nash on this team again? I love to hate him.
  • Hopefully Canada got a scare from its close opening game against Norway. European teams can really shut it down out there, and Canada has to be willing to get dirty in the corners and messy in front of the net to get some mucker goals in order to bear those teams. For example, Switzerland gives you no chances, so you need to capitalize on every sniff you may get.
  • I don’t know if I like playing two easy teams off the hop. I would rather have had the Finns as a second game, a truer test for the team. Then an easy one to close the round robin. This would have given them a bit of a break going into the medal round. Now, they will be playing tough and meaningful games for the rest of the tournament. No more simple ones.
  • Again, those black jerseys were terrible.

It is very exciting going forward, to see which nation will rise above the others. There are still so many contenders out there, and it really is too tough to call at this point. The US looks like the team to beat, but that could change in a moment, which really is the best part about the Olympic tourney.

Go Canada Go!