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Common Book Program 2010: Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden

Three Day Road Book Cover
"They sing a song I don’t know and even McCaan sings out in his thick and raspy voice. From what I can tell it’s about a girl and her smell and not a lot of it makes sense. Me, I won’t sing their songs. I have my own songs.

I try to remember one of my own but the English words all around stop it from coming, so I hum instead and soon I notice that someone else is humming, too, but it is out of tune and grows louder and louder until the hum is a scream and, with no other warning, thunder and a wave of heat coughs me up from the earth, the river and the exploding trees flashing through my head. And then I’m landing hard on the ground shoulder first and it’s raining rock and softer globs of red dirt that it takes me a moment to realize are the flesh and guts of men."


Set in the bush country of Canada and the battlefields of Europe, Three Day Road takes readers deep into the horrors—physical, emotional and spiritual—of World War I.

Morning at Passchendaele. Frank Hurley

The story is told through the voices of two Cree Indians—the young Xavier, who has returned from the war badly wounded and in the grip of morphine addiction, and his aunt Niska, who cares for him and tries to restore him. Xavier had entered the war at the urging of his friend Elijah. Once they get to the front lines, their native hunting skills impress their superiors and both become snipers. They kill many men, but while Xavier feels a kind of spiritual revulsion, Elijah revels in it and tries to notch more kills than any other sniper in the war. His bloodlust completely masters him and he kills with both detached coolness and frenzied violence, disobeying orders and committing atrocities against the enemy, against civilians and even against his fellow soldiers. His addiction to morphine only quickens his moral dissipation. As Xavier remembers the nightmare of war, he struggles with his own addiction, the loss of his leg and the certainty that he will die after his morphine runs out. But Niska watches over him and “feeds” him healing stories of her past, his own past and of the larger past of their people. Whether she will be able to save him, to bring him back to life, creates the suspense that drives the narrative to its surprising conclusion.

Inspired in part by the life of Francis Pegahmagabow, the great Indian sniper of World War I, Three Day Road is a compelling and viscerally powerful exploration of what war does to us and how we might heal from it.1

1. Text reprinted with permission from Penguin Group (Canada). Image is "Morning at Passchendaele." by Frank Hurley, and is in the public domain.

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