Monday, August 1, 2016

Green Grass Running Water, and more by Thomas King

Image from Wikimedia

Thomas King is an academic who has travelled widely and taught at various universities in Canada and the US. He gave the 2003 Massey Lectures, "The Truth about Stories, a Native Narrative," which I heard on a road trip into the interior. I still imagine the dry sage-covered hills rushing by as I listened to these heartbreaking tales.

King's most recent book is The Back of the Turtle, which came out in 2014. Originally published by Harper Collins in 1993, Green Grass Running Water was an early reflection of the writing genius of its author, whose literary input continues to educate, amuse, and amaze.

Culling old papers from my office, I found some comments I wrote just after reading it, and offer some excerpts below.

The novel is full of fantastic happenings. Vanishing cars punctuate the comings and goings of "four old Indians" who appear and disappear at will, as they bring various gifts in an effort to set the world straight. Cameo appearances of historical characters feature John Wayne and Queen Elizabeth as seen in the once iconic portrait -- in satin dress, tiara, jewels and white ermine -- so often seen on the walls of Canadian schools and other public buildings. 

Between bouts of fussily organizing his dam builders, Sir Clifford Siftonthe infamous historic Minister of Immigration, comes to Eli's cabin for coffee and tries to persuade him to move off Indian land so the dam can be opened...All in all, a surreal story, constructed with amazing sleight of hand. Surefooted, Thomas King moves from shrewd political comment, to zany humour, to the pathos of our shared human dilemmas.

A couple of years ago, I met King at a reception hosted by the Vancouver International Writers' Festival. We talked about The Inconvenient Indian. I was delighted to learn it would soon be listed on the Ontario school curriculum, and told the author I hoped it would soon be required reading for every Canadian high school kid.

For a recent state visit to President Barak Obama in Washington, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was invited to bring a book he felt represented our nation. His choice was good: Three Day Roadby Joseph Boyden. He could equally have selected King's unique and uncategorizable opus, The Inconvenient Indian, which so brilliantly plies "the knife of insight that cuts as it heals."

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