Three Day Road

Three Day Road

4.3 (17,231 ratings by Goodreads)
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Set in Canada and the battlefields of France and Belgium, Three-Day Road is a mesmerizing novel told through the eyes of Niska--a Canadian Oji-Cree woman living off the land who is the last of a line of healers and diviners--and her nephew Xavier.At the urging of his friend Elijah, a Cree boy raised in reserve schools, Xavier joins the war effort. Shipped off to Europe when they are nineteen, the boys are marginalized from the Canadian soldiers not only by their native appearance but also by the fine marksmanship that years of hunting in the bush has taught them. Both become snipers renowned for their uncanny accuracy. But while Xavier struggles to understand the purpose of the war and to come to terms with his conscience for the many lives he has ended, Elijah becomes obsessed with killing, taking great risks to become the most accomplished sniper in the army. Eventually the harrowing and bloody truth of war takes its toll on the two friends in different, profound ways. Intertwined with this account is the story of Niska, who herself has borne witness to a lifetime of death--the death of her people.

In part inspired by the legend of Francis Pegahmagabow, the great Indian sniper of World War I, Three-Day Road is an impeccably researched and beautifully written story that offers a searing reminder about the cost of war.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 351 pages
  • 132.08 x 205.74 x 22.86mm | 158.76g
  • Penguin Putnam Inc
  • Penguin USA
  • New York, NY, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 0143037072
  • 9780143037071
  • 68,105

About Joseph Boyden

Joseph Boyden is a Canadian of Irish, Scottish, and Metis roots. He divides his time between northern Ontario and Louisiana, where he teaches writing at the University of New Orleans.
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Review quote

A beautifully written and haunting story of survival and innocence shattered, of friendship, death, redemption and love of the land. (Isabel Allende) A compelling read, beautifully told and timeless in its lessons. (Rick Bass)
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Rating details

17,231 ratings
4.3 out of 5 stars
5 50% (8,570)
4 36% (6,140)
3 11% (1,965)
2 2% (393)
1 1% (163)

Our customer reviews

Three day road is a novel both of physical journeys and interior ones. The book opens with the two-page story of Xavier and Eiijah's first hunt together at age 12. Then the viewpoint moves to Xavier's aunt, Niska, who is meeting the train she thinks is bringing Elijah home from World War I. This is a story rich in theme. Journeys, war, spirituality, healing . . . Using alternating viewpoints, Joseph Boyden tells the story of Niska's life, as well as that of her nephew Xavier Bird, and his best friend Elijah. Of Ojibwe/Cree descent, Niska's family live in the bush as they have always done, until one particularly hard winter her father, a hookimaw, has to perform the necessary service of killing two windigo, a woman and baby who have been possessed and eaten human flesh. This killing cleanses the group and allows their hunt for sustenance to be successful. Niska witnesses this ritual killing as she has hidden in the place it happens. Her father tells her afterward that he let her see it because she is his heir and may have to repeat the service sometime. Rumor of the killing spreads to a settlement nearby, and the wimistikoshiw (whites) eventually arrest Niska's father, who dies in jail, leaving the family group without leadership. Niska runs away from school to join her her mother and they continue to live in the bush, with her mother teaching Niska its ways. Niska inherits her father's powers, but it is an uncomfortable inheritance. Her sister, Rabbit (Anne), is consumed by alcohol, and Rabbit's son, called Xavier, is raised in a mission school. Eventually Niska sneaks onto the school grounds and offers Xavier the option of coming to live with her in the bush, an offer he eagerly accepts. Xavier begins to learn Objiwe/Creek ways from Niska, including spiritual ways, and requests that his best friend from school, Elijah, join them in the summer. While Elijah mentored Xavier in school, helping him learn enough English to get by, Xavier mentors Elijah in the summers, teaching him to hunt, and Elijah comes to live with Xavier and Niska as an adult. Eventually the two young men volunteer for service in the European war, where their hunting skills serve them well as they use them to hunt German soldiers. The "three day road" of the title is a reference to the road of death. It is also a literal reference to the three days travel it will take for Niska and her nephew Xavier (it turns out the army has mistakenly determined Xavier was killed) to travel back to her home. It may in fact be a literal road to death for Xavier, as he has had a leg amputated and has become addicted to morphine for the pain. He has only enough for 2-3 more days, and expects to die when he runs out. He is unable or unwilling to talk much, and the bulk of the novel consists of his ruminations on his experiences of the war, interspersed with Niska's thoughts and their mostly nonverbal interactions. What becomes clear over the course of the narration is that at the warfront Elijah comes to love killing for killing's sake. Xavier has been wounded in spirit by the war, by the loss of his best friend in addition to his physical wounds, and Niska must call not only on survival skills, but on spiritual skills as well to attempt to heal herself and her nephew. I enjoyed the reading of this novel. It has also left me with some unanswered questions - was it something in Elijah that went wrong, or was it perhaps that his "summers only" grounding in the Ojibwe/Creek world made him more susceptible to harm? I read Boyden's second book, Through black spruce, recently, and it uses the same technique: the thoughts of, in this case, a niece and uncle, as a means of healing. In Through black spruce it is the younger generation calling the older "home". I'm curious now about both the content and the structure of Boyden's third novel, as well as the role family connections play in the world he creates on paper. Also, it seems to me silence plays a large role - my reading is that the narration in both books is mostly silent reflection on the part of the younger and older generation, rather than direct speech to each other. How do the characters hear each other in this silence? It's started me wondering about the role silence plays in my relationships, when this is a good thing and when it is not. Finally, I think another reading paying attention to the chapter titles in Ojibwe (with English translations) might prove illuminating. This is a book I will return more
by markon
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