The Uniqueness of Life

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Just like in life, there will always be exceptional standouts. We witness this phenomenon in various forms, such as Olympic athletes, world-renowned singers, awe-inspiring sports cars, or even perfect weather. These extraordinary entities are commonly referred to as “unique.” However, it is worth pondering what sets them apart from the rest. It is their distinctive personal qualities that make them so remarkable, for without these qualities they would be indistinguishable from others. Moreover, it is challenging but achievable to even craft novels that possess such extraordinary characteristics.

The Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden is an extraordinary novel that tells the compelling story of Xavier, Elijah, and Niska. Their tales of war, home, and ancient traditions make this novel one of the most unique ever written. It should be regarded as an unmatched gem. What sets this book apart are its distinct aboriginal and Canadian perspectives, raw and diverse settings, vivid realism, and the complex relationships between the three main protagonists.

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The Three Day Road by Boyden stands out among numerous world-war novels by presenting the unique aboriginal perspective on Canada’s involvement in WWI. This distinctive choice of viewpoint, with aboriginal main characters Xavier and Niska, sets the novel apart from its many counterparts, making it a refreshing and unparalleled read.

In this excerpt, the novel is summarized as a powerful and dramatic story told from a unique and fascinating perspective. Joseph Boyden depicts the experiences of two Cree men, Xavier and Elijah, who serve as snipers in World War I with the Canadian forces in Belgium and France. Additionally, the parallel story of Niska, Xavier’s aunt, showcases an Aboriginal woman faced with rapid cultural change and personal tragedy.

The passage discusses the storytelling technique used in the novel, where the narrative alternates between Niska and Xavier’s perspectives. Boyden’s intention was to honor Canadian aboriginal combatants and shed light on the cultural obstacles they faced during that time. The stories told by Xavier and Niska are captivating and provide a unique insight into the experiences of Native Americans during this period, including the racism they encountered and their struggles to preserve their culture and traditions. Boyden employs various techniques to maintain this perspective, such as incorporating native Cree language into the dialogue of Xavier, Niska, and Elijah, and presenting the protagonists’ distinctive viewpoint of western culture through their observation of the North-West Mounted Police’s uniform buttons shining in the sun.

Their leather boots made a squeaking sound as they walked, and they spoke in a harsh, unusual manner. The author cites examples to illustrate the mistreatment of aboriginal people during that time. One quote describes how the author was laughed at for living alone in the wilderness and trapping animals after her relatives had all moved to reservations. Another quote mentions that someone named Breech believes that the Indian blood in aboriginals makes them more like animals than humans.

Despite being treated with contempt both domestically and during times of conflict, the indigenous population experienced frequent discrimination. It is surprising to acknowledge the frequency of this mistreatment. Although these topics may appear foreign and unfamiliar, the narrative is crafted meticulously and precisely, giving the impression that it is a work of non-fiction. The novel’s appeal would undoubtedly diminish without this captivating element.

Boyden skillfully alternates between two haunting and beautiful settings – war-torn Europe and a newly developing Canada – to completely captivate and enchant his readers. These heart-stirring settings are impeccably written and rich in detail. Additionally, Boyden maintains his distinctive use of native perspective, seamlessly transitioning between Canada and World War One. By primarily utilizing flashbacks, Boyden effortlessly shifts between the present and past settings in the narrative.

The passage highlights the interlocking writing method employed in the novel. It mentions that the chapters depicting Xavier and Elijah’s experiences are intertwined with sections where Niska narrates her life story. This juxtaposition showcases the increasing impact of entities like the Hudson’s Bay Company, governmental bodies, missionaries, clergy, and residential schools on Cree communities residing near Hudson Bay. The narrative swiftly transitions from the wilderness of Canada to the tumultuous English Channel and eventually to the war-ravaged trenches of France within a few chapters.

A perfect example is found on page 110 where Boyden skillfully shifts from a dialogue between Niska and Xavier to the battlefields of Ypres. Through this transition, we are able to directly observe and contrast the cultural, physical, and temporal contexts of both trench warfare and 20th century Canada. In doing so, Boyden effectively conveys certain ideas by prompting the reader to draw conclusions and make comparisons unconsciously. This serves as evidence that regardless of their location, the main characters will always be burdened by their race.

For instance, Elijah and Xavier are forbidden from sitting in a train car and told to go to a car four cars back because they are Indians. Whether they are in Canada, Europe, trenches or wilderness, it becomes clear that during this time, the natives were consistently treated disrespectfully without any apparent justification. Boyden’s skill in creating two distinct settings plays a significant role in showcasing this. If Boyden had only focused on one setting, Three Day Road would lose its emphasis on setting, which is one of its strongest elements.

The Three Day Road by Boyden stands out among other novels of its kind due to its stark realism in imagery. Unlike many authors who shy away from explicit details, Boyden showcases brutal and unflinching imagery that accurately portrays the chaos, fear, courage, and addictions of both 1910s Canada and the trenches of Europe. In this passage, we witness the horrors of war through Xavier’s personal experiences and perspective: the constant threat of death with every move, the presence of lice crawling over his body, the harsh cold, hunger, and mud. As readers, we can empathize with the desperation and hopelessness felt by Canadian soldiers who endured terrible conditions and witnessed the daily slaughter of their comrades. Through Xavier’s eyes, we see that the landscape is beyond anything he has ever seen before.

Describing the grim aftermath of war, the author paints a vivid picture of the muddy, corpse-filled trenches. The passage is filled with horrific scenes of death and destruction, such as the soldier being obliterated by a bomb. The imagery evokes the same sense of fear that soldiers would have experienced when facing mortar attacks.

Boyden, in his realistic portrayal, delves into the reasons behind the prevalent morphine addictions among soldiers and their importance for survival. It becomes clear that these soldiers fear pain and prolonged suffering even more than death itself (pg 113), which is why they heavily rely on morphine. We witness how some men become enslaved by the medicine they call morphine (pg 65). Despite sacrificing life and limb for their country, soldiers like Xavier, who have become dependent on morphine to withstand their numerous injuries, are only provided with a minimal amount and left to face potential death.

While Boyden’s explicit imagery of battle is captivating, it is not the only aspect that grabs our attention. He also fearlessly depicts the discrimination faced by aboriginal peoples during that time. We are taken back to 20th century Canada, alongside the appalling conditions of war. Niska’s stories, although less violent than Xavier’s, are equally profound and significant. The Three Day Road doesn’t hold back in portraying the racism endured by the protagonists.

The novel portrays common events like Niska being insulted and ostracized in a store for being a Native American and accused of practicing sorcery (pg 296), which were prevalent throughout 20th century Canada. The story also serves as a realistic representation of the abuse endured by young indigenous children in Canadian residential schools. Even in modern times, the horrifying atrocities committed at these so-called “schools” continue to evoke a sense of terror. Boyden illustrates this through fictional instances, such as when Sister Magdalene physically abuses Xavier and Elijah as punishment for making a joke (pg 153).

It is shocking to witness the previous level of intolerance in Canada. The novel Three Day Road serves as a wake-up call, revealing the suffering and horrors endured by our ancestors. One of the novel’s strengths lies in its language, which vividly depicts the harsh landscapes of the Hudson Bay Lowlands and the boreal forest, as well as the horrific battles on the western front. If Boyden had chosen to avoid explicit parts, the power of the novel would have been diminished.

The Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden is a remarkable book that stands out from the rest. It goes beyond being just a “good” book and leaves a deep impression on its readers. According to Ristau, it is an “amazing work of fiction that belongs in every library.” This is because of its unique combination of the exceptional aboriginal and Canadian perspective, diverse and realistic settings, vivid description, and complex relationships among the three main characters. Without these key elements, the Three Day Road would simply be another average read.

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The Uniqueness of Life. (2016, Oct 17). Retrieved from

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