Three Day Road: a Cree story from the Great War

Joseph Boyden pulls no punches when describing both the harsh realities of the First World War and of residential schools

(Image courtesy of Penguin Canada)

By: Alex Bloom

Based loosely on a true story, Three Day Road follows two young brothers of the Cree people, Xavier and Elijah, who join the Canadian infantry during World War One. Their upbringing in the country and experience hunting makes them proficient snipers and they soon become well-known among the ranks as some of the best shots in the army.

     As the war drags on, they become better and better snipers, helping turn the tide of battles with their devastating accuracy, taking the lives of scores of German soldiers in the process. As they are exposed to increasing amounts of horror during the war, it all begins to take a toll on the brothers and they are forced into a battle within their own minds in addition to the one in the trenches.

     The book isn’t just about the war, though. There are myriad flashbacks to their time in residential school, as well as their upbringing with their own families. A parallel storyline also  follows one of their ancestors, a woman who fell in love with a white man. All of these stories feel raw and real; Boyden doesn’t show us Canadian history through rose-tinted glasses.

     Three Day Road is the most honest treatment of war I’ve seen outside of an actual journal by a soldier. There are moments of beauty, sorrow, and despair, but the reader is always made to understand what the characters are feeling. It is not just a war story, but a story of fighting to preserve one’s culture in an unfamiliar place, of preserving one’s humanity amidst brutality, and of keeping one’s dignity in the face of abuse. Three Day Road may very well take you three days to read, but it will stay with you for a lifetime.