FOR JOSHUA by Richard Wagamese


An Ojibwe Father Teaches His Son
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An Ojibwa author fulfills his obligation by passing down his life’s wisdom to his son.

Before his death in 2017, Wagamese (Starlight, 2018, etc.) had earned renown in his native Canada for his memoirs and novels. He had also completed this book for his son, then 6 years old. As he explains to the son who barely knew him, “drinking is why we are separated. That’s the plain and simple truth of it. I was a drunk and never faced the truth about myself—that I was a drunk. Booze owned me.” The author then proceeds to revisit a childhood of foster homes and adoption, of feeling like he never fit in or belonged, and of running away to find comfort in transient street life and a community of sorts among others who lived a life of petty crime to subsidize their various addictions. He writes about his search for identity in Ojibwa traditions and what he later considered the misguided “influence of militant Native groups like the American Indian Movement.” “I became racist in my thinking,” he writes, “and it was easy to blame the white man and society for my ordeals. In fact, it made more sense than anything I’d thought of or heard before.” Much of the narrative follows Wagamese’s three days in the wilderness, with only a blanket, at the behest of a recovering alcoholic who thought Ojibwa teachings could help his friend in recovery. Only after he finished was the author told that this had been his “Vision Quest.” The author mixes reflections on the course of his life with dreams he had during those three nights along with Native legends and traditions, illuminating the significance of the pipe and the drum. “As Ojibway men, we are taught that it is the father’s responsibility to introduce our children to the world,” he writes to his son, and this posthumous publication is part of the legacy he passes along.

A sturdy book of traditional wisdom and prescriptions for recovery.

Pub Date: April 14th, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-57131-389-8
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Milkweed
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2020


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