I ended up picking up this book recently, at an event put on locally by Tomson Highway to raise money for literacy - a cabaret show with Mr. Highway playing the piano (and singing a bit) and telling stories. He is quite a performer, and had us all laughing until we cried!
A brief summary of the book. It is the story of two Cree brothers from northern Manitoba who end up at a residential school in the late 1950's and 1960's where they are abused by the priest who runs the school. After their experiences in the school, they no longer fit in with their family (who are struggling to adapt from their nomadic lifestyle to living on a reservation), and both end up living in Winnipeg then Toronto. One brother becomes a musician and the other, a dancer. The two brothers follow opposite trajectories. The musician works hard at first, rises to a small amount of fame, then falls to alcohol abuse, and at the end experiences a form of redemption, assisted by his brother. The dancer on the other hand struggles to understand his place in the world at first, as well as struggling with his homosexuality, before rising to fame as a dancer, and then succumbing to AIDS.
What makes this book even more poignant is that it is quite closely based on the real story of the Highway brothers - Tomson (the musician and writer) and Rene (a dancer who died of AIDS in 1990).
At the cabaret last month, Tomson Highway said that one theme that runs through all of his plays and books is the loss of the feminine side of the divine when traditional native spirituality is replaced by Christianity, and that is evident in this book. The trickster ("Nanabush" in Ojibway, "Weesageechak" in Cree) takes on a distinctly female form (The Fur Queen) in the book; and strong female characters are influential on the lives of the protagonists, especially in the revival of their cultural awareness.
Also, living in this part of the world, the residential school experience is very relevant today. I have many clients at work who attended these schools where many children were abused, and traditional culture was lost; and reading this book has given me a glimpse of some of what they have lived through.
I'm glad that I bought this book at the cabaret, and look forward to re-reading many times!