TRUE STORIES OF PAIN AND LOVE
The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir (University of Regina Press) is a harrowing account from a survivor of the residential school system in
Saskatchewan. Merasty, who died in March 2017 at the age of eighty-seven, attended the St. Therese Residential School in Sturgeon Landing, Saskatchewan, from 1935 to 1944, where he and other First Nations children, separated from their families and their communities, endured sexual assault and institutionalized racism. David Carpenter, formerly a professor of English at the University of Saskatchewan, edited Merasty’s drafts, his letters, and his testimony to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, into a slim volume. Reading it, you can’t help but be moved by Merasty’s resilience and his persistence: the many attempts, spread over many years—in the face of childhood trauma, and the deep psychological and emotional scars left by his abusers—to make his story public.
You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie (Little Brown) is a memoir of love and loss: the complicated love of a son for a neglectful mother who lied habitually; the loss of that same mother, at age seventy-eight. Alexie, a writer of Spokane-coeur d’alene descent, grew up in Wellpinit, Washington, on the Spokane Indian Reservation, where he was raised by parents who were emotionally ill-equipped for their responsibilities. He has described his mother as “brilliant, funny, beautiful, generous, vindictive, deceitful, tender, manipulative, abusive, loving, and intimidating”; the mix of adjectives gives a vivid sense of the conflicting feelings that form the core of the book. You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is a frank account of the debilitating effects of growing up in conditions of extreme poverty, the target of racism and repeated bullying. It is also a story of escape: Alexie managed to break out of the cycle of poverty and neglect by leaving the reservation, choosing, at age twelve, to attend high school in the nearby town of Rearden. He excelled there, and discovered his vocation as a writer. Now a resident of Seattle, Alexie calls himself “an urban Indian,” having lived off-reservation since 1994. You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is not just another “misery memoir”; it is frank and self-deprecating, and leavened with humour. The writing is a patchwork of short prose pieces and poetry, a mix that is surprisingly effective. Alexie himself comes across as confident and charming: surprisingly welladjusted, considering the experiences he describes. And yet the emotional scars evidently go deep: In July, Alexie cut short the promotional tour for this book, “citing depression and his belief that his mother’s ghost has been haunting him.” Escape is an ongoing process. —Michael Hayward