TRUE STO­RIES OF PAIN AND LOVE

Geist - - Endnotes -

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

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