“The wisest ones got taught more. Our people. Starlights. We are meant to be teachers and storytellers. They say nights like this bring them teachin’s and stories back and that’s when they oughta be passed on again”
Medicine Walk, the 7th novel by Richard Wagamese, is a beautifully written, Canadian story that needs to be shared. It is a quiet tale of loss, love, life and death taking place in the British Columbia interior through the eyes of a young boy learning about his family on a journey through the wilderness and through the past. It is the coming of age story of Franklin Starlight who accompanies his estranged father, Eldon, to his final resting place.
Franklin learned the ways of the land from the old man. He lived with him on the farm, learning his work ethic, his quiet way of living and his understanding of the life on the farm. Eldon appeared and visited at odd intervals, always struggling with his addiction to alcohol and his turmoil within. The boy was curious about his father but the old man patiently left Eldon to tell his own story, in his own time.
As Franklin approached manhood, his father reached out and made an important, life changing request. The pair travelled through the wilderness, their journey including a trip through Eldon’s past as Franklin learned about his heritage, about his family and about the mother he had never known. The story is poignant and riveting and the reader can picture the view as Eldon’s history unwinds.
Medicine Walk will remain with the reader after the pages are finished. The characters come to life and the reader can picture them in their mind. Like Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road, this is a story where a lifetime of pain is dulled by addiction and stories are shared during a difficult journey. It is a story that should be essential to the high school curriculum.
According to Quill and Quire, Wagamese grew up in Northern Ontario and spent his childhood in foster homes. His Ojibway family could not care for him after their experience in residential schools. He was adopted by an abusive family and it is reported that he ran away to a life of alcohol and drugs when he was 16 years old. It was inspiring to read that the author “may never have become a writer, were it not for the kindness of a group of librarians in St. Catharines, Ontario, where he stumbled into the public library at the age of 16, seeking shelter and refuge from a life on the streets” (CBC Radio interview). Wagamese drew on his own experiences with alcoholism and estrangement from his own boys when writing this gripping story.
Medicine Walk is the first book that I have read by Wagamese but it will not be my last. He has a gift of storytelling and I admire his tenacity and ability to share some of his own experiences with the reader. He is an example of the importance of reading, and how libraries are essential parts of a community responsible for sharing a love of books which open doors to the future!!
“It’s all we are in the end. Our stories.”