Review: A Quality of Light, by Richard Wagamese

This book took me much longer to read than I expected, for various reasons, but that wasn’t a bad thing. I received my copy in a Raven Reads subscription box, and at first the baseballs on the cover of the issue in my possession were a bit of a turn-off (never judge a book by its cover, right?) — however, in the end, the chosen imagery has incredible meaning beyond the surface, which is part of the message in the story. A Quality of Light felt largely meditative to me, not only in its style of both reflective narration and slow burn to the primary conflict, but also in its careful unpacking of various perspectives on Indigenous issues and peoples in Canada and the United States in the last half of the twentieth century. I found it was helpful to absorb in small doses. I enjoyed the story of the boys getting to know each other and growing up together, but having taken an intensive course in ways of Aboriginal knowing and leadership in education, most of the points raised resonated strongly with me. I wish now that I had followed my instinct to underline and mark key passages of meaning — I may go back in a little while to search them out and do so. As I told my friend and colleague, it’s easy to see why Richard Wagamese won awards for his beautiful wordcrafting.

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https://www.penguinrandomhouse.ca/books/184584/a-quality-of-light-by-richard-wagamese/9780385694629

From the beloved, bestselling author of Indian Horse and Medicine Walk, Richard Wagamese’s novel is a moving story of friendship, loyalty, compassion, and justice.

Joshua Kane, an Ojibway, has lived since infancy with his white adoptive parents. Johnny Gebhardt is white, and from a young age has had a fascination with Indigenous culture, craving the spirituality and strength he knows are a part of a life sorely lacking in his own. Happily, the two boys meet and form a deep bond through their “invention” of baseball, the warrior identities they bestow upon themselves, and their promise to always be loyal and good and kind.

When a nasty racial incident puts Joshua in the hospital and Johnny in a detention centre, Joshua begins to discover his heritage. Johnny, incensed at the injustices endured by Joshua and Indigenous people throughout North America, takes a militaristic stance in his fight for native rights and traditions. Each now has a disparate belief about what it means to be truly native, and their friendship dissolves.

A violent hostage-talking brings them together many years later, and they recall the oath they took as boys. This tragic event allows each man to fully realize the true spirit in the other.

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