This is two of my favourite reads: a "futility-of-war" novel by a Native Canadian writer, and with a unique Native Canadian angle.
Xavier and Elijah are Ojibwe-Cree from "the North Country" (which in this case means James Bay area) who sign up for WW I, and - because of their hunting prowess - make for excellent warriors. Niska - X's auntie - welcomes a deeply changed X home, and does what she can to help X cope with all he has seen, suffered and lost.
The novel is about killing and healing and incredible, profound, spirit-driven love. Of the boys for each other; of Niska for her would-be sons, and for X in particular. Love and bonds that are forged in one kind of trauma and tested in another kind of hell. Of a way of life that is lost to all kinds of wemistikishiw
slaughter and madness; of transition between one way of life and another, physical, cultural, spiritual.
Though I am not a masochist, both types of novels - the war novel, the Native Canadian novel - cause great pain and therefore they often feel cathartic, cleansing in some way. But more: like an atonement for my privileged whiteness and the luck of the draw time and place-wise.
This idea of privilege - and how it factors into reading choices - is an interesting one to me these days (as I look at my bookshelves stacked to the brim with female authors; goodreads having made me more acutely aware of gender aspects of writing and reading).
Boyden, with his sensitivity; his writing that contains such depth of raw emotion; his male-femaleness/female-maleness (as Woolf would say) - has pride of place next to Erdrich, Thomas King and Richard Wagamese; and novels like Marlantes' [b:Matterhorn|6411016|Matterhorn A Novel of the Vietnam War|Karl Marlantes|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1327972545s/6411016.jpg|6599953], Vonnegut's [b:Slaughterhouse Five|4981|Slaughterhouse-Five|Kurt Vonnegut|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1337996187s/4981.jpg|1683562], Findley's [b:The Wars|29898|The Wars|Timothy Findley|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1347640660s/29898.jpg|1005136] and Wright's [b:Meditations In Green|297334|Meditations in Green|Stephen Wright|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1320523352s/297334.jpg|288484].