Song of Batoche

I’m trying to think of what to write about Song of Batoche and mostly I’m just picturing one of those emoticons with the heart-shaped googly eyes. I want to insert the emoticon a couple of times and be done with it.

I can’t recall reading any sort historical fiction quite like this. I’m a bit of a sucker for the genre and author Maia Caron kills it with a fresh perspective on Batoche, Saskatchewan in 1884. This is the year Louis Riel arrvies to help the Metis fight for their land. He arrives to mixed opinions. The loudest in Caron’s book is the fictional Josette Lavoie, who has no use for Riel, who she blames for her father’s death. Josette is a smart, opinionated woman. But Riel needs her help to sway her grandfather, a famous Chief, to help his cause. Lavoie isn’t interested, until a trusted community leader, Gabriel Dumont, promises to keep Riel in line.

It’s hard promise to keep. Riel isn’t only going after the Government of Canada; he’s trying to break with the apparently beloved Roman Catholic Church in order to start his own, new church. The Metis community is besieged by all sides—the church, a Hudson’s Bay Company spy, even those within their own community. At home Josette is also troubled by her husband and her sick children and her growing feelings for Dumont, who is married to a dying woman. Nothing is easy. And nothing would have been, in that time and place.

The characters (primarily Metis), their motivations and their needs are complex and made more difficult by the disappearance of their way of life (along with the buffalo), the new influence of the Roman Catholic church and a government with laws and requirements that are completely foreign.

Caron herself is Red River Metis and her ancestors include those who fought alongside Dumont and Riel in the 1885 North-West Resistance (sometimes called rebellion. Points of view are important). Caron’s writing is beautiful and feels deeply personal as well.

Also, this book is a reminder that I am really looking forward to the day when men have no say over women’s bodies. Josette has a chilling encounter with a priest who berates her for refusing her husband, even though if she gets pregnant again she’ll die. “Non!” (The stupid priest says). “A wife hath no power of her own body, but the husband—”. Things change and stay the same.

Comedian Samantha Bee goes on and on about this topic with appalling modern examples on her show about the stupid things lawmakers and religious leaders demand and think. As if they should have any say. I’ll let you google it. I’ve had quite enough.

But read Caron’s book. It’s detailed, well-researched and enthralling.

Maia Caron was at Events 59 (Writing Canada 1) and 79  (Who I Am) at the 2017 Vancouver Writers Festival.

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