by Elizabeth BJ
The highly appraised Five Little Indians is Michelle Good's debut novel. Good, who is a member of the Red Pheasants Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, writes about five survivors of the Canadian Indian residential school system and their struggle to rebuild their lives in Vancouver.
Though it has been one of my favorite reads this year, it has alsobeen one of the toughest. Don’t get me wrong; the pages never stopped turning. Still, every time I was reminded that, beyond fiction, the characters could easily portray real experiences of people who went through the horrible as Residential Schools. Unlike other books, Five Little Indians (2020) grips you and does not allow you to detach yourself from the sickening experiences of its characters. Through the lens of fiction, you can see glimpses of the lives of real survivors through Michelle Good's five protagonists: Maisie, Lucy, Clara, Kenny, and Howie.
One of the interesting things about the approach of the writer is that the story doesn't revolve around the atrocities that happened inside the facilities the Canadian government and church founded to eliminate the indigenous population. Instead, the heaviest part of the narrative starts when they get away from the “school” they shared.
They all carry the consequences of the abuses they suffered: ghosts from the past hunting the present as regrets, alarm signs going off from common noises and chores, self-destructing behaviors engrained as ways of living, violent acts as the only self-defense mechanism that could work, and flashing red lights hanging above their heads followed them through their journeys.
However, even when the circumstances are not in their favor, the characters, alone or together, find people who could support and connect with them through shared experiences, or just simple kindness. Making love, community, self-knowledge and acceptance are important keys in the path to build their new lives.
It's also important to acknowledge that I, as a reader, and everyone else outside the First Nation communities, will never truly understand the experience of the indigenous people in the Canadian territory. But that doesn’t mean we should detach ourselves from their history and hardships. Even if Five Little Indians is fiction, it can spark an interest in those with little to no knowledge about the real occurrences, which is hugely important. It is a wonderful book that encourages the pursuit of the knowledge of the indigenous communities that resurface in the narrative, and take a central space in some of the character’s arcs. I found myself particularly intrigued by the indigenous culture and thoughts about spirituality, the after-life and the connection between generations and individuals inside a community. I think to many spoilers might ruin the experience, but I recommend everyone to read this book. If not for the pursuit of understanding, culture, and empathy, at least for its writing.
About the Writer:
Elizabeth BJ, is a twenty-something Mexican writer fresh out of college (UNAM), where she studied English Literature. She has published poetry, critical analysis, fiction, nonfiction and recently interviews and research pieces, all on different online media, both in English and Spanish. Also, is interested in the creation and analysis of audiovisual media, and just recently started to build a path on illustration. Look her up at @cazandocolibris on Twitter and Instagram.