Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese, is the story of sixteen year old Franklin Starlight who only knew his father Eldon, as a shadowy figure who came sporadically into his life to see the son he gave up to the guardianship of a man we know only as, “Old Man”.
As the story begins Eldon is dying of liver failure and wants Frank to bury him in the backwoods in the tradition of the Ojibway – sitting up, facing east. Frank reluctantly agrees to his father’s request and together they set on their final journey together.
Frank is well versed in the survival tactics of his ancestors and is fully capable of taking care of his father by living off the land. But what of his emotional strength? He wonders how he will cope with his father’s death. Yet he feels obligated to fulfill his father’s final request.
During their trek into the backwoods, the story of Eldon’s life unfolds and Frank learns the truth about the father he never knew and the mother who he has only dreamed of.
Eldon’s life has not been easy. He has been challenged at every turn by betrayal, loss, poverty, hard work, and abuse. It is enough to break any man. But healing is possible by sharing the only thing Eldon has left to give his son – the story of his life, and the secrets he has shared with no-one else.
Richard Wagamese has a deep understanding of what it means to be native and depicts their lives with accuracy and compassion. He also reminds us the importance of sharing our story with someone else in order to know release from suffering.
This is the second book I have read by Wagamese. I would also recommend Indian Horse.