Reading isn’t always about entertainment for me. Though it is one of my top motivations, there are also a lot of other reasons why I choose to read: distraction or curiosity, for example.
Then there’s my desire to learn something. While I firmly believe that you can learn something from any book, regardless of genre, I also think it’s worthwhile to pick up some non-fiction now and then. Such books are generally designed to teach you something or, more specifically, to help you better understand an issue, concept or topic.
The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir, by Joseph Auguste Merasty and David Carpenter, is one such book. Outside of the prologue and afterword, the stories in the book were written by Joseph “Augie” Merasty himself—a man who, as a child, spent nine years in a Canadian residential school.
Before you click down below, you should know that there could be some triggers in this memoir. While there are no explicit details, Merasty and Carpenter do, at the very least, clearly hint at what happened.
Augie Merasty spent his childhood in a residential school, as did most aboriginal children in the 1930s. In this striking memoir, Augie recounts his years at St. Therese Residential School—years that, though they had some good points, were largely unhappy. The stories included touch on everyday life at the school, as well as the physical and sexual abuse suffered by Augie and many of his classmates.
I chose the word “striking” up there for a particular reason, by the way. This isn’t a long book, but it’s powerful. If you’re not familiar with Canada’s residential school system, it’ll give you a pretty strong idea of what occurred.
Though this wasn’t necessarily an easy read (stories dealing with abuse never are, really), it is one that I found myself engrossed in. Despite the heavy subject matter, Merasty managed to infuse some of his own humour and light-heartedness into it. And Carpenter helped further that with his prologue.
Speaking of which, if you’re one of those people who generally skips a prologue or afterword, don’t. Both are assets in this book. They help you to better understand Merasty, particularly the man he became after leaving St. Therese. That, I think, is almost as important as understanding what he went through while attending the school.
This memoir offers a courageous and intimate chronicle of life in a residential school.
Now a retired fisherman and trapper, the author was one of an estimated 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Metis children who were taken from their families and sent to government- funded, church-run schools, where they were subjected to a policy of “aggressive assimilation.”
As Augie Merasty recounts, these schools did more than attempt to mold children in the ways of white society. They were taught to be ashamed of their native heritage and, as he experienced, often suffered physical and sexual abuse.
But, even as he looks back on this painful part of his childhood, Merasty’s sense of humour and warm voice shine through.
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