We first posted this review August 13, 2021. A shorter version subsequently appeared in The Globe and Mail.
“A book should be the axe for the frozen sea within us,” said Franz Kafka.
Such a book is The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir published in 2015 by the University of Regina Press.
Just seventy-three pages, this book represents one Cree man’s experience with abuses he endured as a child at the St. Therese Residential School in Saskatchewan, from 1935 to 1944. It’s an era that has been invisible to most of us, due mostly to a conspiracy of silence. His book is visible, real, a testament here to stay. Joseph Auguste Merasty, like the warrior and woodsman he was, persisted with his memoir for several years. He had his reasons:
1. In correspondence with his editor David Carpenter, he wrote that he’d heard that one way of achieving immortality was writing a book. Leaving something behind after you ‘kick the bucket’ so you will be remembered. In this regard, he agreed with many memoirists, including Mordecai Richler who said, “Fundamentally, all writing is about the same thing: it’s about dying.”
2. In the conclusion of his book, he writes that he hopes what he has related has some impact, so that the abuse and terror that indigenous children were subjected to, in his school and other schools in Canada, never happens again. He has a desire, to recreate a better world by bearing witness, by breaking the silence. Another way of saying this is that it’s about healing individuals and a society. As Bishop Tutu said, “Without memory, there is no healing.” Merasty has made his memories visible in this small volume. Memories that are brutal, bitter and friendly and charitable.
Now that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has come out with 94 recommendations to bring about justice, which is aimed at healing the injustices, is a new chapter in the magic that is Canada possible? We have poured billions into preserving the French language and culture, so now would be the time to make a similar gesture to the people who were on this land before French or English. Now would be the time to ensure more post-secondary education for people on reserves.
Joseph Auguste Merasty gave his memories of the St. Therese Residential School to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Then to the rest of us in his book.
Please read The Education of Augie Merasty. Connect with his mind and medicine. If you read the book, I hope you cherish it, and the man, as much as I do.
Memoir is Diane’s preferred genre, which is why she wrote The Perfect Galley Book, and later The Gift of Memoir. In memoir, you offer what you have learned by means of your stories, by leaving visible tracks behind you. Diane taught English as a Second Language to Haitian refugees in Miami, and in high schools and colleges in Ontario. Until recently, she gave a course in memoir writing in several Ontario libraries.