Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden

three day roadBibliographic Information:

Boyden, J. (2008). Three day road. Toronto: Penguin Canada. (978-0-14-301789-8)

Plot Summary:

Xavier and Elijah are two Cree boys who decide to enlist in the army in World War I. In the War they become snipers because of their hunting background. It is also the story of Niska, an Oji-Cree medicine woman who refuses to lose the traditions of the past. When Xavier returns from the War, during the three day paddle home, the two characters relate their pasts; Niska to draw Xavier back from the horror of the War and Xavier to find redemption.

Three Day Road is the first of a planned trilogy. Through the Black Spruce won the 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Critical Evaluation:

Three Day Road is the type of books that can be read on a variety levels. It can be read as conflict of culture – native and European. It can be a book about assimilation or about being true to one’s culture and roots. It can be used as a companion book to All Quiet on the Western Front because of its’ depiction of the human cost of war.

One can also discuss the character development in the novel. The evolution and devolution of the characters of Xavier and Elijah would make a fascinating discussion. The contrast of these two young men who went away to war is marked.

One can also read the novel with a focus on the differences in the voices of Xavier and Niska. Both relate their histories during their three day road. Through the telling of their tales the reader is introduced to the loss of the native culture and the assimilation into the dominant European culture. There is a sadness about this loss and a recognition that a very important part of the people was lost during this time.

Reader’s Annotation:

Two young Cree men leave their community to become snipers in World War I. Three Day Road tells the story of how they change during the War and what comes back after the fighting was done.

Information About the Author:

Joseph Boyden grew up listening to the true stories of his father, a World War II medical doctor. Raymond Wilfrid Boyden was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. He also heard stories about a grandfather and uncle who served in the First World War (Nurse). Joseph’s uncle Erl, lived a more traditional lifestyle with a strong respect from Ojibwa traditions which included making his own clothes and living in a teepee. Erl and his father as well as another native war hero, Francis Pegahmagobow, influence Boyden’s plots and characters (McKay, 2012).

Joseph Boyden was born in 1966 in Willowdale, Ontario. He was a voracious reader as a child who was reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica, volume by volume, by the time he was six. After high school he worked on his creative writing degree at York University and at the University of New Orleans. Now, he teaches Canadian literature and creative writing at the University of New Orleans.

For more information please read Joseph Boyden’s biography. He tells his story much better than I can.


  • Historical

Curriculum Ties:

  • Canadian History
  • First Nations
  • English – Canadian author

Booktalking Ideas:

  • First Nations and World War I

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 14 and up
  • Adult

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

The main reason that I included Three Day Road is that it is a beautiful example of Canadian literature and, in my opinion, should be an essential text in Canadian literature collections.


“The characters of Xavier and Niska and, to a slightly lesser extent, Elijah are full to the brim with life – they’re quite satisfying and believable as they are, and need no further stamp of authentication.”

  • Keymer, D. (2005). Three-Day Road. Library Journal, 130(9), 104.

“In straightforward, concrete prose, first novelist Boyden evokes a ghastly poetry of death: “small red flowers bloom…around dead soldiers and their rifles…cover[ing] up the horror before the flowers are pounded into black slime by artillery.” This is an exceptional tale of hell barely survived during World War I. Enthusiastically recommended for public libraries.”


  • Nominee for the 2005 Governor General’s Awards.
  • Winner of the McNally Robinson Aboriginal Book of the Year Award.
  • Winner of the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for 2005
  • Winner of the CBA Libris Fiction Book of the Year


McKay, J. (12 Oct. 2008). Archive: Writer in Resident Joseph Boyden Biography. Retrieved from


Nurse, D.B. (March 2005). Joseph Boyden: Way of the warrior. Retrieved April 3, 2012 from


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