Saturday 4 January 2020

Book ~ "From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way" (2019) Jesse Thistle

From Goodreads ~ If I can just make it to the next minute ... then I might have a chance to live; I might have a chance to be something more than just a struggling crackhead.

"From the Ashes" is a remarkable memoir about hope and resilience, and a revelatory look into the life of a Métis-Cree man who refused to give up.

Abandoned by his parents as a toddler, Jesse Thistle briefly found himself in the foster-care system with his two brothers, cut off from all they had known. Eventually the children landed in the home of their paternal grandparents but their tough-love attitudes meant conflicts became commonplace. And the ghost of Jesse’s drug-addicted father haunted the halls of the house and the memories of every family member. Struggling, Jesse succumbed to a self-destructive cycle of drug and alcohol addiction and petty crime, spending more than a decade on and off the streets, often homeless. One day, he finally realized he would die unless he turned his life around.

In this heartwarming and heartbreaking memoir, Jesse Thistle writes honestly and fearlessly about his painful experiences with abuse, uncovering the truth about his parents, and how he found his way back into the circle of his Indigenous culture and family through education.

An eloquent exploration of what it means to live in a world surrounded by prejudice and racism and to be cast adrift, "From the Ashes" is, in the end, about how love and support can help one find happiness despite the odds. 

Jesse's parents, Sonny and Blanche, married very young and had three sons in Saskatchewan.  They split up when Jesse was about three because Blanche had enough of Sonny's drinking and abuse.  He convinced Blanche to let him have the boys for a couple months and he took them home to Ontario.  But Sonny was a drug addict and didn't provide for the boys.  There was rarely any food and Sonny taught the boys how to beg and steal.  Eventually Family Services stepped in and the boys spent some time in foster care.  They ended up being placed with Sonny's parents in Brampton, who had little money.  Their grandfather, wanting to make sure the boys didn't end up like their father, was a strict disciplinarian.  Sonny is considered missing and was last seen in 1981 by members of his family.

Jesse was the youngest of the three boys and ended up getting into drugs, drinking and partying.  When it seemed like things were going well, he would self-destruct.  His grandparents kicked him out of their house when he was about 20 and he spent many years as an addict being homeless, in jail, in shelters and in rehab.  In his early thirties, he realized he wanted to turn his life around and got clean.  He started dating Lucie (who is now married to) and went to university.  He is currently an Assistant Professor in Métis Studies at York University in Toronto.  He won a Governor General’s Academic Medal in 2016, and is a Pierre Elliot Trudeau Scholar and a Vanier Scholar.

I like reading bios/autobios and this one caught my eye because the author is Canadian and lives in Toronto.  It must mess with your mind being abandoned by your parents and raised by a strict grandfather, who only had the best intentions (though as a child, you wouldn't realize that) and who raised him the only way he knew (he was also raised by a strict grandfather).  Jesse had to be tough because he was often bullied by the other kids for being "Indian" (he eventually started to claim to be Italian).  Even once he was in a stable environment in his grandparents' home, his survival instincts like stealing and thinking he wouldn't have enough to eat continued to kick in, though they didn't need to.

I liked the writing style and found it to be honest.  The author has had quite a life and I'm glad he was able to overcome everything and become healthier (emotionally, mentally and physically) and embrace and honour his heritage.  As a head's up, there is swearing, abuse and drug use.

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