The Cast Stone is the third novel from Harold Johnson, who was born and lives in Northern Saskatchewan and balances his time between practicing law in La Ronge and operating his family’s traditional trapline using a dog team. While Johnson sets the tone for the novel with its subtitle, a novel of uprising, the story unfolds in a thoughtful, unhurried pace, often interspersed with humour. This novel won the 2012 Fiction award at the Saskatchewan Book Awards, and the judges called it an “ambitious, wide-ranging and wise novel whose roots extend from the land and local community to the world.”
It is narrated by Ben Robe, a retired political science professor who returns home to his reserve at Moccasin Lake in Northern Saskatchewan to finish his life in peace and solitude. Within quick succession, he is drawn into two situations that interrupt his plans.
First, he reconnects with Monica, a former student who wants him to become involved in insurgency activities arising from the sudden and unwelcome annexation of Canada by the United States. Second, he learns that his brief affair with her many years ago resulted in a son he never knew about, Benji. Now 30, Benji has recently found Monica, who gave him up for adoption, and she has sent him to Moccasin Lake to learn from Ben about his aboriginal roots.
The story unfurls slowly, through Ben’s conversations and interactions with his relatives and neighbours at Moccasin Lake, fellow citizens in the resistance movement, and his son, as they all try to determine where they stand in this new version of Canada. Benji benefits, along with the reader, from the teachings of Ben and other elders, as well as those of his appealing neighbour Elsie, granddaughter of Ben’s childhood friend Rosie and single mother to baby Rachel.
The importance of family, community, history, and treaty rights and responsibilities to the land and to each other all come together in this fascinating novel. Most interesting are Ben’s subtle assertions that, with the Americans’ annexation and introduction of Homeland Security onto our soil, Canadians will now have some idea of what it feels like to be taken over by another, more forceful culture.
Readers from Saskatchewan will recognize many familiar places in The Cast Stone, and enjoy touches such as Broadway Roastery’s takeover of the coffee trade in Saskatchewan, pushing out the American Starbucks, in this entertaining novel of a dystopian version of Canada. Highly recommended.
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