The creation of The Education of Augie Merasty, by Joseph Auguste Merasty with David Carpenter, which describes Merasty’s experience at St. Therese Residential School in Sturgeon Landing Saskatchewan between 1935 and 1944, from the age of five to fourteen, was a labour of tenderness and patience. From the point of Carpenter receiving a forwarded letter in spring of 2001 asking for professional assistance to the completion of the book, the endeavour took over thirteen years. Carpenter took no less than five trips from Saskatoon to Prince Albert to “run down” the elusive memoirist to finally sign the publication contract.
Carpenter writes: “by telling the stories of others and connecting them to his own experience, Merasty broadened his range of inquiry, and […] the implications of his sometimes horrific story, a story in which our entire nation is darkly and obscurely complicit.” Whether readers like it or not, untold numbers of people were treated in a dehumanising way at the residential schools. Merasty does not get mired in recounting every small injustice (as if such things can be measured by degrees), but has “endeavoured to put down mostly things that would have had a devastating impact on many boys after leaving the school, and I myself noticed through the years how it affected some, including me.” Among his permanent injuries, he recalls two head wounds, at least one potentially fatal, and another to his wrist, none of which received proper medical attention.
Merasty writes, “I sincerely hope that what I have related here will have some impact, so all that has happened in our school, and other schools in all parts of Canada—the abuse and terror in the lives of Indian children—does not ever occur again.” The writing comes across as frank, at times emotive, but always clear and succinct. For being such a short book, it is amazing how encompassing the information is. Merasty is not beyond reproach himself, and includes stories about his own questionable actions. The fact that he does not paint himself as a saint displays an advanced amount of writerly intelligence despite his lack of experience with the task.
This book is charmingly written. This is one of those treasures for people who love books, who have read a book from cover to cover and then immediately, starting at page one, have read it again. It is for readers who have hugged books, kissed them, and felt incredibly morose that they have reached the end. It may seem odd, but I mean this in the most earnest possible manner, and in a way the sensation defies description, but I’ll take a stab at it; I feel like I have become a better person for having read The Education of Augie Merasty.
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