Books·Canadian

All the Quiet Places by Brian Thomas Isaac

A novel about a Indigenous boy grappling with the effects of intergenerational trauma and colonialism.

A novel about a Indigenous boy grappling with the effects of intergenerational trauma and colonialism

It's 1956, and six-year-old Eddie Toma lives with his mother, Grace, and his little brother, Lewis, near the Salmon River on the far edge of the Okanagan Indian Reserve in the British Columbia Southern Interior. Grace, her friend Isabel, Isabel's husband Ray, and his nephew Gregory cross the border to work as summer farm labourers in Washington state. There Eddie is free to spend long days with Gregory exploring the farm: climbing a hill to watch the sunset and listening to the wind in the grass. The boys learn from Ray's funny and dark stories. But when tragedy strikes, Eddie returns home grief-stricken, confused, and lonely.

Eddie's life is governed by the decisions of the adults around him. Grace is determined to have him learn the ways of the white world by sending him to school in the small community of Falkland. On Eddie's first day of school, as he crosses the reserve boundary at the Salmon River bridge, he leaves behind his world.

Grace challenges the Indian Agent and writes futile letters to Ottawa to protest the sparse resources in their community. His father returns to the family after years away only to bring chaos and instability. Isabel and Ray join them in an overcrowded house. Only in his grandmother's company does he find solace and true companionship.

In his teens, Eddie's future seems more secure — he finds a job, and his long-time crush on his white neighbour Eva is finally reciprocated. But every time things look up, circumstances beyond his control crash down around him. The cumulative effects of guilt, grief, and despair threaten everything Eddie has ever known or loved.

All the Quiet Places is the story of what can happen when every adult in a person's life has been affected by colonialism; it tells of the acute separation from culture that can occur even at home in a loved familiar landscape. Its narrative power relies on the unguarded, unsentimental witness provided by Eddie. (From Touchwood Editions)

All the Quiet Places was on the Canada Reads 2022 longlist and the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist and was a finalist for the 2022 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction.

Brian Thomas Isaac was born on the Okanagan Indian Reserve, in south central B.C. He's worked in oil fields, as a bricklayer, and he had a short career riding bulls in local rodeos. As a lover of sports, he has coached minor hockey. All the Quiet Places is his first book.

Why Brian Thomas Isaac wrote All the Quiet Places

"Laughter is medicine to me. It gives relief to uncomfortable situations. For example, two non-First Nations friends are walking down the street when one trips over a crack in the sidewalk and falls. 'Oh, are you OK?' is the concerted reaction of the friend. But what happens to two First Nations people? The instant reaction is knee-slapping laughter. It's a totally different reaction. It's how we cope. Not everybody, but a lot of people that I grew up with react this way.

Laughter is medicine to me. It gives relief to uncomfortable situations.- Brian Thomas Isaac

"I hope I'm not generalizing here. I don't mean to do that. Maybe the gap between cultures isn't as deep as I think it is.

"But if this book could help some non-First Nations people understand just a little bit, it kind of turned out the way I hoped it would." 

Read his full interview with CBC Books.

More interviews with Brian Thomas Isaac

First-time novelist Brian Thomas Isaac has been longlisted for a Giller Prize. He's got an incredible story about finding success telling a story inspired by his own story....in his seventies.
Okanagan First Nation writer Brian Thomas Isaac's debut is a window into a unique Indigenous boy's childhood.

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