Books·Canada Reads 2020

From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle

From the Ashes is a memoir by Jesse Thistle.

Defended by George Canyon

George Canyon is defending From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle on Canada Reads 2020. (CBC)

George Canyon defended From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle on Canada Reads 2020.

About From the Ashes

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, whose tough-love attitudes quickly resulted in conflicts. Throughout it all, the ghost of Jesse's drug-addicted father haunted the halls of the house and the memories of every family member. Struggling with all that had happened, 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. Finally, he realized he would die unless he turned his life around.

In this heart-warming and heart-wrenching memoir, Jesse Thistle writes honestly and fearlessly about his painful past, the abuse he endured and how he uncovered the truth about his parents. Through sheer perseverance and education — and newfound love — he found his way back into the circle of his Indigenous culture and family.

An eloquent exploration of the impact of prejudice and racism, From the Ashes is, in the end, about how love and support can help us find happiness despite the odds. (From Simon & Schuster)

About George Canyon

George Canyon is one of Canada's biggest country music stars. He has won countless accolades and awards, including Juno Awards, CCMA Awards and ECMA Awards. He has been inducted into the Nova Scotia Country Music Hall of Fame, recorded 12 albums and was recently presented a certified platinum award for his debut album One Good Friend. He is also a humanitarian, strong supporter of the military and the national spokesperson for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Canada.

George Canyon on From the Ashes

In the Canada Reads 2020 finale, The Handmaid’s Tale star and her fellow panellists debate the necessity for the stories told in their contending books. 3:14
During the opening round of Canada Reads 2020, the two panellists got into a spirited exchange. 2:24

About Jesse Thistle

Jesse Thistle is a Métis-Cree academic and recipient of the Governor General's Silver Medal in 2016. He is also a Trudeau and Vanier Scholar. From the Ashes is his first book.

Why Jesse Thistle wrote From the Ashes

"If you look through the book, you'll see flashes of light every time I was traumatized. The way that my mind works, it's like looking through a shard of broken glass, with all the different light fragments. I can only capture them in one- and two-page memories because they either score my soul and I bleed too much or I can't remember because my mind blocks it out.

It was painful, but it was also very beautiful. These were really hard, painful, sharp memories.- Jesse Thistle

"It was painful, but it was also very beautiful. These were really hard, painful, sharp memories. But I also saw there were people that were trying to help me, like the kind shop owner who gave me food or my friend at the shelter who watched out for my shoes. My brother Jerry always took care of me and took me in and I had a lot of support from my wife, Lucie. It's the good and the bad."

Read more in his interview with CBC Books.

From the book

Frenzied squeaks of jail-issued blue deck shoes on sealed cement followed by wet smacks, fast pops, loud cracks, and finally a dull thud confirmed it. A guy lay crumpled on the range floor, our range quartermaster told us. He wasn't conscious. His legs were seized straight, quivering uncontrollably.

We didn't need to see it with our own eyes. The unseen, the unknown, in jail is often worse than the seen, the known. The next day, after cell search, I heard that he had died en route to hospital.

Someone said he'd stolen a bag of chips from another inmate's canteen, but who knew?

Who cared?

It was jail justice. The thief got what he deserved. According to us, according to society. At least that's what I told myself. All I knew for sure was that I didn't know anything and I hadn't seen anything. I'd only heard it, but I wouldn't even tell the guards that much. I had to survive, and the only way you did that was by keeping your mouth shut, turning your head away.

What was I doing here in jail anyway? Why had I put myself in the midst of this filth, this horrible violence?

The answer was simple.

I did it to save my leg — and my life.


From From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle ©2019. Published by Simon & Schuster.

Interviews with Jesse Thistle

The two panellists engaged in a debate over whether nonfiction or fiction is better at resonating with readers and fostering meaningful conversations. 3:04
He was homeless... in and out of jail, and addicted to drugs. But these days - perseverance is paying off for Jesse Thistle. He's celebrating his graduation from York University. Nil Koksal introduces us. 3:08
Confronting Métis trauma: Jesse Thistle's story 1:02
Jesse Thistle talks to Shelagh Rogers about his best selling memoir, From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way. 16:27
After years of searching for her son, Jesse Thistle's mom finds him in a rehab facility. 1:30

The Canada Reads 2020 contenders

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