Read an excerpt from Thomas King's Indians on Vacation
Indians on Vacation won the 2021 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour
The $50,000 prize annually recognizes the best in Canadian fiction.
Indians on Vacation is about a couple named Bird and Mimi, who decide to travel through Europe after discovering postcards from Mimi's long-lost Uncle Leroy, who sent them while on his own European adventure almost 100 years ago.
Indians on Vacation was on the shortlist for the 2020 Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, the longlist for the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize, and the shortlist for the 2020 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction.
King is a Canadian American writer of Cherokee and Greek ancestry. His books include Truth & Bright Water, The Inconvenient Indian, Green Grass, Running Water and The Back of the Turtle. He also writes the DreadfulWater mystery series.
You can read an excerpt from Indians on Vacation below.
In Prague, we stay at the Hotel Certovka in the shadow of the historic Charles Bridge. Second floor. Some of the rooms overlook the Vltava River.
However, we can see the tourists on the bridge, can hear them talking, as they stroll from the Lesser Quarter to Old Town and back again, and if we were so inclined, we could lean out our window and engage them in conversation.
But we could.
We arrive at our hotel after a 12-hour flight from Toronto. The room is hot.
There is no air conditioner, no ceiling fan to push the heat around. We're exhausted. We fall onto the bed, thinking we'll sleep until dinner, when a band somewhere below us begins playing a fortissimo, quick-step arrangement of Hello Dolly.
I'm sweaty and sticky. My ears are still popping from the descent into Vaclav Havel. My sinuses ache. My stomach is upset. My mouth is a sewer. I roll over and bury my face in a pillow. Mimi snuggles down beside me with no regard for my distress.
"My god," she whispers, "Can it get any better?"
About six years ago, Mimi decided that we should travel.
"We can follow the postcards," she told me. "Maybe we'll find out what happened to Uncle Leroy. We might even find the Crow bundle. Wouldn't that be great."
We can follow the postcards,' she told me. 'Maybe we'll find out what happened to Uncle Leroy. We might even find the Crow bundle. Wouldn't that be great.
"Why don't we look for the Lost Lemon mine while we're at it?"
"And the travel will give me a chance to paint other places in the world."
"You paint water. You don't need to travel to paint water."
"You could take your typewriter and your camera. Just like the old days, Bird. You were one of the best."
"I haven't used a typewriter in years."
"Maybe it will inspire you to finish your book."
"And there is no book."
"But there could be."
It's a losing battle, but I try anyway. "Why would we want to travel, when we can stay home?"
"Travel is broadening," said Mimi, though that old adage has never been proven. "And it will help take your mind off your health."
So we're in Prague.
It's too hot to stay in the room. We go outside and follow the music to a small park that is awash in food vendors and craft stands.
The Hello Dolly band is not alone. They have come to Prague with friends, an assortment of musical troupes from around the world — Germany and Spain, Austria and Slovakia, France and Portugal — all armed with a frightening array of North American show tunes.
The Hello Dolly folks are from Brussels. They finish off the Jerry Herman hit with a flurry and give way to an assault by an Israeli ensemble and the overture from Oklahoma. A band from Italy waits its turn in the shade of the bridge. The Italians have fashioned their instruments to mimic kitchen appliances and bathroom fixtures.
One guy has a French horn that looks like a toilet.
My health problems began with a thyroid that went south. When I came home with the news, Mimi told me that thyroid problems were generally a female thing, and that this was a sign of my strong feminine side.
Gout was next, followed by swollen saliva glands in my neck. Gout was chronic, but could be controlled by medication. The swollen glands were more disturbing, and just to be safe, my family doctor sent me to a specialist, a young woman who didn't look old enough to have been admitted to medical school.
"We'll need to do a fibre-optic laryngoscopy." She opened a drawer and took out a coil of tubing. On one end was a small probe. The other end was attached to a device that looked vaguely like a pistol with a video screen.
"This is an ENT scope."
"You want to put that down my throat?"
"Actually," she said, "the cable goes in through your nose."
"We use an anesthetic spray."
"You want to put that in my nose?"
"You'll hardly feel a thing."
So we're in Prague and it's late afternoon and Mimi has had her fill of show tunes. We wander the food stands, check out the offerings to see if there is anything we recognize. Mimi takes a long look at something called Trdelinik.
"You think this is the Czech version of fry bread?"
And when we run out of park and bands and food, Mimi consults the map. I can see adventure sparkling in her eyes. I can hear determination lurking in her voice.
"Why don't we explore the river," says Mimi. "See what we can find."
What we find are several giant bronze babies frozen in mid-crawl. I take a picture of Mimi standing next to one of the babies, and I take a picture of Mimi trying to plank on a giant baby's butt.
The sun is low, and the light on the water is golden and glorious.
"See," says Mimi. "This is why we travel."
"They don't have faces."
"It's probably symbolic. I'll bet it has to do with television and the angst of modern existence."
Further along, we come upon a row of yellow penguins standing in a line on a platform in the river. Mimi consults the guidebook.
"They're made out of recycled bottles. It's supposed to be a comment on global warming."
"Thirty-four yellow penguins."
We find a bench and sit down. On the river, paddle boats done up to look like swans and vintage cars drift by. The sun is low, and the light on the water is golden and glorious. I'm tempted to point out that for less money and effort, we could be sitting on a bench along the Speed River with much the same effect.
But I know better.
From Indians on Vacation by Thomas King ©2020. Published by HarperCollins Canada.