Montreal·Blog

Turtle Island Reads: Gage Diabo champions Thomas King's Back of the Turtle

The most memorable books are the ones that make you laugh, make you angry and make you think — in that order. Gage Karahkwi:io Diabo says Thomas King’s book The Back of the Turtle does that and more.

'A novel about ecological disaster that's as funny, magical and down-to-earth as it is unsettling'

Gage Karahkwi:io Diabo is championing Thomas King's The Back of the Turtle, a novel about ecological disaster. (Andrea Stanford/CBC)

On Wednesday, Sept. 21, CBC co-hosts Turtle Island Reads — a live public event at Kahnawake Survival School, highlighting stories written by and about Indigenous Canadians.

Drawing its inspiration from CBC's Canada Reads, it's an opportunity to talk about and celebrate Indigenous Canadian writers and connect readers with their stories.

Three advocates will each champion one book of fiction written by an Indigenous Canadian author and try to persuade you to make that book the next one on your reading list.

Here is a taste of Gage Karahkwi:io Diabo's argument in support of Thomas King's The Back of the Turtle.


The most memorable books are the ones that make you laugh, make you angry and make you think — in that order.

Thomas King's book The Back of the Turtle does exactly that, and more.

I chose to champion The Back of the Turtle because it is unlike anything else I've ever read by a First Nations author or otherwise.

It's a novel about ecological disaster that's as funny, magical and down-to-earth as it is unsettling.

The threat of environmental ruination is scary, but King manages to scale things back by zeroing in on the individual personalities whose dreams, decisions and mistakes each affect the bigger picture. 
Thomas King's novel The Back of the Turtle won the 2014 Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction. (CBC)

Not to mention, it's a real page-turner.

What makes the novel special is that everyone gets a meaningful voice: There's Gabriel, the scientist whose discoveries led to the disaster; there's Mara, the painter whose home and family were destroyed; there's Dorian, the businessman who profited from it all.

These characters are human beings, not stereotypes, and nobody is an obvious hero or villain.

With this story, King is less concerned with placing blame or creating sweeping change than he is with reminding us of how we're all, Native or non-Native, in this boat together.

For me, the chance to talk about The Back of the Turtle as part of Turtle Island Reads is important because it's the kind of story I wish I had known about when I was younger.

Choosing how our stories unfold

It's easy, as a First Nations youth, to look at the big problems in the world and to feel powerless, even voiceless.

Reading this novel, I felt empowered with the knowledge that we alone have control over how our stories unfold and where our choices take us.

Thomas King asks us to look closely at which paths we're on today and where those might bring us.

From the biggest disasters to the smallest victories, it all comes back to ourselves and the changes we're willing to make.

For a young First Nations reader who may not feel especially empowered, I think that's a message worth celebrating.

Thomas King writes with humour about ecological disaster, and he 'manages to scale things back by zeroing in on the individual personalities whose dreams, decisions and mistakes each affect the bigger picture,' says Gage Diabo. (Trina Koster)
Turtle Island Reads takes place at the Kahnawake Survival School on Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m.

Co-hosted by CBC's Sonali Karnick and Waubkeshig Rice, the event is a CBC collaboration with community leaders on the Kahnawake Mohawk territory, the Quebec Writers' Federation and McGill University's Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas.

Let us know you're coming by visiting our CBC Montreal Facebook Events page

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