Book Review: Indians on Vacation by Thomas King
Last year, I decided to pick up a book by one of Canada's foremost authors. Thomas King is a household name amongst Canadians in the same way as Margaret Atwood is. Born a Californian, King spends most of his career teaching in Canada. His book, The Inconvenient Indian demolishes the false history and narratives about Native Americans in the US and First Nations people in Canada.
One of my goals this year is to read more books from Native American authors. It's not because I'm harboring some kind of obligation but because I know my ratio of books from different races versus white authors is a little wonky. Expanding my horizon, if you will. As well, I noticed how biased my choices are in learning about World History. I'm a Canadian who didn't go to school here, and who rarely follow our politics. This was my way of trying to learn: read more books from Canadian authors, particularly from Indigenous descent.
This book, is perhaps, an easy favourite. Not only for the ease of King's narrative, but also for the way he discussed social issues of class, race, displacement, and mental health so seamlessly that you won't noticed until you go back a few sentences to re-read. This book follows Bird and Mimi. They're on a quest to find some relic from Mimi's uncle. Clues were left via mail and post cards from Europe, and so the couple found themselves in Prague first.
From there, we see a perspective from this couple about their own history and their marriage as they witness the world around them. Throughout the story, we see Bird fall slowly to his illness; some sort of rheumatological disease that affects mostly Asian and Indigenous people. We also see him stroll all over Europe with the accompaniment of his "demons" -- which for us mere mortals, represent all the self defeating attitudes and mindsets that plagued us day in and day out.
As they run into Syrian refugees who came by boats to Greece, they're confronted by how easily they turn away from the needs of others. It also affected me in a way. Especially now that we are in a raging pandemic. People busking for coins on the street or intersections and I easily ignore them and say, well, I can't open the car door or window, now can I? Further reinforcing the fact that we could find excuses not to help out. Don't get me wrong, this book didn't come off preachy. It was just how we should think about our actions next time and how we could balance the good and the bad.
I especially love the relationship between Mimi & Bird. They've been married for a long time and it hasn't been roses and rainbows. But they remind me of how a marriage takes work, and understanding each other's flaws and misgivings only strengthen it over time. Indians on Vacations has its moments of seriousness and sharp humour, a perfect blend of sarcasm and realness that cut through its message laced with a slight flavour of world politics and banal married life.