BOOK CLUB VISITS
I've enjoyed visiting Book Clubs to talk about Wake the Stone Man, the themes in the novel and the writing process. I am happy to visit your book club either in person, or by skype. Just visit the CONTACT page and send me a message.
“We are grateful to Carol for spending time with us to reflect on her book, the creative process, and the links we experience between geography and stories. Wonderful book, important themes and a thoughtful and generous author."
Sarah Emsley, Halifax Book Group member
“Thoroughly enjoyed our conversation with Carol McDougall! Her beautifully rendered novel asks us to contemplate uncomfortable truths, and to consider the journeys through them to a place of love and compassion.”
Paula Sarson, Halifax book group member
Book Club Notes
1. As the novel opens Molly sees Nakina attempting to escape from the residential school. Why do you think Nakina was trying to estape when she did not know where home was, and punishment was certain if she were caught?
2. When Molly is out on the lake in her father’s boat she looks back at the city and sees the invisible lines of class and race that separate the town. Do you think similar invisible lines of social distinction exist in your community?
3. The Sleeping Giant, or Stone Man plays a central role in the novel both as geographical landscape and mythological being. In legend the Sleeping Giant watched over and protected the Ojibwe people until he was turned to stone. What do you think is the significance of the title Wake the Stone Man?
4. Molly is witness to Nakina’s attack but stays silent. Why do you think she didn’t or couldn’t tell the truth of what she saw?
5. Finding family is a major theme in the novel, central to both Molly and Nakina’s journey. Do you think, in the end, they found family?
6. A strong friendship is forged between Molly and Nakina when they are in their teens. How do you think this bond endured through tragedy and years of separation?
7. Wake the Stone Man is set in the 1970s at a time when much of the truth of the horrific abuse in residential schools was hidden or denied. Since 2008 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has held hearings across Canada, giving voice to the survivors of the residential school system. Do you think the work of the TRC in bringing the truth to light will help the journey towards healing?
To learn more about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada click here: http://www.trc.ca
A CONVERSATION WITH CAROL MCDOUGALL
Q In the novel the Stone Man is both a real and mythical figure. Why did you give voice to the Stone Man?
A The real Stone Man, the Sleeping Giant is a formation of rock that rises out of Lake Superior to form the shape of a man laying across the Thunder Bay harbour. The Sleeping Giant is also an important figure in Ojibwe mythology. When you grow up in Thunder Bay the Sleeping Giant is part of the emotional and geographical landscape. When I fly back to Thunder Bay and the plane begins to descend over the harbour, I watch to see the form of the Stone Man rising out of Lake Superior and it always brings tears to my eyes. I feel I have come home. Growing up in Thunder Bay the Sleeping Giant was almost a real figure for me, and I wanted to bring that into the novel - I wanted to bring a primal force that transcends human suffering and speaks of love and hope.
Q One of the central themes in Wake the Stone Man is the search for home. Why is finding home important to you?
A My family scattered when I was in my teens and I was thrown out of the nest before I was fully fledged. I think, subconsciously, I was always trying to get back home.
The search for home threads throughout my novel. Nakina, like generations of First Nation children, was taken from her home, family, culture and religion. So many of the children taken to residential schools died, and for thousands who survived there was no way home once they finally left the schools. The documentary “Night and Fog” spoke of the millions severed from family, home, culture and religion during the Holocaust. Molly faces the loss of all she knew as home. The people at Cripple Creek farm are draft dodgers – exiled from their country because of their political beliefs. The loss of home is a universal theme throughout.
As I worked through what home meant to the characters in Wake the Stone Man I think I was subconsciously working through those questions in my own life. In the end I think I was asking the question “where is home” and it wasn’t until I wrote the last lines of the novel that I found the answer – home is within us. We carry it with us on our journey through life. As Nakina says “the tracks run both ways”. We can always get home.
Q The novel begins with Molly on the outside of the residential school looking in at Nakina. The fence between them is a powerful image – what is the significance of the fence?
A The fence is both real and symbolic. Real because as a young girl I did stand outside the chain link fence of a residential school in Thunder Bay, looking in. I tried to understand what I was seeing and it took many years for me to learn the truth of the abuse and cultural genocide that took place within the walls of those schools.
In the novel the fence is a symbol, both of what brings Molly and Nakina together, and what stands between them. Molly first sees Nakina through the fence and it is at that moment that they connect, and their friendship is born. But the fence stands between them. The fence represents Nakina’s imprisonment in the residential school where she is alone with no one to protect her. The fence represents the hand that fate has dealt both girls. Molly stands on the outside looking in. Observing. Not understanding. Wanting to connect but not knowing how. The symbol of the fence carries throughout the novel and represents the divide between them, and the things they cannot change.
Q Throughout the novel Molly uses art – both photography and painting to try to understand her world. After losing contact with Nakina she continues to work on a portrait of her. It is almost an obsession, as if she is trying to find something. What is Molly looking for?
A The painting of Nakina in the restaurant comes to represent their separation. In isolation in the bush Molly is grieving that separation from her friend, and through the painting she tries to keep Nakina close. At that time Molly also learns the truth of what Nakina endured through reading documents and correspondence taken from the residential school. As she learns more of Nakina’s truth and the abuse she was forced to endure in the residential school she brings that knowledge to the painting, and the image gains depth and truth. This truth brings an awakening and awareness to Molly but also unleashes a deep sense of guilt, and through her art she tries to reach out for forgiveness and reconciliation. I believe that through art we see the world clearly. Art can touch the human heart and bring healing in a very powerful way.
Q In the hospital Nakina tells Molly the truth of why she left school and what happened the night Molly saw her on Simpson Street. But the truth is not able to bring back the years they have lost, and time has run out for Nakina, so doesn’t the truth come too late to heal what was broken?
A When Molly leaves the hospital after finally learning the truth of what happened to Nakina she goes to the waterfront. She sits and thinks of the day her parents died, and how that very day Nakina was flying away – to safety. She thinks of the years they were separated – the lost years that cannot be regained. It was too late to rebuild what was lost – there wasn’t time for that. But there was still time for forgiveness and a chance for Molly to walk hand in hand with Nakina on her final journey, with love and compassion.
There are times in all our lives, I think, when something has been lost or broken and we feel there's no way to make it right. I believe there's always a chance for redemption. It may not come when we want, or how we expect, but healing can happen. There is always hope.