Book Review: From the Ashes

Reviewed by Mike Bulthuis

“Things happen in life that tear us apart, that make us into something capable of hurting other people. That’s all any of the darkness really is – just love gone bad. We’re just broken-hearted people hurt by life.”

Such was the insight shared by one of Jesse Thistle’s prisonmates, a powerful reminder to us as readers, of our shared—and interconnected—humanness. And a crushing acknowledgement of the missed and misplaced love Thistle had experienced over too many years. Thistle had been hurt by life.

In From the Ashes, Thistle recounts his story as a Cree-Metis man, from his first few years in Saskatchewan to Ontario, where he now resides. It’s a story of hope, but also abandonment, trauma, and addiction—and the painful internalization of a shame projected onto him by others. He seeks out ways to recreate the missed presence of his mother’s touch and longs for word of his dad’s whereabouts. He tries to exercise control and self-determination where he can, as destructive as it may be.

Too often, we see failed systems: crisis supports unavailable through his job because of wait periods, the collection of over $3,000 in various fines, or the challenge of leaving hospital— still with a serious leg infection—without a place to go. He writes, “that was supposed to be the plan: get arrested and go to jail, so I’d get taken care of, so my foot could be fixed, and so my life would be saved.”

Ultimately, Thistle’s journey shifts. His determined spirit, his desire to make right, a promise he makes to his dying grandmother, a supportive and loving partner, and an invitation to reconnect to his Cree-Metis past—each come together to carry him forward. Upon visiting the remains of his maternal grandparents’ home in Saskatchewan, Thistle writes, “I remembered them; I remembered who I was.”

Not all stories shift in this direction, but From the Ashes helps us understand the work needed—both systemic and within each of us—to break the patterns of homelessness, discrimination and addictions—and to light the darkness of love gone bad.

From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way

By Jesse Thistle
Simon & Schuster, 2019

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