The first in our new series, "Community Recommendations of the Month," has been chosen by Mary Feeney. Please enjoy her reflections on Ragged Company.
If you've ever wondered how people end up homeless, or living on the street in a big city - read Ragged Company by Richard Wagamese (2008). It won't give you any answers, only stories: about broken people, despair, and how some people get so browbeaten by life, you wonder how they wake up every day.
Wagamese was an award-winning Canadian author and journalist, born into the Ojibway tribe in northwestern Ontario, who died in 2017. This is a beautiful and touching book, about a group of four street people who come together in the city and become inseparable friends, before accidentally finding a winning lottery ticket that gives them $13 million, which they decide to share.
The book introduces us to the characters one by one. One for the Dead is Amelia One Sky, who had 4 brothers and was brought up on a reserve. One by one everybody she loved died - all in tragic circumstances - and when she was alone, she stumbled into living on the streets, obliterating her memories with drink and drugs. Suddenly, one day when she was 44 years old, she woke up and decided to get sober. She got the street name of 'One for the Dead' from her habit of sometimes pouring a little from her friends' liquor bottles into the ground to remember her ancestors. Her friends were known as Timber, Double Dick and Digger, and together they form a family-like group, who look out for each other, hang out together, and one particularly cold winter, discover their love for movies when they duck into a theatre to keep warm for a few hours.
One for the Dead's companions all lived equally or even more tragic lives than Amelia. Their backgrounds were revealed gradually in their own words, in between the story of how they shared their lottery winnings and how they lived after their lucky find. There was a sly humour in the book. which leavened the tragedy of their lives somewhat, but overall this book was brutal, heart-breaking, yet tender and infused with First Nations teachings and spirituality. It is neither a fast nor an easy read, but a book to be read slowly and quietly, to savour, and to make you think.
It will touch your soul - at least it did mine.
-- Mary Feeney