The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir by Joseph Auguste Merasty, David Carpenter
This is a tough one to review for multiple reasons. It’s almost as if it’s two separate books in one. Augie Merasty begins writing a memoir of his forced time in Ste. Therese, a residential school in Canada. He wants help and writes a letter catching the attention of a former English professor, David Carpenter. Over the course of many years, David and Augie correspond back and forth with Augie sending bits of his life story. David opens the book with a very long account of his contact with Augie and the difficulty he has in compiling a full story. Augie is ravaged by alcoholism and is at one point, homeless. David often has a hard time getting Augie to respond to questions as he tries to help with the memoir. David’s portion of the book is excessively long, and while I imagine it’s included to provide background on why Augie’s actual memoir is so brief, it’s unnecessarily cumbersome. The thing that struck me the most about Augie’s retelling of his life story is that although he experienced horrific sexual and physical abuse at the hands of Catholic church leaders, he was still able to share stories of kindness and compassion that he experienced from Sister St. Alphonse, Sister St. Famille, and others. He recognizes the humanity in people even though they failed him. I don’t know how people can face such severe trauma and still see the good in humankind. The brutality of his forced assimilation is heart-breaking, and Augie is clear that the hypocrisy of religious leaders abusing children, looking the other way, depriving them of nutritious food and then parading in buffets when the Bishop comes to visit, is the worst kind of prison. The main goal of these government funded schools was to destroy everything Indian in a child. They were stripped of their language, their identity, and dignity. Augie’s words are powerful and somber, but his voice is surprisingly hopeful, and even humorous at times – a compelling model of resiliency.
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