From The Ashes
By Jesse Thistle
From the Ashes is a remarkable memoir about hope and resilience, and a revelatory look into the life of a Métis-Cree man who refused to give up.
Abandoned by his parents as a toddler, Jesse Thistle briefly found himself in the foster-care system with his two brothers, cut off from all they had known. Eventually the children landed in the home of their paternal grandparents, but their tough-love attitudes meant conflicts became commonplace. And the ghost of Jesse’s drug-addicted father haunted the halls of the house and the memories of every family member. Struggling, Jesse succumbed to a self-destructive cycle of drug and alcohol addiction and petty crime, spending more than a decade on and off the streets, often homeless. One day, he finally realized he would die unless he turned his life around.
- Did you enjoy this book? Rate it out of 5.
- Consider Jesse’s childhood pain and constant longing for his parents’ love. How are hunger and longing significant to Jesse and his memories of his childhood? How do they shape who he becomes?
- Consider Jesse’s taunts and anger toward his brother. What exactly does Jesse seem to hate? Why do you think Jesse rejects his heritage despite his longing? How can we make connections between his anger at his parents, his frustration with himself, and his rejection of his heritage?
- Throughout the memoir, the power of choice, and the results of making the “right” choice, weigh on Jesse. In what ways does he seem to feel like he has no choice, like he must behave in ways he knows are wrong? How do others try to convince him that he does have a choice? What seems to fuel Jesse’s decisions throughout the book?
- How can we consider Jesse’s actions as a function of the many traumas he’s faced? How did his brothers somehow heal from that trauma? What does the story suggest about the healing powers of reclaiming one’s heritage/becoming self-aware?
- Why does it affect Jesse so much when Karen tells him he should be proud of his heritage? Why do you think he was scared to tell her at first? Why does it seem to be so significant to him that she’d say that and that her family took enthusiastic interest?
- How do Jesse’s interactions with other minorities underline the themes of power imbalances throughout the memoir? What does the book suggest about how these communities fit into Canada as a nation?
- Jesse describes his ancestors as the “forgotten people.” In what ways is he a “forgotten” person? How is his personal history and familial history forgotten? What mechanisms, structurally and historically, are in place to make a people forgotten, and how do they configure here? What other communities might be considered forgotten?