One Story, One Song
By Richard Wagamese. Douglas & McIntyre, 216 pp, hardcover
“What binds us together as a human family is our collective yearning to belong, and we need to share our stories to achieve that,” writes Richard Wagamese in the introduction to One Story, One Song.
In this latest collection of essays, the celebrated Ojibwa writer relates the practical wisdom of a life lived, knowledge culled from hard luck and happiness, and presents it with singular cordiality.
Encouraging us to notice the narrative webs that compose our daily lives—the parables in the simple gold band wrapped on a ring finger, in the wolf prints on a gravel road—Wagamese continues to weave his material from the warp and weft of time and experience. His previous book of nonfiction, One Native Life, expressed the vitality of reconnecting with his cultural identity, and this new volume records his observations through the lens of self-reclamation.
One Story, One Song is divided into four sections—“Humility”, “Trust”, “Introspection”, “Wisdom”: the cardinal points on the Medicine Wheel—and examines the allegorical correlation between one’s interior and exterior realms. The dozens of vignettes here reflect on marginalization, nature, heritage, community, love, and the transcendent power of storytelling.
Wagamese, who lives outside Kamloops, knows firsthand the difficulties facing the displaced. Without bitterness or spite, he talks about his own struggles, including those with foster care, alcoholism, and poverty, while exhibiting a kind of grace.
In “The Real Experts”, he shares the irony of being the only presenter at a conference on the homeless who had experienced vagrancy. He also discusses the rooming house run by his wife, in pieces like “WYSIWYG”, which describes the melancholic dignity of some of its residents.
“Reigniting the Spark” tells of his attempt to share his “storytelling show” with the occupants of a remote reserve in Ontario, the type of place where “the malaise feels chronic, self-perpetuating and final.”
Wagamese’s prose addresses both sorrow and joy with a gratitude that can only be earned. One Story, One Song speaks of lessons learned, personal triumphs, and wonderment. These anecdotes glow like embers in a hearth, temporarily dispelling the chill of the world outside, placating with gentle warmth.