Richard Wagamese bravely entered the cracks in his life to reveal the hidden gold buried within

Having seen the Canadian movie Indian Horse based on his book, and enjoyed his journal entries compiled in Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations, I decided to actually read one of Richard Wagamese’s novels. I started with Medicine Walk and ended with Starlight, the latter an extension of the former to become a two-part story, albeit an unfinished one. His flawed wounded characters seek healing and reconciliation, as he did throughout his life. The image below and his description of a mended broken heart reveal how his courageous talent honored and celebrated these lives, ultimately his own, and why he was beloved as one of Canada’s greatest Indigenous storytellers.

Medicine Walk

Richard Wagamese’s skills as a soulful storyteller and consummate wordsmith grew with each successive novel. I enjoyed reading Medicine Walk. It’s the story of young Frank who reluctantly agrees to help his extremely ill biological father, Eldon, a stranger to him, complete a journey into the wilderness to a special location where he wants to die in the traditional Indian way.

This emotionally charged story is an attempt at a reconciliation between a seemingly irresponsible absent father and his disappointed hurt son. This was something Wagamese had been grappling with throughout his own life, from both perspectives—as a young boy and later as a father to his own sons. It’s why he wrote the book.


I also read Starlight, his final, and unfortunately unfinished novel. Only 61 years of age, he died in his sleep before he could complete it. Beautifully written, this profoundly moving story is about the redemptive power of love, mercy, compassion, and the land’s ability to heal.

This is ultimately a tale of recovery from trauma by the power of human connection to the natural world and each other. It’s something Richard wanted to explore through the main character. This last book continues the story of a now older Frank Starlight. The old white man who raised him and taught him everything he knows has died and left him the farm and accompanying wilderness.

The story is filled with beautiful descriptions of Frank’s transcendent experiences in nature. He had also taken up photography as a hobby. During his time alone in nature he was able to come into contact with a pack of wolves. He runs with them from a safe distance. When he fearlessly taps into nature’s silence within, the alpha wolf seems to trust him and doesn’t bolt. They howl at the moon, and Frank captures this intimate scene through the lens of his camera resulting in rare photographs.

But the main part of the novel is about a potential relationship between Frank and a young woman and her daughter who come into his life. Unbeknownst to him they had violently escaped an abusive situation. The injured men involved are tracking her down to seek revenge.

A man of few words, Frank teaches Emmy and Winnie how to connect with the land, its creatures, and ultimately their own inner nature. It strengthens and heals them, enhancing their self-esteem. These scenes are profound, well-written, worth reading and rereading. I scanned those pages and may reproduce some of the content in a future post.

A tension is created between these contrasting situations. But the book stops just before they are about to intersect. A Note on the Ending, indicates how Wagamese was intending to complete the novel. It includes an outline and examples from previously published short stories.

Finding gold in the flaws of his imperfect life

A Publisher’s Note at the end explains how they came by the manuscript. Throughout the process of readying Starlight for publication they were guided by something that Wagamese wrote. It became the reason for this post. I found this image online as an example of what he describes.

I once saw a ceramic heart, fractured but made beautiful again by an artist filling its cracks with gold. The artist offering a celebration of imperfection, of the flawed rendered magnificent by its reclamation. I loved that symbol until I came to understand that it’s not about the filling so much as it’s about being brave enough to enter the cracks in my life so that my gold becomes revealed. I am my celebration then. See, it’s not in our imagined wholeness that we become art; it’s in the celebration of our cracks . . .

This reminds me of two previous posts related to this notion. One was when I discovered this Japanese ceramic technique Richard is referring to known as kintsugi. I included a definition, an image, and a poem, a tanka I wrote about this process as a metaphor for human growth.

The other was about Leonard Cohen and his song, Anthem, where he tells us to: “Ring the bells that still can ring/ Forget your perfect offering/ There is a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in.”

These great Canadian writers had the courage to try to come to terms with their own struggles and the skill to creatively express them in their own unique ways. Experienced aesthetically in the lives of their fans who may have been going through similar life challenges, these hard-earned truths became a validation, bringing beauty and meaning into their lives.

See these related blog posts on Richard Wagamese and Leonard Cohen: Coincidences happened that introduced me to the great Ojibway storyteller Richard Wagamese and Insights from Richard Wagamese’s Meditations and Leonard Cohen said there’s a crack in everything–how the light gets in. It came thru him & lit up a broken humanity.

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7 Responses to “Richard Wagamese bravely entered the cracks in his life to reveal the hidden gold buried within”

  1. deborahbrasket Says:

    As always, your posts are so interesting and inspiring and I always learn something new. I’m inspired by this writer too and hope you post more from his novels. But I may order one anyway to read. What a shame he didn’t get to finish the last one. Even unfinished, was it satisfying?


  2. Ken Chawkin Says:

    Thanks, Deborah, for your comments. I was thinking to include some of the many beautiful descriptions from the book, but there was not enough room. I even edited down some of the content, not wanting to spoil it for readers. But you’ve inspired me to dig up and post some of them in a separate post. I did that with his Embers book. Yes, it was a shame that he never got to finish Starlight. But the publisher included content at the end of the book to give us an idea of how it would’ve turned out, so that was a big help, a consolation. But yes, even unfinished it was a very satisfying read!

    My kids bought me One Drum: Stories and Ceremonies for a Planet, also published posthumously. Not a novel, and also not completed. I haven’t gotten into it yet. It’s about the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers, having their origins in Anishnawbe culture, his tribe. I linked to a review of it at the bottom of my first post on him.

    I usually have trouble finishing a book, but both Medicine Walk and later Starlight captured my attention for longer periods of time than I’m used to giving a book. I’m glad I discovered this writer, this special person. Let me know which book you decide to read and what you thought of it.


  3. Mark Newman Says:

    I was only going to read the lede of Ken’s blog post, the opening sentence. Of course, because of Ken’s talent as a storyteller, telling a story about a storyteller, I couldn’t stop. And so here I am, at the end, sharing my two sentence story of how I came to read the storyteller’s story of the storyteller.
    PS I could’ve sworn a teacher taught me not to use the same word over and over. I’m not sorry!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Coincidences happened that introduced me to the great Ojibway storyteller Richard Wagamese | The Uncarved Blog Says:

    […] New posts added: Insights from Richard Wagamese’s Meditations, later followed by Richard Wagamese bravely entered the cracks in his life to reveal the hidden gold buried within. […]


  5. Insights from Richard Wagamese’s Meditations | The Uncarved Blog Says:

    […] New post added: Richard Wagamese bravely entered the cracks in his life to reveal the hidden gold buried within. […]


  6. William Stafford’s poetry lightened his life having woven a parachute out of everything broken. | The Uncarved Blog Says:

    […] Richard Wagamese bravely entered the cracks in his life to reveal the hidden gold buried within […]


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