Indians on Vacation by Thomas King

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Written with King’s signature sarcastic, caustic wit. A light, easy read.

I say signature because we heard Thomas King read from his DreadfulWater series at the Eden Mills Festival in 2018, and the caustic take on growing old and the medical interventions needed were present there in his reading as much as it is here in Indians on Vacation. (This was the last time my Dad was able to attend Eden Mills with me too – he really enjoyed listening to King do his reading.)

Heavier topics are threaded into Mimi and Bird’s travels around the Czech Republic in a subtle manner. But it’s too subtle. It’s this subtlety that I’m struggling with if struggling is the correct term to use. Is King a genius because of this subtlety or is it too nuanced and hidden in the story to have a real impact? I’m feeling more the latter – it was too brief, too fleeting to feel the enormity of these brief thoughts towards refugees, reconciliation, residential schools, racism, depression. I wanted more depth into Bird’s angst, his exploration of his earlier life, his work, his reasons for his demons. It felt too superficial, especially with the “So we’re in Prague.” constantly thrown in.

In between lengthy discussions of what they ate for breakfast and places Mimi had planned for them to visit were fleeting moments such as:

How many times have we walked around an injustice? Ignored intolerance? Rewarded bigotry and racism with silence? By the time we walk downstairs and step out of the hotel, I’ve already come up with more than a dozen instances without even trying.

Bird is struggling with health issues and his “demons” with names that Mimi has given them. This too feels superficially touched upon and the too often repeated, “So we’re in Prague.” removed me often from finding impact in the attempted serious themes within. As well, heavy use of dialogue is a set back for me. It always is. I often complain about heavy use of dialogue spoiling a satisfying reading experience for me, and the use of it here took away my full satisfaction in this story.

What was highly amusing for me is that it takes place in the Czech Republic. My husband’s family is Czech and one of the waiters in the book says he is from Brno, which is where his family is from. Bird and Mimi too are from Guelph, which is where my parents, (now just my mom) and my younger sister live. All of the little Guelph mentions, like the street names, were as fun to read as the Czech ones.

Overall my feeling is that this is not the kind of literary novel I anticipate receiving $100,000 worth of literary accolades? It will be surprising if it is on the Shortlist, in my opinion. However, I’m rarely on the same wave length as the official judges. We’ll just have to wait until October 5th to find out, won’t we?