by Joan Crate
“Joan Crate’s moving new novel [is] both timely and welcome…The novel’s portrayal of the residential school system – spawned as it was by a toxic mix of racism and cultural arrogance — is unavoidably disturbing…But the flawed figure of Mother Grace, who understands the system’s failings almost as much as she endorses its overall objectives, lends a necessary element of ambiguity to the tale. At best, the road to Canada’s residential schools was paved with misguided intentions. Black Apple illustrates where such roads can lead.”
—Quill & Quire
A dramatic and lyrical coming-of-age novel about a young Blackfoot girl who grows up in the residential school system on the Canadian prairies.
Torn from her home and delivered to St. Mark’s Residential School for Girls by government decree, young Rose Marie finds herself in an alien universe where nothing of her previous life is tolerated, not even her Blackfoot name. For she has entered into the world of the Sisters of Brotherly Love, an order of nuns dedicated to saving the Indigenous children from damnation. Life under the sharp eye of Mother Grace, the Mother General, becomes an endless series of torments, from daily recitations and obligations to chronic sickness and inedible food. And then there are the beatings. All the feisty Rose Marie wants to do is escape from St. Mark’s. How her imagination soars as she dreams about her lost family on the Reserve, finding in her visions a healing spirit that touches her heart. But all too soon she starts to see other shapes in her dreams as well, shapes that warn her of unspoken dangers and mysteries that threaten to engulf her. And she has seen the rows of plain wooden crosses behind the school, reminding her that many students have never left here alive.
Set during the Second World War and the 1950s, Black Appleis an unforgettable, vividly rendered novel about two very different women whose worlds collide: an irrepressible young Blackfoot girl whose spirit cannot be destroyed, and an aging yet powerful nun who increasingly doubts the value of her life. It captures brilliantly the strange mix of cruelty and compassion in the residential schools, where young children are forbidden to speak their own languages and given Christian names. As Rose Marie matures, she finds increasingly that she knows only the life of the nuns, with its piety, hard work and self-denial. Why is it, then, that she is haunted by secret visions — of past crimes in the school that terrify her, of her dead mother, of the Indigenous life on the plains that has long vanished? Even the kind-hearted Sister Cilla is unable to calm her fears. And then, there is a miracle, or so Mother Grace says. Now Rose is thrust back into the outside world with only her wits to save her.
With a poet’s eye, Joan Crate creates brilliantly the many shadings of this heartbreaking novel, rendering perfectly the inner voices of Rose Marie and Mother Grace, and exploring the larger themes of belief and belonging, of faith and forgiveness.
“Not unlike Empire of the Sun [ … ] Crate’s novel has moments of humour, light and compassion. There’s a ghost story and a romance coursing beneath the main narrative and frequent excursions into the culture of the Blackfoot.”
– Eric Volmers, Calgary Herald
“Black Apple describes life in a prairie residential school in the 1940s and 50s, in all its heartbreaking complexity. It is a compelling and powerful novel, with beautifully rendered characters, and a lyricism that speaks to Joan Crate’s background as a poet. An extraordinary achievement.”
– Helen Humphreys, author of The Reinvention of Love and The Evening Chorus
“Clean, tough and tender. Near the end of the residential school system in Canada, Rose Marie enters St. Mark’s and her journey is like a raven, ragged in the wind but flying strong.”
—Eden Robinson, author of Monkey Beach, shortlisted for the Giller Prize
“Black Apple is an achievement, a novel that examines the complexities of the residential school system from the point of view of women, including a young girl who is ripped from her family and an aging Catholic nun who has seen it all. This story of girls, women and the system that controls them grips from the very first pages.”
—Dianne Warren, author of Cool Water, winner of the Governor General’s Award
“Black Apple joins the continuing effort to break the silence of Canada’s residential schools and bring the truth to light. This may be just a work of fiction, but the story inside is a must read for all of Canada.”
—Red Deer Advocate
“Crate […] powerfully reveals the mechanics of forced assimilation through the nuns and priests — some sadistic and merciless, others weak and misguided — who carried out the government policy to “kill the Indian in the child.” Crate doesn’t shrink from the abuses of the residential school system, but she extends her curiosity to both the victims and the perpetrators. What must it take to survive such suffering, she wonders, and what must it take to cause it.”
“The novel explores different perspectives—including the viewpoint of Mother Grace, the school’s matriarch—to weave a heartbreaking tale about struggle, identity and compassion.”
Winner of The City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize
Simon & Schuster, March 2016