Canoeing with José
The first time journalist Jon Lurie meets José Perez, the smart, angry, fifteen-year-old Lakota-Puerto Rican draws blood. Five years later, both men are floundering. Lurie is newly divorced and depressed. José is embedded in a haze of women and street feuds. Both lack a meaningful connection to their cultural roots: Lurie feels an absence of identity as the son of a reticent Holocaust survivor, and José struggles to access a communal history obliterated by centuries of oppression. And neither feels the link to their Minnesota home—to its people, its land, and its rivers—that they long for.
Then Lurie hits upon a plan to save them. After years of admiring the journey described in Eric Sevareid’s classic 1935 account Canoeing with the Cree, Lurie invites José to retrace Sevareid’s route and embark together on a mythic two-thousand-mile paddle from Breckenridge, Minnesota, to the Hudson Bay. Faced with plagues of mosquitoes, extreme weather, suspicious law enforcement officers, tricky border crossings, and José’s preference for Kanye West over the great outdoors, the trip becomes an odyssey of self-discovery. Acknowledging the native histories that Sevareid’s prejudicial account could not perceive, and written in gritty, honest prose, Canoeing with José is a remarkable journey.
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Praise and Prizes
"Canoeing with José is a wonderful example of storytelling that speaks to Native history and experience by engaging with our community and narratives, rather than speaking about or for us . . . Jon Lurie is a gifted storyteller with a perceptive awareness of place. This is a story of resiliency, adventure, and sincere friendship that reminds us to stay inspired in life, and to keep moving forward. Lurie reads the memories of the landscape and weaves these narratives back towards the present to show how reconnecting and deepening our relationships with the land can hold the power to heal."
"It's easy to place José neatly within literature's 'troubled youth' trope, though the book is at its best when Lurie transcends this. Once Lurie strops away José's hardened facade, readers are left viewing a vulnerable person whose pain is not unlike their own. Lurie, too, is at his most admirable when he lays himself bare: revealing himself as José's stern guide, his tenacious friend, and a man continually prepared to steady them both amid the rocky waters."
“Part nail-biting adventure narrative, part memoir, part meditation on race and heritage and class. Jon Lurie’s perilous northward river journey—accompanied by a Puerto Rican/Native American city kid who listens to hip-hop at the prow of their canoe—holds up a mirror to Mark Twain’s Huck Finn. This is a thoroughly compelling, deeply thought-provoking book—fierce, funny, and full of emotion.”
“Canoeing with José is a twenty-first-century Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It’s a journey of forgiveness, redemption, healing, and hope, full of breathtaking adventures and deep meditations about humanity and our connection with nature. It flows with the author’s yearning to be one with water and spirit. It takes us deep and fast through rapids of beauty, love, and awakening.”
“A poignant testament to the ongoing struggle of indigenous people today. Written with unflinching honesty, a journalist’s eye for detail, and great heart, Canoeing with José is a fascinating story of friendship, resilience, and the necessity of facing our history head on, lest we forget.”
“A superb memoir. As deeply personal as it is journalistic, teeming with tenderness and pain and humor, Canoeing with José invites the reader on an astonishing river voyage. Yes, this is a beautifully detailed story about eagle feathers and trail mix and cell phones dropped into the muck. But it is also so much more than that. Lurie has written about what it means to be human, to be fully awake to the world.”
“Canoeing with José is a re-framing of our engagement with a landscape that was only recklessly inscribed by us as ‘wilderness.’ In his young companion, José, Jon Lurie finds not only the perfect foil to his mid-life wanderings, but a voice that is as exuberant as it is discomfited by the prospect of re-experiencing what is Native to his being—and truly becoming—American.”