Posts Tagged ‘Native Americans’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Amy W’s Picks

December 16, 2014

According to this post, it seems I only read coming of age literary novels and hard-hitting non-fiction. But really look at it this way, I have spent a summer on an Ojibwe Indian reservation and in a small Midwest town both faced with terrible crimes, followed a Civil Rights icon on our nation’s path to equality, lived in rural Mississippi a few days before Hurricane Katrina hit and examined the day to day life of soldiers returning home with PTSD and/ or traumatic brain injury. I learned a lot, not just facts, but also about the human spirit.

The Round HouseRound House by Louise Erdrich
This book grabbed me in the first paragraph. The narrative is compelling as Joe, his tribal judge father and his community try to process the violent crime committed against his mother. The investigation is complex since his mother, traumatized, is unable to provide details and the laws governing the reservation and state laws strangle any chance of justice with red tape. Joe and his friends decide to take matters in their own hands. Erdrich balances this story nicely, with humor and excitement but also a serious examination of justice. This book also makes a great book club discussion.

Thank You for Your ServiceThank You for Your Service by David Finkel
Journalist David Finkel follows members of the US 2-16 Infantry Battalion as they return home from service in Iraq. The soldiers often hear the sentiment “Thank you for your service” from appreciative Americans. However, that appreciation, no matter how heart-felt, has no real impact on their day to day life at home after returning from war. Many of the soldiers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and/or traumatic brain injury. Their families are at a loss when it comes to caring for them, the public cannot seem to grasp the pain of invisible injuries and veteran assistance, when available, can also require great sacrifice ultimately adding to the stress of daily life. A notable book of 2013, Thank You for Your Service is a close look at the tragedy of a war that never ends for members of the armed forces.

The Devil in the GroveDevil in the Grove by Gilbert King
The Pulitzer prize-winning book is Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King and it is much more than an account of the trial of three young African-American men accused of kidnapping and raping a white woman in rural 1948 Florida. It is a detailed glimpse in the complex machinations of the Civil Rights Movement as played out in the courtroom. Marshall’s landmark case Brown v. Board of Education (1954 Supreme Court decision disallowing school segregation) was the result of years of planning and small victories that ultimately overturned Plessy v. Ferguson. I just had no real understanding of the complex planning it took to make it to that one important case. Thurgood Marshall (chief counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund) and the NAACP frequently took on lots of cases like the Groveland Boys. Their strategy was never acquittal but to kick the case up to higher courts through appeals with a decision that not only acquits the innocent but also has broader significance to civil rights with each case building on top of one another. If you think this book sounds like a somewhat interesting, but probably overly detailed academic snooze fest you are wrong. Devil in the Grove is a well-written, accessible and at times, a page-turner.  See my full review.

Ordinary GraceOrdinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
Life is idyllic in a small, northern Minnesota town during the summer of 1961 until the town is rocked by a series of murders. 13 year-old Frank Drum gets caught up in the the excitement as he and his friends speculate about who may have committed the sinister acts. Frank’s amateur investigations reveals the complexities of life in a simple, small town as those around him struggle with their life decisions. Ordinary Grace is a beautifully written, compelling page turner.

Salvage the BonesSalvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
It wasn’t that the Batiste family decided to stay in their home while Hurricane Katrina pummeled the Gulf Coast, it was that they had bigger battles consuming their lives. Every chapter moves the storm one day closer with some chapters the storm is not mentioned at all. Having never recovered from the death of their mother, Esch (the narrator), her brothers and her alcoholic father live a hand to mouth existence in rural Mississippi. As the storm approaches, their lives become unraveled. Esch, is fifteen, pregnant and alone with her secret. At a time Esch needs a mother the most, the memories of her mother fade all too quickly. This 2011 National Book Award winner is a tough read. Sometimes I find a book so incredibly heart-breaking, I struggle to turn the page and consider closing the book. Ward, growing up in the rural Gulf Coast did not have a chance to turn the page either or close the book on her life. Instead, she put words to paper creating a beautiful novel, rich in hope.  See my full review.

Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper

November 25, 2014

One thing that helps make my long commute bearable is a great audio book, and Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper certainly qualifies! I know the author best as the writer of the fantasy series, The Dark is Rising, but I think this historical fiction title is her best yet.

Ghost Hawk starts with the story of Little Hawk, an 11-year-old Pokanoket Indian boy being sent off to spend three months in the winter wilderness with only a knife, a tomahawk, and a bow and arrows. If he survives and returns to his tribe, he will be a man. Little Hawk battles starvation, bitter weather, and wild animals in his struggles to survive on his own. But when he finally returns home to find his village decimated by disease, Little Hawk faces his greatest trial yet.

In an attempt to ensure their survival, the diminished tribal villages negotiate a troubled relationship with the Pilgrim settlers. During a chance meeting between Little Hawk and John Wakeley, a Pilgrim boy from Plymouth, tragedy strikes, and the boys are bound together in a mysterious way. Through this connection, John begins to understand the pain of the Native Americans’ plight and assumes the guilt of their cruel treatment by European settlers.

As tensions between the settlers and the natives escalate, John’s sympathies put him in increasing danger, and he must decide whether to do what is safe, or to do what is right.

Ghost Hawk is filled with adventure, mystery, danger, and even has a little romance. The book is wholly engrossing– I could not wait to get back in my car to continue listening to it! Cooper’s writing is exquisite and her historical facts are accurate. Many of the major historical figures of the time appear in the story, helping create an air of authenticity.

The author reads a timeline of Native American history and talks a little about her sources at the end of the audio book. So, if, like me, you hate for a great book to end, Cooper gives you some great ideas for where to look next.

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Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan

October 20, 2014

Short Nights of the Shadow CatcherThis is an amazing account of the life of photographer Edward Curtis. It begins in 1866 in Seattle, where Princess Angeline is living in a 2 room damp shack down among the piers. She is the oldest and last surviving child of the chief of the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes, and also the most famous person in Seattle, her image on china plates and other knickknacks sold to tourists of Puget Sound.

Seattle is also where Edward Sheriff Curtis runs a successful photography business. Curtis is sought out by politicians and wealthy patrons, but also trolley car drivers and sailors who have saved for a session in front of the camera.

Curtis eventually photographs Princess Angeline, first in a studio portrait, and then in Shantytown, where he captures her in her daily chores of digging clams and gathering mussels. Angeline tells of other Duwamish and Suquamish people living on the edge of the city and the Tulalip reservation to the north. He visits, even pays for access, and photographs them. This is the beginning of what becomes a lifelong endeavor of photographing all intact Indian communities left in North American before their way of life disappears.

This plan entails traveling the Southwest, the plains, the Rockies, the fjords of British Columbia and Washington State, northern California mountains and southern California desert, and the Arctic. Curtis gives up a successful photography studio in Seattle for this pursuit.

He is constantly broke and struggles to obtain backers as he continues documenting Native Americans as their numbers are plummeting. While America is laying down railroad lines and paving roads for automobiles, the Indians who wish to continue living as they always have, end up hiding from dominant ever encroaching culture (the government has banned many ceremonies and children are sent to boarding schools).

Even when Curtis presents his picture opera–Indians in hand-colored slides and film, accompanied by music–to sold out crowds at Carnegie Hall and Washington’s Belasco Theater, he still faces bankruptcy: a penniless state that follows him through the rest of his life.

When he completes Volume XX of The North American Indian in 1930, thirty years have passed since the onset of the project, and Curtis is sixty-one years old. Sadly, his book goes unnoticed after his death in 1952, but resurfaces in the 1970’s to great acclaim. The Curtis family set goes to the Rare Books Library at the University of Oregon, and a gallery devoted to the work of Curtis is in Seattle.

Thankfully, because of Edward Curtis’ steadfast dedication to record the Native American tribes’ way of life before its tragic demise, we have an immense photographic and written historical record. And because of Timothy Egan’s exhaustive research, we have a sense of what Edward Curtis went through to accomplish this great feat.

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The Flight of the Sparrow : A Novel of Early America by Amy Belding Brown

September 4, 2014

Flight of the SparrowBrown’s fictional account of a real life settler in Massachusetts is a perfect example of what historical fiction should do: open a window into a life you cannot begin to understand. Mary Rowlandson is a married woman living the good Puritan life in a small frontier settlement in 1676. Her husband, the minister, is very strict with his wife and children, living according to the rules of the church. For example, children should not be coddled or fussed over, and adults are not meant to get too attached to them. If a child dies, it is as God ordained and one should not grieve. Also, you cannot give sympathy or care to another member of the congregation who has sinned unless they have been forgiven by the congregation. Mary is a believer, yet finds the strictness difficult at times, especially in relation to children. She goes against her husband’s wishes to bring food to a young, unwed mother and her baby.

As the threat of Indian attacks grows greater, Mary’s husband and her brother-in-law go to Boston to ask the Governor for protection for their town. Sadly, the expected attack comes while they are gone. Mary witnesses the brutal murder of her sister, her nephews, and several neighbors before being kidnapped. The prisoners are then forced to march to the Indian camp. Mary carries her injured youngest daughter for days until her daughter dies from her wounds. When they arrive, Mary is separated from her older children and given to the warrior woman who is the leader of these Indians. It takes her a while to realize the horrible truth: she has now become a slave. Mary survives, though, and even begins to find some of the Indian ways appealing during her eleven weeks of captivity.

The real Mary Rowlandson was ransomed by the settlers and returned to her old life. She wrote a book about her experiences, which was one of the first accounts of captivity written by an American settler. Amy Belding Brown used that book as the basis for her story, but has gone beyond to imagine what Mary might have felt about her experience, and how she might have been changed by it. This was a wonderful novel that I would highly recommend to fans of historical fiction, or anyone who wants to learn a little more about American History.

 Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Greatest Hits: The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

January 9, 2014

We continue to feature the Book-A-Day Blog’s most popular posts of 2013. Enjoy this one!

The Orchardist takes place in the early twentieth century in Oregon and Washington. Talmadge, the orchardist of the title, leads a solitary existence since the early death of his mother and the disappearance years later of his beloved sister.

His life is ruled by the seasons and his solitude is broken only by his visits with his friend, Caroline Middey, and the annual appearance of a band of Nez Perce and horses that camp in the fields surrounding the orchard. They come to help Talmadge harvest his apricot and apple crops and to sell the horses they have captured in the wild. Talmadge goes to the market seasonally to buy additions for his orchard and to sell his crops.

One day two pregnant teenage sisters show up in his orchard, stealing apples on the sly. Talmage eventually is able to gain their trust and his life is forever after tied to theirs. They have run away from a terrifying existence and the threat of return sends one of them over the edge. The daughter of one of the girls whom he names Angelene, for one of his mother’s sisters, becomes Talmage’s child, his partner in the orchard, learning all the skills necessary for the orchards. Her mother Della abandons the child, but is never far from Talmadge’s mind.

Amanda Coplin has written a moving, beautifully written work that reminds me of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson or Tinkers by Paul Harding: slow-moving, with a reverence for nature.

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The Round House by Louise Erdrich

November 22, 2013

roundThis is the first novel by Louise Erdrich that I’ve read and I am sorry I waited so long. I will definitely be going back to pick up her earlier works. In this book, Joe Coutts is 13 years old when his mother, Geraldine, is found bleeding and traumatized by a brutal attack. As a result of the attack, his mother now rarely leaves her bedroom. Joe’s father, a tribal court Judge, seems more interested in helping the tribal police investigate than in helping his son cope. Joe is desperate to do something to bring his family back together. He decides that he will catch the man who did this to his mother.
Joe usually spends his time hanging around the reservation with his three best friends, Cappy, Zack and Angus. Now he convinces his friends to look for clues near the Round House, a sacred site on the reservation. They find evidence missed by the police and Joe shares this information with his father. Unfortunately, his mother cannot remember, and the police cannot determine, exactly where the attack took place. This means they cannot decide who has jurisdiction, the tribal court, the state police, or the FBI. If the crime took place on the reservation, the tribal authorities can only prosecute if it was a member of the tribe. Any white man is beyond their jurisdiction and would have to be prosecuted by the state police. If it was on nearby federal land, the FBI is in charge of the investigation.
As Joe and his friends learn more and more about the limitations of the legal system, they are forced to grow up rapidly. They are thrown into the confusing adult world suddenly and what happens changes their lives forever. This is a moving coming of age novel, combined with a mystery, which gives us a powerful picture of modern life on the reservation.

Find and reserve this book in the catalog.

Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger

November 19, 2013

ironlakeThe Windingo is a figure in Ojibwe legend, a powerful, man-eating ogre with a heart of ice. If the Windingo calls your name, he is coming for you. You can only defeat him by hardening your heart and becoming a Windingo yourself, but there is a danger you will stay a Windingo forever if the ice inside you doesn’t melt afterwards.
In the backwoods Minnesota town of Aurora, on the banks of Iron Lake, several people have heard the Windingo call their name. Powerful but unscrupulous Judge Robert Parrant is one, and he is soon found dead in his lakeside mansion. The local sheriff accepts this as a suicide, but former sheriff Cork O’Connor has his doubts. O’Connor is one quarter Ojibwe. In the aftermath of a tragedy that resulted in the death of an Ojibwe man that was like a father to him, O’Connor lost his job as sheriff, and also his home and family. He lives in the back of a World War II era Quanset hut that serves as a hamburger and ice cream stand in the

summer. The mother of an Ojibwe teen that went missing on the same day the judge died calls O’Connor for help. Could the teen’s disappearance be linked to the judge’s death? Is a new casino on tribal lands related? Can the judge’s son, a newly elected senator, be hiding evidence? Is someone using the legend of the Windingo to terrorize the people of Aurora? Can O’Connor find and stop the killer? And can he do it without being left with the icy heart of a Windingo himself?
The cold, remote setting and Native American spiritualism in this book gives it an atmosphere that works very well in this noir type mystery. Fans of hard-boiled detective fiction, Scandinavian mysteries, and the Leaphorn and Chee mysteries by Tony Hillerman will all be interested in Iron Lake, the first in the Cork O’Connor series written by William Kent Krueger.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Orchardist : A Novel By Amanda Coplin

October 11, 2013

The Orchardist takes place in the early twentieth century in Oregon and Washington. Talmadge, the orchardist of the title, leads a solitary existence since the early death of his mother and the disappearance years later of his beloved sister.

His life is ruled by the seasons and his solitude is broken only by his visits with his friend, Caroline Middey, and the annual appearance of a band of Nez Perce and horses that camp in the fields surrounding the orchard. They come to help Talmadge harvest his apricot and apple crops and to sell the horses they have captured in the wild. Talmadge goes to the market seasonally to buy additions for his orchard and to sell his crops.

One day two pregnant teenage sisters show up in his orchard, stealing apples on the sly. Talmage eventually is able to gain their trust and his life is forever after tied to theirs. They have run away from a terrifying existence and the threat of return sends one of them over the edge. The daughter of one of the girls whom he names Angelene, for one of his mother’s sisters, becomes Talmage’s child, his partner in the orchard, learning all the skills necessary for the orchards. Her mother Della abandons the child, but is never far from Talmadge’s mind.

Amanda Coplin has written a moving, beautifully written work that reminds me of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson or Tinkers by Paul Harding: slow-moving, with a reverence for nature.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Boone: A Biography by Robert Morgan

August 8, 2013

Boone: a Biography is well researched and well written, by a poet and novelist. The author, Robert Morgan, a native North Carolinian, became interested in Daniel Boone (who came of age in North Carolina) when he wanted to write a poem about the intersection of Native Americans and Colonial American cultures. That interest morphed into Morgan’s first work of non-fiction.

Boone was nicknamed the “Columbus of the Woods”. Lord Byron writes of Boone in his epic poem “Don Juan”. Parts of James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans are based on Boone’s experiences.

Morgan demystifies Boone, the prototypical American folk hero. Far more than a frontiersman, Daniel Boone was at times a hunter, trapper, explorer, land speculator, debtor, surveyor, elected politician, horse trader, and tavern keeper. He served in the French and Indian War, the Seven Years War, the Cherokee Uprising, Dunmore’s War, the Revolutionary War, and the Northwest Indian War. All of this is explored in Morgan’s biography of Daniel Boone, while chronicling America’s westward expansion.

Most interesting though, and back to the author’s motivations, is Morgan’s focus on Boone’s relations with Native Americans. Boone was raised a Quaker and sought to befriend Native Americans all of his life. This was in spite of many encounters that were tragic. The book documents the manipulations of Native Americans, by the French and the British, to make war with settlers, first in the French and Indian War and then in the American Revolution. Perhaps without that manipulation, relations between the cultures might have been very different.

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Shavetail by Thomas Cobb

July 20, 2012

Shavetail presents a realistic and riveting look at life in an isolated Army outpost in the Arizona Territory during the war against the Apache. Thomas Cobb’s portrayal of camp life as boring, dirty, and brutal is probably very close to the reality. Cobb has done his research, and it is a delight to see his inclusion of historical sources at the end of the book.

The characters are quite compelling. Ned Thorne, the 17-year-old recruit running away from his past is a fine protagonist. When he finds the diary of Mary, a settler abducted by the Apache, her voice adds another dimension to the story. Captain Robert Franklin is heroic and action-oriented, which contrasts oddly with his bouts of depression. His lifelong friend Lieutenant Austin is more interested in publishing reports of new species of flora and fauna than soldiering, and is weirdly solicitous of Franklin. Donovan the trader shrewdly anticipates the wants and needs of his clientele, and shows up like clockwork on payday with his liquor and prostitutes to relieve the soldiers of their money. The mule driver Obediah Bricker is sadistic and cunning, a veritable master of manipulation with a philosophical bent. I find the preoccupation with the odd relationship between Franklin and Austin a bit tedious. Austin’s ramblings remind me of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. I would rather have seen more about the camp and activities of the soldiers instead. Yet the sheer unpredictability of the story makes up for this.

What seems to be a straightforward rescue mission to find Mary ends up as a Western “heart of darkness” sort of foray, with the elusive Apache leading the soldiers into a strange encounter with a Mexican patrol that ends in a burst of numbing violence. The ending is surreal and unexpected. Shavetail is an exceptional and entertaining read, especially for someone with an interest in the time period.

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