If you’ve ever wanted to be just ridiculously depressed, you need look no further than the history — and often the present circumstances — of North America’s first peoples. (I’m sure the same is true of South America, but just learning about the ones up here was bad enough for me at the moment.) With this book giveaway of two absolutely fabulous books, you’ll learn more about both.
Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was published in 1970 and for the first time offered a view of Indian history from the side of the Indians. It isn’t what you’d call a pretty story… with tribe after tribe, treaty after treaty is broken, cease-fires turn into bloodbaths, and time and again the US government and white settlers treat native people as pests to be exterminated, something less than human. There’s a sense of deja vu with each chapter as one tribe after another is treated with the same casual disregard, and either surrender themselves to fate or meet a bloody, hungry end. The book is written directly from Indian sources and accounts, and is peppered with quotes from the men whose history it tells. Perhaps none sums up the entire history better than the book’s closing quote, from famous Oglala Lakota war chief Red Cloud:
“They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one; they promised to take our land, and they took it.”
For those of you who, like me, felt that what we are taught in history class is generally a shallow, one-dimensional version of history written largely by the winners, this book is exactly the kind of different perspective you’ll love, even as it depresses you to tears. It’s the kind of book that I wish everyone in the world would read.
Our second selection is Sherman Alexie’s Reservation Blues. I was introduced to Alexie through a film based on some of his work, Smoke Signals, and he’s since become one of my favorite authors. His interesting background gives him his own unique perspective — he’s a Spokane Indian born on the reservation — but I’m particularly enamored of the way he uses language. He’s a very powerful writer and always has something fascinating to say. I’ve read a few of his short story anthologies, like The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight In Heaven and The Toughest Indian in the World, and this was the first full novel of his that I’d read. It doesn’t disappoint. It’s the story of a group of reservation Spokanes who start up a rock band with a mystical-and-possibly-evil-guitar at its center, but it’s also about the heritage of blood that every Indian can claim, and the difficulty of reservation life, and the fragility of the human soul. The thing I like most about Alexie’s stories is that they’re human stories; if you want to know what modern life is like for the descendants of those people Dee Brown wrote about, Alexie will give you perhaps more insight than any other writer, but his stories are essentially the stories not just of Indian people but of all people, and they’re invariably beautifully written. Reservation Blues is by turns sad, profound, funny, and in whole is utterly fantastic.
Both of these books were crazy-awesome, and I’d like to share the love. If you’d like to win this double book giveaway, leave a comment and make sure you include some way for me to get in touch with you, like an email or blog address. You have until next Sunday, March 11th at 9am Mountain, to enter, at which time I’ll choose a winner at random and probably have another book to give away. I have no sponsors and I do acquire most of my books from used book stores or Paperbackswap.com, so my giveaways are pretty much always for used books.