Sunday, August 13, 2017


James Boyden

At last I found my copy of “The Orenda” and I’ve read a few more chapters, plus skipping around in the rest of the text.  I don’t know what the fuss is about, unless it’s about sales — name recognition acquired through controversy.  Which I consider even less of an indicator of worthiness than blood quantum, or whatever.   It’s an okay book, I guess, though there are some strange little glitches that irritate me, like using “oki” to mean something mysterious when in Blackfeet “oki” means hello.  It’s a little strange to worship “Hey there!

But this is basically science fiction, based on historical evidence from the Euro side.  The science being sociology:  research of accounts, observation of artifacts including photographs, and so on.  I mean, the goal is to make the taken for granted seem strange again and then be explained or at least entered.  It’s culture clash among tribes, Euros, missionaries, and so on.  The angle chosen to be interesting and new is that of a young female captive, which is smart considering that most readers these days are young females who feel captured by their lives.  Nothing really wrong with the book.  Mostly skillfully done.  No one living was there as a witness.

The good thing about the book is that it raises awareness of the Indian wars of the northeast, where their entangled complexities are hard to follow.  But the truth is that I’m not very interested, even though I’m aware that they were part of the American Revolution, which Boyden doesn’t address directly because he’s Canadian — well, when he’s not in New Orleans to escape the winter.

So I’ve put “The Orenda” down again and picked up another big fat book I’ve been meaning to read:  “The Dying Grass: A Novel of the Nez Perce War” by William T. Vollmann.  Part of his “Seven Dreams” series, the series is ecology-based:  “A Book of North American Landscapes” beginning far to the north and explored by going there.  This volume of the book series is about territory that I know, that I live in.    

“The Orenda” has 433 pages.  The Dying Grass” has 1356 pages, mostly because it is formatted as poetry, as lists, as dialogue — lots of space.  Draw your own conclusions.  One might be that Vollmann is three times the worthiness of Boyden.  In financial terms, which are the ONLY terms that count to publishers.

As I go slowly through “The Dying Grass”, I’ll make reports, since my reactions are bound to exceed one post.  But I feel as though the fuss about how indigenous Boyden is and the derived politics is pretty off-the-point.

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