This debut novel by a young member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma introduces a new voice to American literature. I had no idea what to expect, only that this novel was highly anticipated and received a starred review from Kirkus. The story is told from the perspectives of twelve individuals making their way for different reasons to the Big Oakland Powwow. Each chapter is short, around 9-10 pages. I had difficulty synthesizing how the characters’ stories intersected, and also had trouble remembering who everybody was. Tony Loneman is the first character introduced. Then each of seven other characters has a chapter devoted to them before getting back to Tony Loneman again. So each time I got to the second chapter about a character, I had to go back and refresh my memory. I had even taken notes about each one along the way. This is not a flaw of the structure or the writing. The flaw is my inability to easily transition from one character or setting to another, in successive chapters. If anyone has a “hack” for dealing with this style of writing, I am all ears!
Once again, the atrocities visited against a group of people is astounding and shameful to those who perpetrated them. Also embarrassing to me because I’d never heard of some of them. For example, the American Indian Wars were fought by European countries and finally, the U.S. over land in what is now Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado. Despite treaties signed by both sides acknowledging the Cheyenne and Arapaho’s rights to the designated land, the discovery of gold at Pike’s Peak caused the government to want greater access, so they entered into negotiations with the Cheyenne and Arapaho again, ultimately reducing Indian holdings to less than ⅓ of the earlier negotiated treaty. Many Cheyenne refused to accept the terms of the new treaty, claiming that it had not been approved by the whole tribe, and those that did sign didn’t know what they were doing, or were bribed with gifts. So without declaring war, there was a war, with the Cheyenne defending their land, and the US Cavalry viewing that as an act of war. The Sand Creek Massacre was a result of these tensions, when 675 men of the Voluntary US Cavalry attacked and killed or maimed 70-500 mostly women and children of the Cheyenne tribe on November 29, 1864. This is just one example of how the Indian nations were forced into treaties limiting their rights to their own land, ultimately confining them to reservations where their way of life became impossible to live. At various points of the book, the anger expressed is palpable, a blast in the reader’s face, beginning with the Prologue. It is appropriate.
THE BEAUTY: Edwin Black, living with his mother since completing his master’s degree in comparative literature, spent his days gaming, gambling online, incessantly checking his social media and searching for new music. He found a group of First Nation DJ’ and producers based out of Ottawa called “A Tribe Called Red.” He found their music the most modern, or postmodern form of indigenous music that is both traditional and new-sounding. A blend of instrumental hip hop, reggae, moombahton, and dub-step, with elements of First Nations music, particularly chanting and drumming, it is unlike anything I’d heard before. The clip below is only 3½ minutes, so do stick with it until the end. The chanting has a spiritual effect if you listen until the end. I love that the video shows a diverse group of urban native Americans, which is exactly the point of this book. When I find “beauty” for a blog post that perfectly embodies the theme of what I’ve read, it’s tremendously gratifying.
THE FOOD: The action of the book is all headed toward the powwow at the end, so it had to be powwow food. Since I’d already done fry bread tacos for Killers of the Flower Moon, I googled powwow food, and corn soup came up. I created the recipe here by modifying some recipes to suit my taste.
Native American Corn Soup
4 strips bacon
1 poblano pepper (or Anaheim chile pepper, seeded and chopped)
1 large (12 ounce) yellow onion (cut into thin wedges)
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 oz. corn kernels (½ cup, frozen)
1 can (15 ½ oz) hominy (golden or white hominy, drained)
1 can (14 ½ oz) diced tomatoes (no-salt-added, undrained)
1 can (14 oz) chicken broth
1 ¾ cups water
1 T lime juice
1 T dried oregano, crushed
1 T ground cumin
1 tsp ground chile pepper
1 tsp garlic powder (roasted)
¼ tsp black pepper
¼ C radishes, sliced
¼ C green onions, sliced
In a 4-quart Dutch saute the bacon to render the fat. Remove bacon pieces and reserve for another purpose, like garnishing a salad to go with the soup.
Add the poblano pepper, (or can of chili) onion, and garlic to Dutch oven. Cook for 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally
Stir in hominy, corn, undrained tomatoes, broth, water, lime juice, oregano, cumin, chili pepper, and black pepper, and garlic powder. Bring to a boil, reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 25 minutes.
To serve, ladle soup into bowls. Top servings with radishes, and/or green onions.
This was delicious, and definitely a keeper. I love soup, even hot in 90 degree weather.