The Englewood Review of Books
Best Books of 2019
Advent / Christmas Calendar
The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee:
Native America from 1890 to the Present
Hardback: Riverhead, 2019
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Too often, portrayals of Native Americans depict them solely as victims or as absurdly idealized paragons (in tune with nature and so on). As David Treuer observes, such pieties don’t readily accommodate the actual lives of Indians today. “This book is written,” he tells us in the prologue, “out of the simple, fierce conviction that our cultures are not dead and our civilizations have not been destroyed.” He reminds us that the
more than two hundred Lakota who survived Wounded Knee . . . lived on—to experience the pain of loss, yes, but much more as well. They survived to live and grow, to get married and have babies. They survived to hold on to their Lakota ways or to convert to Christianity and let those ways recede. They survived to settle on the reservation and, later, to move to cities. They survived to go to school and to college and to work. They survived to make mistakes and recover from them. They survived to make history, to make meaning, to make life.
The result is the best account I’ve seen of Native America at this moment—selective, highly so, as any such report must be, but vivid, pungent, agreeably opinionated, resisting received opinion on all sides. Treuer himself embodies the complexity of his subject. His father was a Jewish Holocaust survivor; his mother is Ojibwe. He is a novelist who also has a PhD in anthropology, and he has written a very good book titled Rez Life: An Indian Journey Through Reservation Life, which draws both on his narrative gifts and his training as a student of culture and cultures.
“No longer,” Treuer writes in Part 7 (covering the period from 2000 to 2018), “does being Indian mean being helplessly characterized as savage throwbacks living in squalor on the margins of society, suffering the abuses of a careless, unfeeling government. We seem to be everywhere, and doing everything.” May it be so.
- from ERB Contributing Editor John Wilson’s review
in FIRST THINGS [ READ the full review ]
LISTEN to an NPR interview with the author…
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