Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee – 5/5 stars
So somehow, Trump ruined this day of all days with his racist remark to Navajo Codetalkers at a White House ceremony. This is also the day I finished this book….it’s like I made it happen by being so clearly reminded of the inhumanity of US history and the sheer resilience and patience with which Native peoples have had to ask for not only basic decency, but for agreements they made to be upheld. And so the sacrifice the Navajo codetalkers made for a country that hated them is especially galling.
I suppose it’s kind of impossible to discredit or downplay this history at all. As a collective and comprehensive history it does something that’s truly amazing, which is just leave my mouth agape at almost every turn. That’s not simply because of the authorship, which is competent, but more so at the research, which is astounding. As much as anything, this book is a curated collection of white people saying truly terrible things too, about, for, and against various Native peoples and tribes, and Native People answering with simple distillations of essential injustice they received. It’s a depressing book to be sure in a lot of ways, but it’s also just a really good collection of the events that so clearly show the abusive relationship this country has regarding Native peoples.
This is basically a perfect encapsulation of every treaty, contract, and agreement being made almost immediately broken by US interests for greed, every perceived and actual slight experienced by white people in this country being disproportionately levied back against all Native people regardless of their actual involvement and the group politics of whiteness completing disavowing identity politics while forcing Native people into literal and figurative reservations, and then taking that from them too whenever felt like.
Future Home of the Living God – 4/5
Reviews have been mixed about this new Louise Erdrich novel and to be fair it’s not her best, and it shares an uncomfortable similarity to The Handmaid’s Tale. But there’s some big distinctions between the two. In a lot of ways this would make a better tv show than the Handmaid’s Tale because the apocalyptic features and the resulting chaos make more immediate sense than Handmaid’s Tale. Also, this novel folds into the narrative the parts of the tv that don’t work for me…the side-stories and back-stories, and it deals more so with the chaos and terror of being caught than of the terror and chaos of being kept.
I also think there’s an underlying current throughout this novel, where on the surface the elements of control are not as aggressive and pronounced as in Atwood’s book. When surveillance and control are being done mostly through self-corrective policing rather than overt control, it’s scarier because it doesn’t automatically LOOK scary. And as I had cemented in my mind from Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, for lots of people in this country, you don’t have to have a dystopia when you’ve already lived in one forever. The cultural annihilation, that whiteness and capitalism so fear in this book and in most dystopias, has been visited upon the bodies of Native peoples around the world 1000 fold. You don’t have to invent abritrary mechanisms of control when real ones already exist.
The only other thing I could say about this novel, is that it’s so clearly written by Louise Erdrich. That means a fascination with Christianity and blended families, and a sparse hold on time and space in narrative. There’s not always a lot to hold onto, but there’s always a lot there.
Devil in a Blue Dress – 3/5
Another book I liked just fine. You kind of get what you pay for with Walter Mosley. It’s hard to read this and not immediately think he’s gunning for a movie deal, which he got. His novels are pretty spare and tell a version of Los Angeles that gets ignored in a lot of contemporary fiction. One thing that is really interesting about this book and reminds me a lot of the news happening today is how clearly tied this book is to World War II and the racism that pervaded the treatment of Black soldiers. In the same way that the Navajo Codetalkers were asked to sacrifice for a country that hated them, Black soldiers were segregated and used for their skills, and then stripped of rank and command if they wanted to fight. Even Japanese-American soldiers were often forced to fight in Europe over an overtly stated fear they would defect in the Pacific Theater.
So anyway, Easy Rawlins comes back from the war just looking his fair share. Turns out, he’s not allowed to have it. Recently fired from his job and looking for money to his mortgage afloat, he’s referred an everyman of vice for a quick detective job. While working through this, he has to turn uncomfortably back to the underworld he’s thought he’s left for help. If not for a desire to grow as a person and hold onto a piece of land, he could be rid of it all.
Nemesis – 2/5
This might be the worst of the Harry Hole novels so far. I didn’t like the second to newest one either, but that one had to do with an uncomfortable and too loose sexual politics and this one just feels like a dud to me. It starts really promising, detailing Harry Hole actively watching and consuming the details of a bank robbery, so the opening is really promising, and then as the novel wears on, the mystery becomes less of a mystery and the detection part of it becomes boring. He starts with an absolutely fascinating crime, and ends with a more generic family squabble.
And all that’s before we have two things I really don’t know about it or really like. One, I don’t know that I really trust Jo Nesbo to be all loosey goosey with Roma racial history and politics (go figure) and then I hate when Harry Hole goes off to another part of world. It happens in so many of the novels I should know better, but alas, it’s here again, and while it’s sometime ok and works/is easily ignored, it just felt dumb this time around. Also, blah blah blah theories on art and dumb descriptions of made-up Art is not my favorite. Anyway, I feel so oddly compelled to finish/keep up with this series and I am down to two, so here’s hoping, you know?