A girl and her cat take on the world with nothing more than a cup of tea and a good book and enough dreams to fill the universe.
Growing up, I have almost always lived near an Indian reservation. Being the white kid that I am with my parents that both have college degrees, I guess I never really noticed that much of a difference or an impact on my life. It has always just been something that has been there, but through reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, I wanted to reexamine all those years.
When I was little, we’d go pick plums on the reservation, but we had to beware of the buffalo.
I remember going to powwows and loving thedancing and the tribal music. (I’m going to let you all in on a little secret. Sometimes you can pick up the reservation radio channel in our little town and when we do, it’s the greatest mix. Everything from the Beatles to traditional Indian drums, from Lady Gaga to the Dixie Chicks.) I have also always wanted one of the girl’s powwow dresses. I love the sound the ones with the bells make when they walk. It’s like having fairies follow you around and announce your arrival. It is wonderful.
In high school, I had a crush on a kid from the reservation. One day, I finally plucked up the courage to talk to him and my crush was crushed in the reality of his not having anyreal access to dental care. Frankly, I really didn’t want to be kissing someone who’s teeth are rotting in front of my very eyesand so I quickly moved on. In retrospect, I feel this was a bit shallow of me, but it is the truth.
Working at McDonald’s, I began to grow frustrated with Native Americans. I could not understand why a race that I read about in my history textbooks as being so proud could be so hopeless, so without any sort of pride. I wanted to yell at them for their defeatist attitude. Why did this image of the proud Indian brave not matchup with the teenage moms, obese children, and drunken adults I saw march in and out of my workplace everyday? I couldn’t wrap my head around it and then I read Sherman Alexie’s work. Suddenly, it all made sense. No one listens to their dreams. No one cares about them, they are overlooked. A social experiment gone wrong. A people sentenced to life in the margins with nothing to look forward to. Now, I didn’t want to ask them why they didn’t try, I want to show them that someone believes in them.
Junior, the main character, gives a delightfully realistic look at life on the reservation. His narrative is charming and funny. When the people close to him died, my heart went out to him. I especially like his commentary on Indians and drunkenness. What do you do when the world around you is impossible and any dream you may have, any ambition you try to chase will end in futile efforts and a broken spirit? You drink to escape it all. He is insightful about all of the big issues facing Indian culture.
The death in this book really struck me as well. I have seen many Native Americans walking around with memorial tattoos and shirts, but I have never really connected the shirts in a sympathetic way. Their pain was their own and mine was mine. We didn’t need to share, but Junior has changed this for me. I think many people desensitize to other people’s sorrows because they are too consumed in their own. Since I lost my grandmother this last summer and my mom’s best friend a few years before, I have become much more in tune with this. I send sympathy cards and express my condolences in person. Death is really personal and I felt Sherman Alexi did a really good job illustrating this.
Edward Gorey, Junior, and I are all in this together.
On a cheerier note, I loved the comics. I used to draw comics and I felt that they were expertly spaced in the book. They illustrated the irony and the humor in this boy’s difficult life. They were really just spot on and made the story richer.
Rereading this now, I realize I do not come across as the best or nicest person in the world. How could a girl who wanted to ‘change the world’ be so oblivious and ignorant towards the issues in her own country? Well, I’m not going to be any more. Every day in every way, I am getting better and better and that’s the best any of us can do.
Now what are you waiting for? Go read Sherman Alexie’s book!
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Brian Marggraf, Author of Dream Brother: A Novel, Independent publishing advocate, New York City dweller
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Stefan Falke photographs artists who live and work along the 2000 miles long U.S.- Mexico border to document the vibrant culture of the region on both sides. All photos © Stefan Falke (use with written permission by the author only)