The central character of this haunting first novel by a Native American is a young World War II veteran, Tayo, born of a promiscuous Navajo mother and a nameless white father. He has retreated into mental illness from the horrors of the war against the Japanese in the Philippine jungles and is kept for a while in a Veterans hospital where his identity becomes as insubstantial as smoke. Released to his mother's family on a reservation in New Mexico, he is confronted once again with rejection for being part white and for the shame his now dead mother had brought to her kin. The novel traces his efforts to become whole again among a dispossessed people in an arid land where the ex-GIs drink up their disability checks to forget what the whites have taken from them. There are naturalistic scenes of skid row squalor in contrast to scenes of human dignity deriving from the folk traditions of the Navajo, with their deep respect for nature. As the story weaves back and forth between Tayo's past and present, it sometimes blurs a little, and readers may lose their bearings for a moment. But they will be rewarded, if they keep reading, with an emotionally convincing picture of a culture unfamiliar to most.