COMING TO LIGHT by Brian Swann


Contemporary Translations of the Native American Literatures of North America
edited by
Email this review


 Old stories receive new translations in this mammoth but spotty anthology. Editor Swann (English/Cooper Union, Smoothing the Ground: Esssays on Native American Oral Literature, not reviewed) offers more than 50 fresh renderings of tales from the oral traditions of Indian tribes throughout the United States. Arranged by geographic region, the collection achieves good coverage of a variety of traditions and cultures, demonstrating the rich diversity too often hidden by the collective term ``Native American.'' Some of the stories and the tribal groupings from which they originate are familiar. Ridie Wilson Ghezzi offers an ``ethnopoetic'' translation of myths involving Nanabush, the cultural hero and trickster of the Ojibwe of the Great Lakes region. William Shipley uses the same technique (which involves taking prose translations and rendering them as poetry in order to capture the oral flavor of the telling) for the Californian Maidu creation myth, wherein the familiar Coyote acts as a demiurge and brings death into the world. Others are less well known. Michael Foster provides an Iroquois thanksgiving address involving Handsome Lake, the syncretic reformer of Iroquois religion. Both Native and non-Native translators are represented. Swann provides a lengthy and instructive introduction to the volume as a whole, while individual contributors introduce the stories they have translated and discuss not only their provenance but also their life setting and the critical translating choices made. Some translations are supple and well suited to their subject matter, but the collection is riddled with questionable critical judgments: the lumping together of southwestern and southeastern tribes (and then including only one southeastern tribe in the section); the absence of Raven, the dominant trickster figure in the tales of the Pacific Northwest; and the reliance on the often awkward ethnopoetic method. Still, this anthology of Native narratives is a valuable sourcebook that takes ample note of specificity among tribes and, in the process, tells some awfully good stories.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-679-41816-4
Page count: 800pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1994