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True, the American Indian heritage has perhaps suffered from overexposure in recent fiction, but Brown (Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee) has combined his sure grasp of history's sweep with a sharp foreground focus to produce a lean, incident-rich, 18th- and 19th-century saga. The immediacy is supplied by two front-and-center 1905 narrators: a white Washington, D.C. newspaperman who has trekked out to Montana to track down a legend of his native Georgia; and Dane, a 91-year-old Indian who gives the reporter the story he came for. Dane is in fact the grandson of fabled ""Creek Mary"" Kingsley--whom we meet as a Muskogee chief's daughter in pre-Revolutionary Georgia; she first marries a white trader (bearing half-blood Opothle) and then--when white encroachment on Indian land ends her dream of white/Indian community-she weds a Cherokee warrior and bears son Talasi. These two sons and their progeny will go different ways, representing the two principal Indian reactions to white expansion in the East: Opothle and his kin accept removal to the West, trying to make a go of it in the new Cherokee nation; Talasi and old Creek Mary herself resist removal from the Southeast and, in 1830, are dragged into the ""Trail of Tears."" From this latter, more bitter bloodline comes Dane, son of Talisi, who roams over the Great Plains, joins the Cheyenne, sees his sons forced to fight on opposite sides of the Civil War, and sees a daughter killed at Wounded Knee. His granddaughter, however, grows up to go to medical school, and it is through her, in fact, that the reporter-narrator has found old Dane. . . . Four generations, a complex interweave of tribes, snowballing historical events--Brown has opted for a broad canvas, so those who look for the minutiae of tribal lore and customs in Indian fiction will be disappointed. And full-scale characterization, too, is necessarily limited, with some loss of focus midway when Creek Mary fades from the scene. But the framework here is a tried-and-true one--the eager reporter and the Old Man with a Tale to Tell--and Brown has filled it with a robust, unfussed crash-course in Native American history that rolls from East to West with dark, inexorable energy.

Pub Date: March 17th, 1980
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston