CHILD OF THE DEAD by Don Coldsmith


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 Coldsmith generalizes Native American culture to a fault as he seeks to present a human story of disease on the Great Plains. Running Deer, or Deer for short, comes from a tribal group Coldsmith (Track of the Bear, not reviewed) identifies only as ``the People.'' Having lost her only daughter, and more recently her husband, she leads a life of ennui among her buffalo-hunting tribe in the 18th century. When smallpox hits a nearby group and abandons a small, infected girl, Deer decides to make a heroic exit from this mortal coil by nursing the deadly contagious waif. Almost by miracle, the youngster and the old woman survive and rejoin Deer's kin. As time goes on, the little girl grows into a woman and resolves to find the people from whom she was separated as a tyke. She sets out, encounters danger along the way, is reunited with her tribe of origin, and decides that she was probably just as well off in the adopted world of the People. This plot and the writing are wooden. But the novel form has never been very kind to this type of ethnographic story, and Coldsmith mostly offers yet another demonstration why. Though he imbues his characters with complex emotions and real motivations, much of the air of authenticity he places around his Indians comes across as flat. The Plains tribes and geography he draws on seem always at the disposal of the needs of the storyteller. Never identifying with much specificity the traditions or places about which he is writing, Coldsmith is free to pick and choose among traditions, cultural artifacts, and locations. The disingenuous result ends up reading more like a cross between The Pilgrim's Progress and The Wizard of Oz than a serious novel about real human beings. Lifeless writing and mix-and-match research.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-385-47029-0
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1994