THE LIFE AND DEATH OF YELLOW BIRD by James Forman

THE LIFE AND DEATH OF YELLOW BIRD

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Forman merges two historical Yellow Birds -- one the son of Custer and a captive Indian princess, the other a medicine man follower of the Ghost Dance religion which precipitated the massacre at Wounded Knee. Beginning at Little Big Horn where his mother vows over Custer's corpse that her son will never be a captive of the whites, this fictional Yellow Bird witnesses the murder of his idol Crazy Horse, the end of the era of the buffalo, and the death of his people. Yellow Bird travels to New York and London with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, hoping to learn the secret of white man's power but ultimately repelled by the ""squared off"" artificiality of his civilization and the life and truth-denying atmosphere of the carnival where he fights and dies in mock battles and fails an attempt to kill the white ""enemy"" by substituting real bullets for harmless powder in his last show. Returning to his increasingly hopeless people, Yellow Bird is more and more possessed by visions and places the remnants of his faith in the messiah of the ghost dance Wovoka -- yet the visions don't lead to a new victory but a final, bitter gesture of defiance. Through Yellow Bird's eyes, the figures of Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and others take on truly heroic proportions and his dreams invest the people's last stand with the grandeur of epic tragedy. This must be balanced against the novel's somewhat excessive self-importance, of which Yellow Bird's symbolic parentage is the best example: he is not just half white, but the son of General Custer himself; yet the significance of this remains ambiguous. Though more ambitious this is somehow less moving than Forman's more modest, gentle People of the Dream. While imposing on its own terms, The Life and Death of Yellow Bird is so starkly one-dimensional that one prefers to admire it from a distance.

Pub Date: Nov. 9th, 1973
Page count: 215pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux