OAK FLAT by Lauren Redniss
Kirkus Star


A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West
by illustrated by
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This artistically and thematically profound account of a controversial mining initiative on land that the Apaches of Arizona consider sacred suggests a culture clash of irreconcilable differences.

As she has demonstrated in previous books, MacArthur fellow Redniss (Illustration/Parsons School of Design; Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present and Future, 2015, etc.) has a scope that extends well beyond the conventional limits of the graphic novel. Here, she frames her provocative narrative with artistry that evokes the awe and wonder of Native origin stories and the timelessness of eternity. Against this majestic artistic backdrop, Redniss chronicles the machinations of a mining company boasting massive profits as they battle the Natives of the region, who “consider themselves to be at war with the United States.” As one activist notes, “we were kicked out of these holy places. The Apache religion survived…with the hope of returning one day to the ancestral homelands. There was always that prophecy: that the final fight between the Apache and America would be for our religion.” On one side are jobs and millions of dollars, though within the context that mining operations have an expiration date, in this case likely four decades, and that the Arizona landscape is littered with ghost towns, examples of what happens after the boom goes bust. On the other side are ancient spiritual values and traditions that long predate the intrusion of white settlers and their mistreatment of those who had preceded them. Amid the gorgeous illustrations, Redniss provides plenty of historical context about how the American government has violated its own agreements with those tribes—and how it continues to do so. Yet the author refuses to oversimplify, giving voice to those who feel that standing in the way of progress simply perpetuates so many of the problems endemic to communities who have suffered such abuse.

As a work of advocacy, the book is compelling and convincing; as a work of art, it is masterful.

Pub Date: April 21st, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-399-58972-0
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2020