A septuagenarian member of the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwa tells a harrowing tale of mistreatment and racial prejudice as he movingly recalls his years as a ward of the state and an indentured laborer in Minnesota during the 1930s.
Razor’s memories of working on a farm complement his recollections of the St. Paul orphanage in which the state placed him after he was abandoned by his alcoholic father when only ten months old. (His mother, who suffered from depression, had been placed in an asylum.) The orphanage was a Dickensian institution bent on teaching by punishment rather than reward. With the exceptions of a kindly doctor and a young assistant, the staff was sadistic, ill-educated, and unsympathetic. Razor recalls how when he was seven years old, the husband of one matron, holding him by an arm and leg, whirled him around until he became unconscious and had to be hospitalized. Another employee beat him savagely with a broomstick, calling him a “deceitful Injun.” One night while he was in bed, a matron in an insane rage attacked him with a hammer, causing injuries so severe that he was in hospital for more than a month. In early adolescence he ran away with two friends, but they were eventually caught, starving and unwashed, and brought back. Though Razor enjoyed studying and was an honor student, at 15 he was put to work on a farm. He was supposed to be paid for his labor and sent to school, but he never saw any wages, and his education came second to the needs of the farmer, who beat Peter so brutally that he ran away. Officials finally recognized the boy’s plight and found him a good home. Though he exposes the reality of a system that essentially legalized child abuse, Razor somehow manages to control his justifiable anger.
A perfectly pitched memoir.