Kirkus Reviews QR Code


by Ray A. Young Bear

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-8021-1581-0
Publisher: Grove

 A continuation of native American poet Young Bear's exuberant fictionalized memoirs, begun in Black Eagle Child (1992), featuring the further remarkable adventures and recollections of the writer Edgar Bearchild. This is not so much a sequel to that earlier work as another (and even more ambitious) take on the themes explored in the first volume, once again using first-person narrative, letters, and poetry to trace Bearchild's life growing up in the 1960s and '70s on the Black Eagle Child Settlement in Iowa. ``Knowledge was the real issue,'' the adult Bearchild, a controversial poet, reflects at one point, ``knowledge needed by the next generation to facilitate their spiritual passage,'' and there's no doubt that a part of what Young Bear (a member of the Mesquakie tribe) is doing is to preserve a portrait of the rich, complex spirituality of his people, and of the way in which it penetrates every aspect of Native American life. Bearchild's often comic collisions with tribal folklore (which his family is determined, whether he likes it or not, that he should learn) deftly make plain the central role that a reverence for the past plays in maintaining the tribe's identity. He's also interested in tracing the ways in which this heritage is filtered through an individual's imagination, and transformed. Bearchild's life on and off the reservation is variously rendered as a mock epic, a spiritual quest, and a seriocomic adventure. There's also considerable anger here. As Bearchild notes, when reflecting on the current fascination with all things native, many Indians still regard white society as a ''master mouse-catching cat race that sadistically maimed its aboriginal prey for entertainment.'' Out of an idiosyncratic mix of folktales, rowdy adventures, and religious imagery, Young Bear has fashioned a powerful, utterly distinctive, and unsettling portrait of Native American life. It is one of the most interesting (and audacious) ongoing projects in American letters.