In Tingle’s (How I Became a Ghost, 2013, etc.) haunting novel, the Trail of Tears is a memory, but the Choctaw people of Oklahoma still confront prejudice and contempt.
It’s 1896. At Skullyville settlement, New Hope Academy for Girls has been destroyed by fire. Twenty Choctaw girls die. Tingle’s story spans the months following the fire as experienced by Rose Goode, a student. Rose goes home to her parents and to beloved Pokoni and Amafo, her grandparents. Shortly thereafter, Amafo visits Spiro, a town nearby, with Rose and her little brother. There, he’s viciously assaulted by town marshal Robert Hardwicke, who's in a drunken rage. That night, Choctaw people gather, both fearing attack and planning revenge. But then, stoic, dignified Amafo says, "I will do this, speak friendly words to him and tip my hat to him, till one day he will turn away from me and they will see who is afraid." In quiet, often poetic language drawn from nature’s images and from Choctaw ethos, Tingle sketches Amafo, a marvelous character both wise and loving. Tingle writes of cultures clashing, certainly, but hatred from nahullos (whites) like Hardwicke is counterbalanced by the goodwill of others like John Burleson, railroad stationmaster, and one-legged store clerk Maggie Johnston. Despite assimilating elements of white culture, including Christianity, Tingle’s Choctaws maintain mystical connections to the land and its creatures. The tale is ripe with symbolism and peopled by riveting characters.
A lyrical, touching tale of love and family, compassion and forgiveness.