May 19, 2007
James Welch's The Indian Lawyer
The Indian Lawyer
Sylvester Yellow Calf, a Blackfeet Indian lawyer, is a nontraditional character whose past and present worlds collide and then threaten to destroy him. Elements of fear are introduced in this thoughtful, evenly paced novel, not in the form of blood or violence, but rather by virtue of wrong decisions, unforeseen consequences, and the dread of loss. Yellow Calf is a fully realized character, a complex, self-made man who overcomes the adversities of parentage and poverty. He is on the verge of an unplanned political success when his very human, normal behavior in a seemingly insignificant incident sets in motion a fall from grace. Welch shifts the story's focus back and forth between a state prison and Helena, where Yellow Calf has created his own version of the American dream. His relationships with several different women add to the rich texture of the novel and provide the seeds for his undoing. As events threaten Yellow Calf's security, a fascinating third world unfolds: the reservation childhood he has tried to leave behind. It is from his past that Yellow Calf eventually finds the truth about himself and the strength to do the right thing. An absorbing psychological tale that should fascinate mature readers.And: I couldn't put the book down once I started reading. The novel painted an intricate web of characterization between prison life, growing up on a reservation raised by grandparents, the contrast between native and white cultures, politics, and confused romances. The plot was provoking, the story well written and cast fully human. I put the book down feeling exhilerated, wanting to explore Mr. Welch's other works.Comment: I managed to put the book down once I started reading it. As with Zorro, though, it's one of the best Native-themed books I've read. Rob's rating: 8.5 of 10.