March 31, 2011

Review of The Elder

Author Manny Moreno was kind enough to send me a copy of his book The Elder. An excerpt from the book's introduction tells what it's about:

Manny Moreno SiteManny Moreno’s book The Elder is about many things--loss, tribute, grief, brokenness, the mending power of ceremony—but above all, his book is a plea for the reintegration of elders into the fabric of our culture. Moreno’s book documents his long (and often thorny) relationship with revered Navajo elder and prayer man Harry Jack, especially his last years when he was changing from a spirited and healthy 500-mile runner to an increasingly incapacitated elder requiring a great deal of vigilance and attention. He is mugged on the streets, suffers strokes, and must be accompanied by someone at all times because, after his strokes, he is unsteady and capable of hurting himself. In spite of Jack’s infirmities and his telegraphic English (his first language was Navajo), he continues to enrich the ceremonial life of the Indian community through the power of his prayer and understanding, through his availability to those in distress, and through his luminous presence evident even to elementary school children who would write him love notes after visiting.

Jack, tough and unrelenting (applying what some California Indians call the “elder hammer”), teaches the author, and many other recovering alcohol and drug addicts (at the Central Valley recovery lodge he helped sustain), the importance of health, commitment to community, and sensitivity to the suffering of others, no matter what their backgrounds. And the author, young and hardheaded when they first meet and seeking refuge from gang-infested Stockton, is not easy to teach.
More on The Elder and Manny Moreno:

Review:  In Writing A Tribute Writer Shares His Own Destiny...

Interview by Livingston Chronicle

Comment:  At 63 pages including photos, The Elder is a slight book. It feels like it's self-published, and at $12.50, it may be overpriced. But I'm glad I read it.

It's relatively rare to see the struggle of urban Natives in fiction. Mysteries such as Tony Hillerman's present middle-class Native professionals. A few movies--e.g., The Exiles, Four Sheets to the Wind, and The Business of Fancydancing--and Sherman Alexie's stories give you a hint of what it's like.

Moreno survives a youth filled with alcohol and petty crime. He works menial jobs for room and board. He lives in a trailer or a friend's rented room. He shuttles between the city, a recovery center, and an occasional sweat lodge or powwow.

It could almost be a sequel to The Exiles. A couple of decades after drinking to excess, running with bad crowds, and being locked up, he's more or less hit bottom. Now he's middle-aged and searching for meaning in his life.

Enter the elder

Moreno has an off-and-on relationship with Harry Jack, a Navajo powwow dancer and prayer leader. At first, Harry treats him with disdain, yelling at him or ignoring him. Moreno has to learn patience and fortitude to endure the harsh treatment.

But when Harry has a stroke, he calls upon Moreno to help him. Moreno becomes his driver, keeper, and ceremonial assistant. He learns more about compassion and helping others. Eventually Moreno rails against those who don't visit elders like Harry or treat them with respect.

Finally, Moreno wonders who will perform the ceremonies when Harry is gone. He finds that others expect him to lead a prayer or pour water for a sweat lodge. He's come full circle, growing from a troubled young man into a respected elder himself.

If you want to know how Indians live on the margins of the white man's world, The Elder is a good start. It presents a slice of Native life we seldom see. Rob's rating: 8.0 of 10.

You can order the book directly from Moreno's website and have him autograph it for you.

For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Books.


Manny (Monolin) said...

The pricing is relatively fair because as a small publishing firm it is struggling to cover costs. I will sign the book and for now this is my sole means of earning any income. Thank You

dmarks said...

Manny's right. The price is fair. I remember the rather slight "Michigan Mysteries" books that were pretty popular. I think they cost $10.00 a decade ago. They were small press/self published.

I don't think it is overpriced at all, based on similar efforts. And consider that, for all the success we wish Manny, he might end up being stuck with most of his books if people don't buy them. So the more money he gets, the better.

If it were $30, I'd say it was overpriced. And yes, I've seen other books overpriced like this.

Jon DeOcampo said...

I would definitely say the book is worth the cost of what you would pay for lunch, it was very well written and would be worth skipping a meal! a-ho

michael lombardi said...

I'am shelling out the $12 bucks and ordering "The Elder" today. Rob your site is the first place I go in cyber space each day. I always discover interesting and important stuff on your site that I find no where else. You have "your fams" out here on the web and I am one, thanks, Michael Lombardi.