January 09, 2013

The book that inspired Beach

Adam Beach inspired after reading "In the Spirit of Crazy Horse"

By Kim WheelerBeach spoke to SCENE about the book that inspired him to look more closely at his own Ojibway roots.

What is the one book you think everyone should read?

In The Spirit of Crazy Horse by Peter Matthiessen. It gives an example of reservation life and struggles. In The Spirit of Crazy Horse instilled my native identity. And what I am going to do to stand up for myself.

What do I know about myself? What do I know about being Anishinabe? It's about my own spiritual justice, my own spiritual traditional connection. Why don't I know about this? Who is this? Who am I? It just opened those questions of looking at my internal self.
Comment:  Coincidentally, I recently read In The Spirit of Crazy Horse. I'd say it was good but not great.

On the one hand, it presents a persuasive argument that Peltier was railroaded. I'm not sure which was the biggest problem: the government's bias or the defense lawyers' mistakes. But any reasonable juror should've looked at the evidence, almost all circumstantial, and voted not guilty.

On the other hand, Matthiessen goes into way too much detail. You often want and need a chapter summary to know what the takeaway is. By the time you get through an obsessive recounting of some minor character's actions, you wonder what the point was.

Matthiessen didn't have the option in 1992, but for today's authors, I'd say make the book an appealing overview of the Peltier case. Save the exhaustive details for a companion volume, a DVD, or a website. The vast majority of people won't want to know that much about the case.

Some comments on Amazon.com reflect the book's strengths and weaknesses:"A giant of a book ... Indescribably touching, extraordinarily intelligent." --Los Angeles Times Review

"Meticulously researched ... A courageous document." --Boston Globe

"A book of enormous importance ... You have to believe that Crazy Horse would have loved its renegade spirit and unflinching reach for the truth." --Milwaukee Journal
But:While I appreciate the authors attempt to present all the facts, I found most of the book very complicated and difficult to follow. Detailing all of the arrests, trials, convictions, allegations, etc. regarding all the major players (and some of the minor ones) in the movement at the time, while it served to present the climate in which Leonard's conviction took place, left me unable to form any opinion of guilt or innocence.

It's not that this isn't an important book, but many times in the early goings, Peter Matthiessen's 1980 epic account of the American Indian Movement's early days and the prison saga of Leonard Peltier reads like a personal memoir, not objective history.
Yeah, there are whole sections where Matthiessen switches from a hard-hitting case study to a touchy-feely memoir of Peltier or someone else involved. I'd drop the latter sections. Inevitably Matthiessen's writing is more interesting than someone's rambling reminiscences.

Rob's rating: 7.5 of 10.

For the issues I address in Newspaper Rock, I'd still recommend Lies My Teacher Told Me or Indian Givers as the best book to read. Other worthwhile books include Shadows of the Indian, Rethinking Columbus, and A Sorrow in Our Heart: The Life of Tecumseh.

For more on Leonard Peltier, see Common, Moore Speak For Peltier and 43rd National Day of Mourning.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's Matthiessen, for better or worse. (I doubt Indians would like At Play in the Fields of the Lord today, and I wish the movie had chosen an Indian to play Moon; in a bath scene, Berenger's bronze even falls off!)

But the worst part is the mood whiplash.