Posts Tagged With: native american

“War Dances” by Sherman Alexie, Part II

For anyone curious about the first set of stories/poems in the collection, see “War Dances” by Sherman Alexie, Part 1.

Without further ado…

Another Proclamation

This poem points out that around the same time that Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation proclamation, he also signed the death warrants of Native Americans, resulting in the largest public execution in US history.  We tend to idolize presidents, particularly ones as iconic as Lincoln, without realizing that they were guilty of their fair share of human rights abuses.

Invisible Dog on a Leash

This is a story of a child’s disillusionment as he grows up, and about the loss of the sense of magic in the world.

The Ballad of Paul Nonetheless

This was one of the longer short stories in the collection.  It deals with a man who attempts to seduce a woman he meets in an airport.  The man’s mental deterioration parallels the deterioration that had happened within his own family life.

On Airplanes

In a poetical form, the narrator muses about people who ask to switch seats with him.

Big Bang Theory

…which of course has absolutely nothing to do with the new TV series that I have yet to watch, but have been told that I’ll love.  The story-poem recalls memories of childhood awkwardness and fears.

Ode for Pay Phones

A teenage narrator has a crush on a girl who sleeps around.  He has a habit of calling her house and talking with her at night, and is always thankful on the nights she is present to pick up the phone.  It’s a wee bit stalkerish, in my own humble opinion, but at the same time is meant to be endearing.

Fearful Symetry

This was one of my favorites in the collection.  I really liked the anecdote at the beginning of the story, where the narrator describes the intimacy of holding hands with a girl at a movie.  The narrator then goes on to become a writer, but is paralyzed by writer’s block.

Ode to Mix Tapes

Ah, the early 90s…

Roman Catholic Haiku

Not an actual haiku, but a poem that brings to mind memories of Catholic school.  I like the way he pointed out the way that the nuns were the educated scholarly type who didn’t take offense to students yelling “Get thee to a nunnery!” at each other.  Most of the nuns that I’ve known in my life have been amazingly cool and fun people.

Looking Glass

Examines the more human side of Chief Joseph.


This one is sad.  A young intern is tasked with writing obituaries, learning life lessons along the way.  Even though it’s sad, it also calls to mind that moment at any internship or job where a newbie thinks “Oh God, what did I get myself into?!”

Food Chain

Concluding the collection is a poem about a person’s last wish upon dying.  It made me wish that the book ended on a happier note, but at the same time, it was fitting.

Concluding Thoughts

Overall, I enjoyed “War Dances.”  When I bought it, I didn’t know anything about it other than the fact that it was Sherman Alexie’s newest.  I like the variety in a collection of short stories and poems..  I’d recommend this to anyone interested in contemporary Native American literature.

Categories: Fiction, YA | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

“War Dances” by Sherman Alexie, Part 1

I decided to break up this book into a couple posts, as it is a collection of short stories and poems.  I picked up this book at the National Book Festival back in September.  Alexie’s novels are often challenged in schools because his writing addresses the problems faced by Native Americans in the modern US.  It doesn’t try to lightly tiptoe around issues such as alcoholism, homophobia, or rape, but rather confronts those issues head-on with a sense of irreverence and humor.  His writing is funny and touching at the same time.  So, without further ado…

The Limited

This poem serves as an introduction to the collection.  It uses the story of a bystander watching a man hit a dog to describe the limitations and power of the poet in society.

Breaking and Entering

The narrator’s home is burglarized, and he confronts the burglar with a bat and kills him.  He then struggles with the results of his action as he watches the media present the case as the violence of a white man against a black youth.  However, the narrator is actually a member of the Spokane tribe and has faced much discrimination of his own life.  This story confronts problems such as inner city crime, racism, and regret in a poignant manner in which one feels that there really is no right answer.

Go, Ghost, Go

This poem describes a Native American student who is taking a university course where the professor has idealized Native Americans to the extreme.

Bird-Watching at Night

This one made me smile.  It is a poem about a young man on a date with his girlfriend who decides to play chicken with an owl while driving.

After Building the Lego Star Wars Ultimate Death Star

This poem explores the idea of children playing war.

War Dances

This is a somewhat longer short story about a man who begins to go deaf in one ear.  His experiences with doctors remind him of a time that his alcoholic father was hospitalized years before.  Normally stories about illness tend to be depressing, but this one is told with a sense of humor, especially in the flashback about the narrator’s father.  I thought that this was extremely well-done, as normally the father would be a statistic–an alcoholic who drank himself to death.  This humorous tribute shows another side of the same story, and reveals the father’s humanity.

The Theology of Reptiles

Two boys find a dead snake in the wood.  This story was spot on on the description of kids playing.  It also made me smile.


This was another personal favorite.  Told in a question-answer format, it explores religion in a Native American family, and the way that many people have stereotypical views of what Native Americans should believe.  It’s irreverent tone is used to make a point on the importance of family.

Ode to Small-Town Sweethearts

A teenager braves driving in a dangerous snowstorm to see a girl.  This story reminded me of growing up in Western Pennsylvania, where white-out blizzards were just a part of winter, but never to be taken lightly.

The Senator’s Son

This was one of the more painful stories in the collection to read, but also incredibly touching.  The narrator is the privileged son of a Republican senator.  He respects his father for his morality.  One day in college, the narrator is involved in an act of violence against a homosexual couple, coming to the realization that one of the men being attacked, Jeremy, was his childhood best friend.  Jeremy recognizes the narrator, but doesn’t report him because he doesn’t want to destroy his father’s political career.  However, Jeremy asks to meet with his former friend, and confronts him with a powerful lesson in forgiveness.  I found myself despising the narrator for what he did, while at the same time recognizing how very lost and confused he is when trying to face the world.  Meanwhile, Jeremy is portrayed almost as a Christ figure, remaining silent because of his own beliefs and ideals.  I think that the primary lesson in this story lies in the power of forgiveness and the need for understanding.

Concluding Thoughts

I’m loving this collection far more than I thought I would.  When I picked up the book, I did so because it was Sherman Alexie’s newest, and I had hoped to include it in a project for my multiculturalism class.  I haven’t read anything quite like it before.  Alexie manages to take very difficult issues and approach them without being depressing, and uses humor to create a greater sense of respect than I think would have been possible if he had written in a more traditional tone.  Stay tuned for Part II!

Categories: Fiction, YA | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“The Way to Rainy Mountain” by N. Scott Momaday

I read this book as a part of a class I’m taking this semester on multiculturalism and librarianship.

The book is about Native American culture, specifically the Kiowa.  It tells the story of the author’s journey to visit his grandmother’s grave near Rainy Mountain.  Each page is split into three segments.  Momaday opens each section with a Kiowa myth, then follows up with a segment of historic fact.  He then ties everything together by relating those things to his own experiences and childhood memories, most of which are universal in nature.  He writes in a very straightforward poetic prose, which is easy to read but full of meaning.

There were always dogs about my grandmother’s house.  Some of them were nameless and lived a life of their own.  They belonged there in a sense that the word “ownership” does not include.  The old people paid them scarcely any attention, but they should have been sad, I think, to see them go.

“The Way to Rainy Mountain” is beautifully written and carries profound messages, despite its short length.  The stories of Tai-me, the Sun Dance, and buffalo hunts captivated my imagination, and were told with a great deal of reverence.

I would highly recommend this to anyone interested in Native American literature.

Categories: History, Nonfiction, Poems/Ballads | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: