14. Ten Little Indians

by Sherman Alexie

Thanks Dan for your review of this one, and sending it to me. This is a hearty, moving collection of short stories. As is usual, Alexie explores so many facets of Indian identity, particularly that of Spokane Indians. Reading these stories I was struck once again by how much I am not Indian, yet I connected so deeply with so many of his characters. He has a gift for pushing readers like me away and drawing me closer simultaneously. The lesson is: listen. Don’t pretend to know. Just listen. Just meet these characters on their own terms, in their own states of being without framing it in the usual bullshit white people tend to frame things in.

Alexie’s characters are some of the most complete, honest characters I’ve experienced, ever.

I am somewhat of an expert on the short story, which means, in part, that I am aware that most of them are the result of trying too hard. But the power in Alexie’s short stories comes from his poetical powers and a profound love for people.

The seventh story, “Do You now Where I Am?,” is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read. It is the story of a life-long love told from the voice of an elderly man in total awe of his wife of 30-something years. He looks back to their early days and a stupid, selfish mistake made while the two rescue a lost cat, a mistake that has profound consequences. It is ultimately a story about her decades long awesomeness. It’s so human, so absolutely like what really happens.

Here’s one that made it’s way into The New Yorker. Another excellent story with his typical humor, voice, and frankness about how sometimes things go the way we like, other times they don’t.

“Do Not Go Gentle,” is another that deeply moving story. There’s the laughter, yes, but also the bluntness, the candor, that cuts to the heart of the human experience. Powerful stuff. Read ‘em and weep. Unless Dan wants it back I’ll send it along to the first that asks for it.

13. Black and Kinky Amongst Brown Waves

by Margaux Delotte-Bennett

This is an original play/performance piece by my friend Margaux. She spent almost a year in India on an internship for her MSW program at Galliadet, a deaf university in Washington, D.C. As a black woman in India, she experienced aloneness and, to some degree, alienation, for the first time. It was a hard trip, but one in which she made friends with herself.

This is an exceptional performance piece but I shall not say much as it's in the early drafting stage and, of course, has not been performed. I'll post here when she schedules the performances!

I'm very proud of her and am glad to be a part of the process toward its creation.

12. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, II: And Here My Troubles Began

By Art Spiegelman

I wonder why Spiegelman opted to make it two separate books. The first book is wholly incomplete without this second and both combined would only be approximately 270 pages. Maus I, was the first half of the story of survival of Vladek and Anja Spiegelman, charting their desperate progress from prewar Poland Auschwitz. Maus II is the continuation, in which the Vladek survives the camp and is eventually reunited with his wife (these are not spoilers since you know this happens from the beginning of the first book).

Aside from the decision to make this extremely valuable personal account of Vladek Spiegelman’s survival into an allegory, which I think weakens it as an important historical account, this second part is as compelling and gut wrenching as the first.

I am going to use Maus I and II in my 8th grade Humanities classes during the last cycle of this year as we explore World War Two. It was a toss-up between Wiesel’s Night and Spiegelman’s Maus I and II. I really wish we had time for both of these important works!

Maus wins for a few reasons but the main one is that it is equally about the son’s struggle to understand what his parents went through. I feel like we are all trying to understand what happened and Art’s voice really rings true.

And they helped further expand my understanding of what comic books can accomplish.

I say read them. They are great reading and really important.

11. Night

by Elie Wiesel

How can this be true?

From his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech:

" And then I explained to him how naive we were, that the world did know and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent... We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere..."

10. Indian Killer

by Sherman Alexie

This one is a thriller with sometimes brutal, sometimes mystical prose. It is haunted by hundred plus year old Indian rage, at times a sort of forceful undercurrent in the novel and at others the very topic being discussed by the characters. But just like other thrillers, I was left in the dark about the awful culprit's identity and motives. Good stuff.

It's set in Seattle and the nearby Spokane Indian reservation, both of which are dealing with on-going festering tensions between whites and Indians. Someone is committing brutal murders with a knife, scalping the victims and leaving two owl feathers behind as a signature. Is it an Indian or some nutter trying to make it seem like an Indian did it? Alexie introduces a variety of characters who might have motive. All of them are either Indian, white people pretending to be Indians, white people that hate Indians, or, in the case of the main character, an Indian raised by white people (and who doesn't know what tribe he's from). As is the case with all of Alexie's work, no matter what genre he dabbles in, this is a novel deeply immersed in the problems of Indian identity.

Alexie is not known for this type of thriller, but he does a great job building suspense and creating some interesting/horrific crimes. It is a page-turner and sufficiently weird and inexplicable for me to have enjoyed it like all of his work. Like the title, for example. I spent the whole novel wondering if the title should be Killer Indian or Indian Killer. I won't say any more about that, though. That should be your problem as I do recommend this one for sure.

A young Indian to a white college professor who is irresponsibly teaching a "Native American Literature" course:

"If Crazy Horse, or Geronimo, or Sitting Bull came back...They would start a war....They'd listen to some dumb-shit Disney song and feel like hurting somebody....if the Ghost Dance worked ...All you white people would disappear. All of you. If those dead Indians came back to life...They'd kill you. They'd gut you and eat you heart."