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The Grass Dancer

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3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  1,834 Ratings  ·  111 Reviews
From the 1860s, when two lovers are separated by death, the cosmic drama of the two spirits desperately seeking to be reunited molds the lives and fates of their descendants, in a lyrical debut novel shaped by the lore of the Sioux. A first novel. 50,000 first printing.
Hardcover, 300 pages
Published August 3rd 1994 by Putnam Adult (first published January 1st 1994)
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Zanna
What I said in the secrecy of my thoughts was: Fanny, mazaska, the white iron you call money, is useless to me. Even the goods I take from the sutler's store, the flour, coffee, sugar, and tobacco, the knives and blankets, are things I do not want. I give them to my cousins who live upriver.
These words belong to Red Dress, ancestor of several members of Susan Power's wonderful cast, who gives the novel a kind of foundation stone or pivot. Her presence, like that of other ancestors and spirits, i
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Lila
This book follows the lives of various members of the Sioux Nation starting in the 1980s and going back into the 18 hundreds. It was very interesting reading about things that many would consider paranormal or supernatural, but we're or are considered real in traditional Sioux culture. One of the characters is a Sioux witch, a rather evil one, and there are also ghosts and a shaman. Long-dead ancestors still make appearances in modern life.
At first it might seem like there are too many characte
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Zoe Brooks
Jan 19, 2013 Zoe Brooks rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: magic-realism
I loved this book and could hardly bear to put it down. In fact it is now one of my favourite magic realist books, which is saying a lot (this is the 116th review on this blog). There are some books that you should read in one sitting or as near to one as you can get. This is one such book. Each chapter in the book is almost a separate story, narrated by different characters at different times (it is important to make a note of the year that appears under each chapter heading). This patchwork of ...more
Jerome
Mar 07, 2010 Jerome rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I like the structure of the book--the way the story was told in reverse. Before reading the book, I read that the story was multilayered and a bit complicated to follow but I disagree. The story and characters were well developed but I was not crazy about the content. I'm not Dakota so I can't assess whether some of the information Susan Powers included was appropriate or not. When I thought about the "equivalent" information of my people and if an author included it in a novel, I would think it ...more
Margaret
Oct 19, 2015 Margaret rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Two young Sioux—Harley Wind Soldier and Charlene Thunder—try to figure who they are and what love means to them on a North Dakota reservation. Their family histories create a tapestry of possibilities, ways of living with loss and love. On Harley Wind Soldier’s side, his mother Lydia Wind Soldier deals with the death of her husband and oldest son by refusing to speak, while Margaret Many Wounds, Lydia’s mother and Harley’s grandmother, keeps her grief close in a secret only revealed with her dea ...more
Kathy
A great read with Ms. Power's wonderful storytelling.
Joshua Buhs
This is a genuinely great book.

Is it possible to be cynical about it? Yes. It is a little too easy to describe this book in elevator-pitch terms (Michael Dorris does Wuthering Heights) and it is so cinematic that one might feel it was calculated to be a movie. (Chuck Norris the dog was made for film.) But these are unfair thoughts.

The book is cinematic because Powers is that kind of writer. She knows what literary allusions she is making and is in full control of them--she calls out Wuthering He
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Christina (A Reader of Fictions)
May 06, 2013 Christina (A Reader of Fictions) rated it it was ok
Recommended to Christina (A Reader of Fictions) by: Ann Kristin
Right from the beginning, I knew that Susan Power's The Grass Dancer was a book I never would have picked up on my own. Though I'm generally up for reading about any culture, I've been burned by a couple about Native Americans, so I'm hesitant to read them. Still, that's not something I'm proud of and is certainly no reason to write off all of those books, so, when this showed up in Sadie Hawkins, I figured I'd give it a try. While I didn't precisely dislike The Grass Dancer, I didn't really lik ...more
Leah
Feb 03, 2017 Leah rated it it was amazing
One of the reasons I write "reviews" is to help jog my memory down the road when I might want to reread a book or mention it in relation to another book. But then there are stories so immediately embedded in my brain I know I won't need any reminders no matter how long it's been since I first read it. The Grass Dancer is one of those stories. It was also one of those where I would read a passage I wanted to bookmark but couldn't make myself stop reading long enough to do so.

I loved how the story
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Joan
Feb 23, 2016 Joan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Grass Dancer
Susan Powers
March 8, 2016

Read this book with a good friend - you will want to discuss it. The story has some many layers and yet they all work together so well that it is not overwhelming. This is probably a book you can reread many times and find new perspectives with each reading.
Is it a book about:
The contrast between tradition and progress? Yes
The conflict between Native American and mainstream culture? Yes
A coming of age story for adolescents or middle age or old age? Yes
A love
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Lizz
May 24, 2009 Lizz rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book really interesting. Parts of it were frustrating and at times I feel like I didn't understand what was going on. There were one or two characters that I absolutely hated, but I feel like that was the point. The author then managed to bring me to pity the one character I detested throughout, so I guess that's pretty impressive.

One thing that this novel did was get me really interested in the Sioux Indian tribe. I feel like I want to go on to read other Native American fiction o
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Peggy
Dec 31, 2013 Peggy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: native-american
This novel is very different from most that I've been reading. It tells the story of three generations of Dakota Sioux living on a North Dakota reservation. There are multiple narrators and the story is not told in a linear way, but moves back and forth through various points in time between 1864 to 1982. There are ghosts, spirits, and visitations from ancestors. There are many characters to keep up with and due to the shifts in time, which has characters disappearing and re-entering the plot ch ...more
Heidi Garrett
Jul 18, 2014 Heidi Garrett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: magical-realism
The Grass Dancer a collection of vignettes about mostly women—mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers—in a Sioux tribe in North Dakota. It's sad. I mean it's really sad. The writing is beautiful, lit up with magical realism, but the stories and the breaking and broken relationships are so sad. Eleven stories that move back and forth in time they eloquently capture the Sioux way of seeing the world. I love that part, their visions and dreams and belief in them. I just wish... there had been... ...more
Janet
Jan 06, 2009 Janet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
A lovely novel depicting the lives of multiple generations of Plains Indians. My publisher, Sharmagne Leland St-John, has purchased the film rights and is working on a screenplay. I'm a little mystified how this can be made into a film, but I can't wait to see it!
Darcy McNeill
It took me back to the days when all I had to worry about was if my boyfriend was ever going to tell me he loved me. Days when going to PowWow's was our summer vacation and we looked forward to it as if we were going on a trip to Disney Land.
Julie
Aug 23, 2015 Julie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a beautifully written book. The magical realism, the character development, the lyricism are all fabulous. I did occasionally have trouble keeping up with who was who in the sectional changes, but not enough to effect my rating.
Matt
Nov 28, 2010 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Matt by: Laura Furlan
Required reading for Am Ind Lit at UMASS-Amherst. Teetered on giving this one 5 stars because it really wraps up well...but I didn't have the anticipatory excitement of reading it that I normally would for a truly great book. A good read...funny, emotional, 'sall good.

See below for my essay, my final ten-pager for Am Ind Lit:

One Story: A Synthesis of Assimilation, Rebellion, and Rediscovery in Susan Power’s The Grass Dancer

This essay will address the role of stories in Susan Power’s The Grass
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Christy
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Malcolm
Set in the North Dakota Sioux reservation between 1864 and 1982 this tells the tale of Charlene Thunder and Harley Wind Soldier – classmates at Saint Mary’s High School and youngest members of two intimately interwoven families. Charlene yearns for Harley’s attention, but he does not reciprocate the affection. As the tale opens, Harley becomes captivated by a visiting young woman, Pumpkin, who is a grass dancer (a rare thing) who beguiles him at the opening pow wow, but Charlene can wait. All th ...more
Dayna Smith
The wonderful classic of Native American storytelling. Power, an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, tells the story of various people living on a North Dakota reservation. The story moves back and forth in time weaving the stories of all the characters, past and present, together. It also contrasts the western view of reality against the more fluid view many Native Americans have of reality and the spiritual side of life. A Reader's Corner Highly Recommended Read. A great introduc ...more
rosegold26
This book is absolutely incredible. A story of ghosts, of memories, of tradition and magic, of past and present and breaking and healing . . . it left me breathless.

In a narrative spanning four generations of Dakota Sioux, this book is a tribute to an entire people. I can't say whether it's an accurate portrayal or not, but it's most certainly a powerful one. It takes you out of your own world and sets you down in the middle of a North Dakota reservation, our of your own mindset and into the min
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James Badger
Apr 03, 2013 James Badger rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I was going to. At first I thought I might have another "Tracks" by Louise Erdrich on my hands (well-written, but ultimately frustrating and unsatisfying). Turns out this is just an interesting story that becomes more complex and interrelated with each chapter. This is Native American fiction as it should be written (said the white guy).

The chronology in this book moves backward with multiple narrators, which is a bit of a trip until you get used to
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Kate Barber
Within Susan Power’s novel The Grass Dancer, she works through all the aspects of Edward Said’s "other" theory, from the expansion of America through its belief in manifest destiny and it’s increasing population, resulting in the Native American’s being forcibly restricted to reservations, the historical confrontation that still maintains itself today, and afterwards the sympathy and stereotypical classification of the Native American culture and tradition. However, Power uses her novel to subve ...more
Carolyn
I found this a compelling read, tho I felt sometimes confused by the myriad of characters, and their connection to one another.

I see this as a set of stories describing Dakota Sioux mythology. The whole does not come clear to me. I've seen that other readers have given this book excellent reviews, yet I feel it could have been more tightly woven, and thus more accessible. I'm open to magic, and to spirituality; I just couldn't get quite into the flow here.

Easy to understand is the Sioux anger to
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Angela
May 23, 2007 Angela rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: booksilove
I read this book ages ago, re-read it a couple of years later. I haven't picked it up in a while, and I'm almost afraid to. It's a story of a Native American family through several generations. There are a lot of fantasy and imagined elements that I worry I might not find as captivating as I did when I was younger, and had just visited the Badlands of South Dakota.
There is one scene that has made a permanent imprint on my imagination. A group of young friends drive through the black hills during
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Jane Routley
Sep 09, 2011 Jane Routley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lit-fic
Loved this although its taken me 10 years of ownership to read. Glad I kept it. A connected collection of sort stories about modern Sioux life that makes up a single narrative. It was such a great look into another view of the world, one that makes the familiar exotic and different. I felt like I've journeyed to another world. It left me with the sense of wonder that you usually have after a fantasy novel. But this is lit fic and very well written. Great characters, pumpkin the grass dancer, Cha ...more
Samantha
Dec 16, 2014 Samantha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Man, oh man.

This novel blew me away. My professor for my Native American Literature course added this to the list of novels we'd read in class, and although I wasn't expecting my professor to change the day class began, this book was exceptionally well-written and engaging for a variety of reasons.

What I love about this novel is the interaction between the characters, and the role that past events and people play in the lives of the main characters. It isn't about how the past controls an indi
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Sherry
Feb 28, 2012 Sherry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011-2014
This is a book I would have never picked out for myself. It was chosen for book club. It's a well-written collection of short stories centered around central characters who have stories woven around each other and lives layered over lives. Despite the short stories in a novel format, I found this to be a quick and intriguing read. Be warned though, it isn't a happy book. The stories are dark and sad - as one of the club members put it "in each story someone either dies or gets laid, or both".

It
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Alex Tate
The Grass Dancer is a well written book with developed characters. That being said, there was nothing in this book that grabbed my attention. The writing is good, but nothing that I'll remember for years to come. The characters were well developed, but I didn't really care about what happened to any of them. The story had some interesting parts, but I never really cared about what was happening. This book didn't bring any strong emotions out of me. I don't love it and I don't hate it. I just fee ...more
Tamanna
A magical book which took me away into Native North American traditions, weaving through history and teaching many great human morals along the way. The story method itself was unique, and Susan Power writes her ideas and traditions freely, never without hiding the mystery of the Native people.

It did get a bit confusing at times due to the amount of characters the story tries to tie together, and while reading do remember the first two chapters are more important than they seem - I kept needing
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Grass Dancer 9-11 and short stories 1 5 Feb 19, 2013 01:43PM  
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Susan Power is a Standing Rock Sioux author from Chicago. She earned her bachelor's degree from Harvard University and a JD from Harvard Law School. After a short career in law, she decided to become a writer, starting her career by earning an MFA from the Iowa Writer's Workshop.
Her fellowships include an Iowa Arts Fellowship, James Michener Fellowship, Radcliffe Bunting Institute Fellowship, Prin
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“She had always been different, even when she tried not to be, unable to curb her curiosity which led her to read a great number of books. Her world was constantly expanding until she could no longer fit herself into the culture that was most important to her.” 11 likes
“Because I have willed it. And I am not a fairy tale.” 10 likes
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