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Reservation Blues

3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  8,602 ratings  ·  608 reviews
"Many may remember the tale of Robert Johnson, the musician who sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads in exchange for being the best blues guitarist around.

What many may not know is that after this tragic deal in Mississippi, Johnson ended up in a small town on the Spokane Indian reservation in Washington state-at least that's how author Sherman Alexie tells it.

In h
Paperback, 306 pages
Published February 7th 2005 by Grove Press (first published January 1st 1995)
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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman AlexieThe Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman AlexieBeyond Oria Falls by Sheryl SealLove Medicine by Louise ErdrichBeyond Bridalveil Fall by Sheryl Seal
Native American Fiction
7th out of 514 books — 462 voters
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a MárquezThe Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey NiffeneggerThe House of the Spirits by Isabel AllendeLike Water for Chocolate by Laura EsquivelLove in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
Favorite Magical Realism Novels
106th out of 810 books — 3,647 voters

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Community Reviews

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I don't know what I was expecting when I picked this up. I had read some of Alexie's short fiction anthologies and enjoyed them. Upon moving to Seattle and finding out that he was a local, I picked this up at a used book store, figuring I'd give it a read. I did not expect Thomas-builds-the-fire to get under my skin and change my life. Yet somehow he did.

I grew up a stone's throw from the Southern Ute and Navajo reservations. I had friends from both tribes through most of my public school years.
This is some very American magical realism, what with its mash-up of the Robert Johnson crossroads legend with life on a Spokane Indian reservation and rock star ambitions. Perhaps even more American than apple pie?!??

As a concept, I love American magical realism (see also: Swamplandia!, which coincidentally is about people who like to pretend they're Indian). The execution of the book I really, really liked too. Reservation Blues is full of nightmares and alcoholism, but also, funny digs at whi
I actually found this book along with many others in a trash pile on my way to work. I remember hearing a story of his once on NPR called, "What You Pawn I Redeem," which nearly brought me to tears by the end. Seriously, I actually sat in my car waiting for the story to finish. Pathetic? Yes. But it was a very dramatic reading. Anyway, I read the book, which was about a group of Indians on a reservation in Washington (I think most of his writing revolves around similar characters) who end up sta ...more
Robert Mitchell
If reading Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is like running alongside a longhouse with 24 windows, getting 24 glimpses or mental snapshots of life inside, Reservation Blues is like being invited in and offered a can of Pepsi, a hot piece of fry bread and a place to crash. You are there for the awkward silences and shy smiles, the pettiness and jealousy of a small community, the loyalty and tradition, the despair and depression. In Fistfight, you’re buoyed by the nar ...more
I am very disappointed as I write this review.

At first, I was disappointed in myself because I could not, did not, will not finish this book. I wanted to, believe me. Oh, there was internal struggle. I mean, I need to read this; it's this month's pick for the book club I'm in. I need to be able to discuss this. Plus, I loved--loved--Alexie's Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. It's on my "guaranteed you'll love it too" list, for crying out loud. Speaking of which, Alexie's other YA nov
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I heard about Sherman Alexie for years before I finally picked up one of his books. Unfortunately, that book was "Flight," a short little tale that bored me in the telling and left me unimpressed. Surely, I thought, this is not the kind of writing that gave Alexie his literary stature?

I picked up "Reservation Blues" because a few of my students were reading it for an English class, and I liked the idea of being able to discuss it in our adviser meetings. From
As my friend Karen said yesterday, Sherman Alexie has the ability to make you laugh and cry in the same sentence. I love how he touches on the irony of a situation that drives it deep into the loneliest part of your being instead of just staying cliched and clever on the surface.
I love how Alexie weaves between various stories seamlessly and how the mythology and the reality of Native Americans blurs hazily together. Somehow this makes the reality starker and the mythology even more wistful. I a
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Joe Fahey
This is one of those books I didn't want to end. I've been reading it off and on for a while now and I liked picking it up and having a read whenever I felt like escaping for a bit. Any book that starts out with Robert Johnson mysteriously appearing at the Spokane Indian Reservation decades after his death and handing off his enchanted guitar with its devil-dealed skills ready to transfer to its next caretaker is all right with me. I was easily charmed with the dialogue and the subtle humor of a ...more
Thomas-Builds-a-Fire is one of the greatest characters in 20th century literature. Period.

What a fantastic novel. Stronger than Alexie’s debut collection, RESERVATION BLUES explores similar territory with an even greater scope as he takes his compelling, hilarious, and tragic characters (Thomas-Builds-a-Fire, Victor, and Junior) off of the reservation while also bringing outsiders onto it. The result is a convincing portrayal of the complex status his characters find themselves in: eroded conne
Sherman Alexie is one of the few writers who has managed to survive the late '80s/early '90s vogue for all things Native American, a cultural wave that incorporated any number of now mostly forgotten Indian writers, and the Oscar given to that melodramatic piece of shit Dances With Wolves. And there's a reason he's survived-- he writes with a sort of Murakami sense of archetypes freely floating around, traditional stories colliding with rock musicians and corporate brands, and it's all tempered ...more
“The word gone echoed all over the reservation. The reservation was gone itself, just a shell of its former self, just a fragment of the whole. But the reservation still possessed power and rage, magic and loss, joys and jealousy. The reservation tugged at the lives of its Indians, stole from them in the middle of the night, watched impassively as the horses and salmon disappeared.” This riff began with a conversation about a father. “Where’s your dad now?” “He’s gone.”

I was a long time getting
Years after reading it I still remember the book and its characters.
The Indian Wars Today (2012)

Alexie, Sherman (1995). Reservation Blues. New York: Warner Books. 306 pages.

I confess immediately that I am a huge fan of Sherman Alexie and I think this book is an artistic masterpiece. I acknowledge that most of my friends do not share my opinion. Okay, that's out of the way.

Each chapter opens with lyrics from a song. The first is from Alexie’s imaginary (as far as I know) song, Reservation Blues: “Dancing all alone, feeling nothing good, It’s been so long since s
I like Sherman Alexie. He's quite funny and is one of the few writers I know of who writes about Indians (American Indians, that is) as contemporary people with all the good, bad, and ugly that implies. Too many others, and far too many people, seem to treat Indians as symbols of lost innocence or immense wisdom or noble savages or what have you, something that Alexie likes to mock in this and other writings. The story here is of a group of young men on the Spokane Indian Reservation who form a ...more
Michael Heneghan
I had really enjoyed my first Alexie book, "The Absolutely True...", so I was eager to read another. Alexie certainly sticks to what he knows: humor and Indians (he never once uses the term "Native Americans", which is consistent with other books I've read by American Indian authors. Too PC for them? I'm not sure.)

This book had many more fantastical, spiritual elements than the other, including devilish guitars, magical shamen, and prophetic dreaming. It was distracting at first, as the point of
Some American Indians on a Washington reservation, 20ish in age, decide to start a rock band. Well, not exactly. Perhaps a demonic guitar possesses them and causes them to do that. Or perhaps a timeless old woman who lives on the mountain impels them. She's been doing that sort of thing for several hundred years.

Whatever the case, Alexie, with injections of scampish humor, depicts the lives, desires, sorrows and mores of these young people and their milieu as they try to define themselves. They
Evanston Public  Library
In Sherman Alexie’s RESERVATION BLUES, dreams, nightmares, and the blues intertwine as we witness the rise and fall of Coyote Springs, an all-Indian rock band from the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington State. Zany comedy is scattered throughout—even in the darkest of times. Alexie paints a vivid picture of Indian life on the res with a taste of commodity applesauce and powdered milk, run-ins with Tribal cops, transactions at the Trading Post, a fling with the Catholic priest, and the soun ...more
Sorry it took so long for me to get around reviewing this - I finished it ages ago. I love Sherman Alexie and his sly, VERY Indian sense of humor. The best way to sum this book up is just to say that it couldn't have been written by anyone other than someone who had grown up on a res.

The protagonist is a Spokane Indian. (And I use the term "Indian" - knowing that not only does Alexie prefer this term to "Native-American" - but so do 90% of the Indian friends I've had growing up in New Mexico. I
I'm a white woman in social work, new to Manitoba, learning to be an Indigenous ally. I'm interested in books like Reservation Blues that are written from an insider perspective. Too often, Indian experience, culture and spirituality have been appropriated by white people and filtered through white perspectives (e.g., Avatar). So that was the first reason I chose to read this book.

It's impossible not to get drawn into a relationship with the main character, storyteller Thomas Builds-the-Fire. He
Not sure how to rate this - I didn't "enjoy" it 4-stars worth, but I think it was interesting and could generate considerable thought and discussion (maybe 5 stars worth!). I was prompted to read this contemporary book when I found it on my son's AP English IV summer reading choices, listed amongst heavy-hitting classics such as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Like some other Native American works I have read, I found it a little meandering and heavy on some supernatural aspects that I wasn't s ...more
Other than a few silly comments tossed here and there, I did not like the bulk of the book. I understand it is a fictionalized, mystical story as seen with the Big Mom character symbolizing the Native American culture-- but some parts were so fantasy that I could not follow the story, get to the point, or even care. It was just laughable at times. The characters make it easy to dislike them, and the book overall makes Indians out to be dumb, alcoholic, hopeless people incapable of making their l ...more
What makes Sherman Alexie so wonderful to read, is that he able to tell a story, that no one could. Where else have you read an account of a modern Native American in today's society, in today's culture. It is a unique blend of world's that at times do seem unreal. But for some of us, it is everyday life.

It nice that he is some close to the reality of today's Native American. I am Native American, and I am not talking about my great great grandmother was Cherokee, no I am 98% pure Omaha Indian.
Sherman Alexie and his cute jacket photo mullet got under my skin in a big way here. I don't like the term "magical realism" simply because it reminds me of Gabriel García Marquez and his Song of Myself style grandiosity (even though I do enjoy reading him). But there's really no better term to apply in these situations, and Alexie does it well and straightforwardly. And I feel like even though he's focusing on the 5 main characters, he manages to do communal narration. All the while saying "I k ...more
How can you not love a book about an all-indian blues band, groupies named Betty and Veronica and Robert Johnson? It sounds gimmicky and in the hands of another writer could be stomach-churningly bad.

Big Mom is one of my favorite characters. I love Sherman's female characters, they are not the typical weak, bland victims that native women tend to be in popular culture. The blending of the old and the new, frybread, the power of dreams and song and just funny stuff in the midst of despair are wh
I really wanted to like this, but didn't. I saw Smoke Signals many years ago and remember thinking it was pretty cool, but clearly Alexie is better as screenplays and short stories - what he's more known for I guess anyway - then novels. This really read more like a bunch of short stories. Interesting characters, but the story is almost all allegory rather than plot or character development. Lots of dream scenes. Lots of conspicuous social commentary. Important topics, but doesn't make for a ver ...more
a good read especially if you live on a reservation! :) the author, a native american himself, has an amazing way of joking about things that are in fact sad, but he did it in a beautiful way so that a sincere reader would understand the subtle innuendos of how reservation life really is for many. it was disturbing but magical, although the characters in the story probably would not see it as magic. this book really got into my head in a sort of phycological/sociological kind of way. and the lon ...more
Gregg Sapp
I hadn't realized that "Reservation Blues" was Alexie's first novel until after I'd read the book. It takes a certain irreverent fortitude to bring back the ghost of the blues guitarist, Robert Johnson, and deposit him on a remote Indian reservation in eastern Washington, but even early in his stellar literary career, Alexie created his own folklore. Johnson shows up at the crossroads in Wellpinit ("population: variable") looking to hide from the devil. Where better, I suppose, to hide from Sata ...more
Christine P.
Would highly recommend this for people who love the literary genre. Especially to anyone interested in First Nations experience. Even if they are not, this could be a great novel to introduce them to it.
Magical realism is how I would explain some of the fantastic elements of the story and I feel that anyone interested in the genre would enjoy this book.
Sexuality is present and some disturbing memories are brought up, so somewhat of a trigger warning. It also deals with heavy subjects and I wou
I'm fast becoming a dyed in the wool Sherman Alexie fan, and Reservation Blues did not disappoint, featuring his classic alternating humor with tragedy style, wonderful prose, and a touch of mysticism. A great read!
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Sherman J. Alexie, Jr., was born in October 1966. A Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, he grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, WA, about 50 miles northwest of Spokane, WA. Alexie has published 18 books to date.
Alexie is an award-winning and prolific author and occasional comedian. Much of his writing draws on his experiences as a modern Native American. Sherman's best known works in
More about Sherman Alexie...
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven Flight The Toughest Indian in the World Indian Killer

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“Is God a man or a woman?
God could be an armadillo. I have no idea.”
“He wanted the songs, the stories, to save everybody.” 12 likes
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