Sue's Reviews > Warrior Woman: The Exceptional Life Story of Nonhelema, Shawnee Indian Woman Chief

Warrior Woman by James Alexander Thom
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Feb 02, 11

bookshelves: historical-fiction, native-american
Read from October 30 to December 01, 2010

I have a special interest in women's history and the early history of the area in which I have always lived (the greater Ohio Valley in the Midwest). I especially like to read history either in a narrative form or as well-researched historical fiction. This book fit all those criteria, so it was a perfect book for me. That said, I found it a very difficult book to read. The story of the early history of this area (and, indeed, most of the U.S.) is one of violence, greed (both national and individual), political manipulation, and racism. The book focuses on the life of one little-known woman who, in spite of her best efforts, found herself overwhelmed by these forces.

Perhaps because the story does not begin until Nonhelema is well into her forties, or perhaps because she tries exceptionally hard to bridge the divide between the white and native cultures, finding merit and goodness in both, I indentified VERY strongly with her. So much so that I could read only a few chapters before having to take a "fluff break" -- I read 3 romances and one mystery during the course of this book -- before I could continue with her story. Caught up in forces and events far beyond her control, her life -- once one of status and wealth and rich with community -- ends in poverty and obscurity. Saddest of all, her efforts to remain a voice for peaceful co-existence between warring cultures ends with her ostracism from both.

I have read several of Thom's books, and in my opinion, this is not his best. Often, the motivations behind Nonhelema's peace-keeping efforts were not completely clear to me. This may be because the historical record is sketchy, giving Thom fewer clues to work with, or simply because the real Nonhelema's loyalties were so conflicted that the motivations behind her actions were not clear even to herself. I will say that she, at least as Thom has portrayed her, had a markedly unhealthy denial system going for her (or rather, against her) when it came to the reliability of the white legal system, but then I have the value of hindsight, which is always 20/20.

I did like Thom's invention of an entirely fictional character to provide a narrative point-of-view of Nonhelema's story from beginning to end. This character, first seen as a young white man reluctantly going into battle, and later, as an aging physician collecting first person accounts of the historic events of his early life, was a clever way to give the reader some closure to what is essentially the unknown end of Nonhelema's exceptional life.
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