Amy Sturgis's Reviews > House Made of Dawn

House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday
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's review
Mar 12, 2012

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bookshelves: 20th-century, native-america
Read from March 08 to 10, 2012

This is a very important novel to read - the first novel by an American Indian author to be honored with the Pulitzer Prize, a work that helped to inspire a new renaissance in Native American literature - and yet reading it isn't a pleasure. Part of this is intentional: the story of Abel, a (perpetually drunken) World War II veteran returning to his reservation and failing to readjust to life there is gritty, lumbering, and genuinely uncomfortable.

Momaday presents the story as a loosely thematic collage with snippets representing different times, perspectives, and narrators, and he's not entirely concerned with whether the reader knows when the action is taking place or to whom vague pronouns refer. At some level, the impression of Native estrangement and alienation in the "relocation era" (read that as literally or as figuratively as you like) is far more important than the details; at another, the reader is sometimes left flailing. There is, after all, a reason why critics have said, among other things, that it is "a batch of dazzling fragments" and "a reflection, not a novel."

The book is best when it reflects Momaday's personal experience and voice, and when it allows the outsider reader a glimpse into a precise moment in time in Native America. Especially effective are the sections with Reverend John Big Bluff Tosamah, self-styled Priest of the Sun.

While I recommend this strongly to any student of American Indian history/culture/identity, I would stress that this should be a starting point, and not an ending one, for any journey into Native literature.

I'll end this with a favorite quote:

“They have assumed the names and gestures of their enemies, but have held on to their own, secret souls; and in this there is a resistance and an overcoming, a long outwaiting.”
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