Caris's Reviews > The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
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Jan 26, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2010, young-adult
Read from January 22 to 24, 2010

You know when Paula Dean is cooking and she puts in a little butter?

My mother insists that our family's lineage includes a little Native American blood. When we were kids, she talked about Mother Earth and Father Sky. She collects Navajo rugs and decorates bones with turquoise. She's always telling me to do the genealogical research necessary to prove my Native American status and get a scholarship because of it.

Her family is European. They came mostly from Slovakia and Germany. I'm not saying that there aren't any Native Americans in our family tree, I'm just suggesting that, if they are there, they're clinging to the really, really thin branches near the top. You'd think, though, with how I was raised, that my father was Sitting Bull.

My mother's love of Native American culture colors her view of it. It's all full of sacred profundities that white folks don't have. They have that connection to the Earth rather than a connection to an oddly white Middle Easterner nailed to a pair of intersecting sticks. But my mother's love is a romantic love and she kind of ignores the ever present flaws.

Sherman Alexie has taught me that Native Americans, in addition to their rich cultures, have a sacred connection to booze. Their self-destructive tendencies become their dominant characteristic in his work, overshadowing any cultural significance they might have. Junior has attended forty-two funerals in his life; he's fourteen years old. He experiences a number of deaths throughout the book and all are related to alcohol.

In his own darkly funny way, Junior seeks to better himself. By his own account, he isn't very brave. Yet, he puts himself at odds with his own tribe in an effort to break free of the future he knows he will have if he stays.

You can't buy that part in a Southwestern art store. You can learn about the Trail of Tears and the thieving of land. You can feel sympathy for these things. But until you realize that this entire culture is, to this day, confined to concentration camps, you're just not looking at it's history honestly. Concentration camps may seem a bit strong, but I think it's an apt description. Native Americans are born there and they die there. They live with poverty and crime.

There was this part of the book where Junior is having Thanksgiving dinner with his family. He comments on how odd it is for Native Americans to celebrate Thanksgiving on the reservation. Confused, he asks his father what they have to be thankful for. His father says they should be thankful that the white man didn't kill all of them. They have a good laugh at that.

I had a good laugh at that.

But it ain't funny.
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Quotes Caris Liked

Sherman Alexie
“I used to think the world was broken down by tribes,' I said. 'By Black and White. By Indian and White. But I know this isn't true. The world is only broken into two tribes: the people who are assholes and the people who are not.”
Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian


Reading Progress

01/29 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-24 of 24) (24 new)

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message 1: by David (new)

David Elizabeth wrote: "This is an excellent review, Caris."

Ditto.




Caris Thanks, guys.


message 3: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell A lot of people have recommended this book to me - you also make me want to read it!


Caris You should. It was enlightening and funny.


message 5: by Esteban (new)

Esteban del Mal My family likes to circulate a Native American story, too. Nothing too romantic -- supposedly my great, great grandfather was a kind of carnie.

Seems like every white family has those stories. I think it's a kind of currency, so we can feel like we "relate" to people of color.


message 6: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Esteban wrote: "My family likes to circulate a Native American story, too. Nothing too romantic -- supposedly my great, great grandfather was a kind of carnie.
Seems like every white family has those stories."


Supposedly I'm 1/16 Cherokee too, altho I really really doubt it (people used to look at me - olive-skinned, darkly tanned, dark hair/eyes - and my fair-skinned green-eyed half-Navajo friend in NM and draw the 'obvious' conclusion. It was amusing). There's a really funny little bit in the excellent 'On the Rez' about how most people, if you ask them, will say they have a little bit of Cherokee (Bill Clinton, too, IIRC).


message 7: by Esteban (new)

Esteban del Mal Moira wrote: "Supposedly I'm 1/16 Cherokee too, altho I really really doubt it (people used to look at me - olive-skinned, darkly tanned, dark hair/eyes - and my fair-skinned green-eyed half-Navajo friend in NM and draw the 'obvious' conclusion. It was amusing). There's a really funny little bit in the excellent 'On the Rez' about how most people, if you ask them, will say they have a little bit of Cherokee (Bill Clinton, too, IIRC)."

My family may be overcompensating -- when I was seventeen, my dad took me aside and whispered very conspiratorially, "We're Jews." I still haven't figured out what that means.


Caris Esteban wrote: "my dad took me aside and whispered very conspiratorially, "We're Jews.""

Oh, man. Jew and Indian? You're fucked.


message 9: by Amber (new) - added it

Amber Sky I am half Navajo, quarter Comanche, quarter Sioux and if there's anything else I need to claim it's at the really, really thin branches at the top. Loved your review, just had to add something to this. Yours is the view I wish everyone knew about my culture. I almost spit out my whiskey with laughter at the sacred connection to booze part. Kidding.


Caris That's awesome. Thanks.


Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all) Great review. The best comedy causes us to laugh, not because the situation is funny, but because it is true. We laugh when we recognise ourselves or someone we know.


Caris Thank you. This is true.


message 13: by Jason (new)

Jason This review made me laugh. I feel like all white country folks--my mother's side of the family included--claims native lineage. Usually a really well known tribe like Navajo or Cherokee; almost never a more obscure group.


Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all) Jason wrote: "This review made me laugh. I feel like all white country folks--my mother's side of the family included--claims native lineage. Usually a really well known tribe like Navajo or Cherokee; almost nev..."

I think you would enjoy reading To Be Young, Gifted, and Black: An Informal Autobiography. She discusses the white idea of "black soul" in the same vein. Though not many people I knew back in the Midwest would claim out loud to have a little coffee in the cream. I did discover from my aunt (in a whisper) that my great-great-grandmother started "passing" when she moved to Chicago. Looking at my blonde, blue-eyed brother's facial features, I realised that if he "blacked up" he'd look just like the young Eddie Murphy, but what that comes to, I can't tell you.


message 15: by King (new) - rated it 5 stars

King Thank you for your insightful comments. I teach school on my reservation (rez we would say)it is a concentration camp that I do everything I can to get my students off. I have been taking them on college visits for the past 8 years, we are finally seeing some positive results. About your being Indian, southern states had what was called the one drop "law" if you had one drop of black blood, you were black. I have a blond daughter, I tell her she is the daughter of the daughter of the daughter of the daughter of the daughter of the first Indian woman. Let your mother decide who she is, I am an Indian and would welcome her as sister.


Elizabeth The book was a great read. I really felt like Junior was like me when it came to being born with issues (my head was crushed in at birth leading to seizures that lasted til i was 9 as well as vision,hearing, and bone problems that are still here and a speech impediment and lisp that was treated once i was in school) and being bullied a lot (my big teeth- another side effect from birth- made me get heehawed at like a donkey) and not really having any friends (i still mostly have acquaintances- my sisters and family and now husband are the only friends I have ever really had.) And the need to question things while wanting change and to live a different life than what you are used to so it made the book even better.

Bringing up the alcoholism with Natives is a very sad truth. My great grandpa (he died when my grandma was about 15) was full blooded Choctaw. He met my great grandma in Oklahoma after she had fled an abusive home at the age of 12. I have no idea if he was or was not from a rez. They ended up together and had 10 kids together and lived on a farm. My grandma and all of her siblings lived with their parents on this farm picking plants and eggs and trying to survive. My grandma says that unless they were farming or were hunting or being protected from the many wild animals (including the she wolves- which were very huge and my grandma loves telling us all about them) he was drunk- and not just your usual run of the mill drunk- he was a very cruel drunk. My great grandpa was 6 feet tall, very dark skinned and muscular and was very intimidating when he was near you. (My grandma has shown me her only family picture which is black and white. You can't even tell the features on her father- he is just a huge and tall black column while my grandma was bright white and her kids were ranges of whites and darks.) My grandma said their were lots of times where they had to hide in the other room (there were only two rooms in their house and a closet- there were inch wide spaces between the boards in their floors- they lived in a hand built cabin basically) while their dad beat their mom to a bloody pulp. The sad thing is my great grandma had a bad heart (she had these black burns from being electrically shocked as a kid) and the closest neighbor was a black man and his family and their farm was about 6+ miles away- and even if they were close by they werent allowed to help. My grandma said he beat their mom a lot and there was one time (not long before she fled her home with her husbands brother) that she decided to stand up to him which worried my grandmas older siblings who ended up running to get the black gentleman's help. I guess my grandma and her siblings hid while my great grandma took up a cast iron skillet and took swings at him. Luckily she was helped by their neighbor by him holding a gun to my great grandma. I guess the neighbors had called the police and all they did was take my great grandpa for a drive up thr road to let the alcohol wear off and then told the neighbor to leave or he would be arrested. Like i said before- they fled with my grandmas uncle and he too was a drunk but not as bad. They ended up making it to california where he drove all 11 shelton members right into a ditch. He somehow died but they all lived. my grandma said she heard it through the grapevine that her dad died along with his mother at his mothers' house- both of them dead due to alcohol poisoning.

Its a sad and cruel reality. Thank you for your well written review.


Pariskarol You should write a book too, Elizabeth.


message 18: by Lee (new) - added it

Lee You know, not all Europeans have a "connection to an oddly white Middle Easterner nailed to a pair of intersecting sticks." Some retain their pagan roots, which are very very similar to Native American beliefs. White doesn't always mean Christian. But I bet that doesn't get a lot of coverage, so there is a widely spread misconception.


Caris That's true. I was just going with a generalization for the sake of humor.


message 20: by Lee (new) - added it

Lee Caris wrote: "That's true. I was just going with a generalization for the sake of humor."

That's ok. But it would be better to not spread the misconception even further :)


message 21: by Caris (last edited Oct 28, 2015 11:16AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Caris I don't actually think it's a misconception. I, for example, am white and not a Christian. Isn't the percentage of white people identifying as Christians in steady decline?


message 22: by Esteban (new)

Esteban del Mal Yeah, O'Malley. Spreading misconceptions is how this religion shit started in the first place.


Caris Lolz.


Debra Foldoe Ouch. Our cultures are not confined to concentration camps. We do not have "a sacred connection " to booze. It's easy to learn about other cultures if you try.


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