Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

House Made of Dawn

Rate this book
The magnificent Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of a proud stranger in his native land. He was a young American Indian named Abel, and he lived in two worlds. One was that of his father, wedding him to the rhythm of the seasons, the harsh beauty of the land, the ecstasy of the drug called peyote . The other was the world of the twentieth century, goading him into a compulsive cycle of sexual exploits, dissipation, and disgust. Home from a foreign war, he was a man being torn apart, a man descending into hell.

198 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1968

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

N. Scott Momaday

64 books459 followers
N. Scott Momaday's baritone voice booms from any stage. The listener, whether at the United Nations in New York City or next to the radio at home, is transported through time, known as 'kairos"and space to Oklahoma near Carnegie, to the "sacred, red earth" of Momaday's tribe.

Born Feb. 27, 1934, Momaday's most famous book remains 1969's House Made of Dawn, the story of a Pueblo boy torn between the modern and traditional worlds, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize and was honored by his tribe. He is a member of the Kiowa Gourd Dance Society. He is also a Regents Professor of Humanities at the University of Arizona, and has published other novels, memoir, plays and poetry. He's been called the dean of American Indian writers, and he has influenced other contemporary Native American writers from Paula Gunn Allen to Louise Erdrich.

Momaday views his writings, published in various books over the years, as one continuous story. Influences on his writing include literature of America and Europe and the stories of the Kiowa and other tribal peoples.

"Native Americans have a unique identity," Momaday told Native Peoples Magazine in 1998. "It was acquired over many thousands of years, and it is the most valuable thing they have. It is their essence and it must not be lost."

Momaday founded The Buffalo Trust in the 1990s to keep the conversations about Native American traditions going. He especially wanted to give Native American children the chance to getting to know elders, and he wanted the elders to teach the children the little details of their lives that make them uniquely Native American. Once the Buffalo Trust arranged for Pueblo children to have lesson from their elders in washing their hair with yucca root as their ancestors did for as long as anyone can remember.

"In the oral tradition," Momaday has said, "stories are not told merely to entertain or instruct. They are told to be believed. Stories are realities lived and believed."

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
2,253 (25%)
4 stars
2,812 (31%)
3 stars
2,414 (27%)
2 stars
969 (10%)
1 star
376 (4%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 841 reviews
Profile Image for emma.
1,869 reviews54.6k followers
June 16, 2023
it's been so long since i read lit fic by a man that i forgot why i read mostly female authors.

this had a lot to say and a lot going for it, but unfortunately my reading of it was constantly distracted and brought down by the terrible female characters and the awful man-writing-lit-fic sex scenes.

sorry! i wanted to like it. i promise.

bottom line: sheesh.


blacked out in a barnes & noble in the midst of a sale and emerged with 8 books. anyway it was the best afternoon of my life and this was one of them
Profile Image for Samadrita.
295 reviews4,677 followers
October 5, 2015
Neither do I claim a remote kinship with this bit of cultural heritage and the inheritance of alienation nor can I shed light on Momaday's true intentions behind parading a succession of disconcerting images each one more striking in its harsh beauty than the last. I do not know about the 'Native American Renaissance' or the precise mechanism at work behind the 'other'-ing of literature which aims to suture the guttings of history. Instead, I can only avow an understanding of a sterile rage that manifests in random acts of violence, a misery that goes without name or acknowledgement, and a fragmenting of the self that can only be pieced together as a summation of jagged, distorted reflections imprinted on broken shards of glass. Abel's tormented existence can be segmented into these key leitmotifs. I cannot even throw around phrases like 'hard to read, harder to decipher' especially since I slogged through this during a sad reading rut. There's no telling if it was my crucial inability for assessment or the book itself which hindered engagement on a more cerebral and intimate level.
There was only the sound, little and soft. It was almost nothing in itself, the smallest seed of sound-but it took hold of the darkness and there was light; it took hold of the stillness and there was motion forever; it took hold of the silence and there was sound. It was almost nothing in itself, a single sound, a word-a word broken off at the darkest center of the night and let go in the awful void, forever and forever.

For comparison's sake, I can come up with 'McCarthian' because the denseness of the prose merits the usage of such a term. Besides, only in Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West has the natural landscape emerged as such a malevolent and oppressive presence which at once suffocates and soothes with its raw, intractable loveliness. (Although Momaday and McCarthy were writing at the same time.) It is the land which superimposes itself on the human settlements which flourish in its bosom, hinting at the robust, revered relationship that Indians shared with their place of origin and source of sustenance. Here is a stretch of America inoculated against the passage of time, indifferent to the slow crawl of urbanization, an adherent of its own set of natural laws which not even the almighty white colonizer has been able to subvert and alter according to his convenience.

I can also throw in a descriptor like 'Faulknerian' because of the abrupt shifts in perspective that flit from mind to mind and eventually culminate in the creation of a disjointed, nonlinear narrative of spiritual disquiet and emotional turmoil. One is left disoriented and dizzy, often casting about for a link, however tenuous, between the discordant streams of consciousness that speak of Abel's estrangement from native culture and his often thwarted pursuit of the severed bond with the only home he knows - the land of his ancestors. The limited expository portions of the narrative dovetail into a series of impressionistic vignettes - images of vigorous copulation between characters who fail to forge any lasting emotional connection beyond the moment of passion, the ritual dismemberment of a live chicken intercut with images of brutal beatings and the mountains, ravines and valleys of Jemez Pueblo which appear far more lifelike than the listless human actors who remain perennially under the spell of their redoubtable splendor.
They were grave, so unspeakably grave. They were not merely sad or formal or devout; it was nothing like that. It was simply that they were grave, distant, intent upon something that she could not see. Their eyes were held upon some vision out of range, something away in the distance, some reality that she did not know, or even suspect.

Despite the hauntingly plaintive tone of the novel, Abel's trajectory arcs towards a hopeful ending, one in which the land of his forefathers assuages the pain of his unmoored existence. Aptly, the book borrows its title from the Navajo Night Chant which circumscribes the Native American's identity around the rhythms of Pueblo life. Words ('house made of pollen, house made of dawn') of a forgotten mother tongue memorized by rote ultimately serve as a metaphorical bridge enabling Abel's re-connection with a lost legacy and, therefore, offering him a chance at redemption.
He could see the canyon and the mountains and the sky. He could see the rain and the river and the fields beyond. He could see the dark hills at dawn. He was running, and under his breath he began to sing. There was no sound, and he had no voice; he had only the words of a song. And he went running on the rise of the song. House made of pollen, house made of dawn. Qtsedaba.
Profile Image for Sara .
1,145 reviews110 followers
March 1, 2015
I am SO glad I ignored the negative reviews of this book, and am now frankly suspicious that some of the bad reviews may come out of cultural biases. This book reads like many other modern (white, male) writers that I have loved - with some stream-of-consciousness and slipping back and forth between present and past - but I feel like some of the critiques I read have a whiff of culturally-biased criticism based on the fact that Momaday is Native American - that this book is "incoherent" or "scattered" or "erratic" or "obscure" instead of intellectually challenging and admirable. This is a beautiful book which does challenge the reader, Infinite Jestthe way Literature capital L should do.

On top of the enjoyment of being challenged by the book to figure out what is going on, this might be the most beautifully descriptive book I have every read. Its sense of color and place was just incredible to me. I generally have no patience for descriptions - but what Momaday did in this book was astounding. I've never had such a vivid sense of place. I am in such admiration that he could use words to paint such amazing images.
Profile Image for Liz.
2,145 reviews2,763 followers
May 7, 2021
I knew I was off to a rocky start with this book when it described an eagle hunt. We have a nest nearby and one of the joys of our COVID isolation has been watching the nesting pair and their eaglets. So I didn't care what religious symbolism the eagle hunt was meant to carry, it bothered me, especially when the eagle was killed.
The writing here is beautiful, especially the descriptions of nature. But the book meanders and I never connected with any of the characters.
Not since Lincoln in the Bardo have I read a book so devoid of a plot. I kept waiting to figure out what the story was. This was a book club selection and I would not have finished this if not for that.
Be aware, there are other gruesome scenes involving the death of a rooster and the gutting of a man.
Profile Image for Sean Forbes.
9 reviews8 followers
August 8, 2007
I found some amazing quotes from the text about the Southwestern landscape, which I loved. I felt, however, that the characters of Abel and his grandfather, Francisco, are an enigma to me. I don't have a lasting memory of them as vivid characters. But what does stand out in the text is the landscape. Perhaps that was Momaday's main point.
Profile Image for Christy.
Author 5 books400 followers
April 2, 2008
House Made of Dawn is built on the model provided by John Joseph Mathews' Sundown and D'Arcy McNickle's The Surrounded: mixed race Indian finds himself unable to fit in on the reservation or in white culture. Momaday adds to this formula the fact that his protagonist, Abel, is an American war veteran as well as a more experimental narrative structure.

Momaday's novel is important less because it breaks new ground thematically (it doesn't, really) than it is because of its status as the first novel by a Native American author to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize (and because it is seen as paving the way for the Native American literary boom that would follow) and because of its structural/formal experimentation. House Made of Dawn is not strictly linear and plays with stream of consciousness and native forms of expression. This experimentation is both the novel's strength and its weakness. It demands a close reading and attempts to break the narrative free of a more western approach to storytelling in favor of a mode of storytelling more appropriate to the Native American context; but in the shifting perspectives and nonlinear timeline, the characters can get lost. At no point in this novel did I feel I gained any real perspective into Abel (or into any of the other characters, for that matter). I remained at arm's length from each of them throughout. Abel's journey--from alienated returning vet to ex-con in the big city and back to the reservation, where he finds a sort of healing and begins to return to his people and a Native way of life--is one seen from a distance, not one felt. This echoes and illustrates the alienation that Abel must feel, but it also makes it difficult to care about anything that happens in the book.
Profile Image for Meike.
1,591 reviews2,816 followers
November 26, 2018
This Pulitzer Prize winning novel tells the story of Abel, a young Native American torn between the reservation and the white world of settler colonialism, but it is also a book about the estrangement and alienation of postwar America in general. After fighting in WW II, Abel returns to the rez drunk and disturbed, and can't find his place in the world. After committing a terrible crime, his mental state is further unravelling...

Major themes in the book are racism and alienation, the loss of cultural roots and the attempt to make the Native world disappear - but also the suffering of soldiers returning from the battleground, the universal strife for acceptance and dignity in human relations, the meaning of family and community, and the longing for spiritual connection. Like Abel, Momaday, a Kiowa, has lived on reservations and in mainstream society, and he modeled his protagonist after young men he met at Jemez Pueblo - even the crime he describes is based on a true incident. In his novel, he transforms his first-hand knowledge into a non-linear narrative full of beautiful descriptions of the American landscape, Native American stories and the depiction of cultural practices, as well as intricate portayals of the relationships between people and the way connection and disconnection work on the human psyche.

I particularly liked how Momaday represented the importance of storytelling in the book, especially the oral tradition, "a very rich literature (...) always but one generation from extinction":
"You see, for her (the grandmother's) words were medicine; they were magic and invisible. They came from nothing into sound and meaning. They were beyond price; they could neither be bought nor sold."
"(...) that old woman was asking me to come directly into the presence of her mind and spirit."

Another important passage talks about the hawk, and eagles are mentioned 26 times - which brings us to Brandon Hobson's NBA-nominated "Where the Dead Sit Talking", a book that not only shows a hawk on its cover, but in which the protagonist, Sequoyah ("sparrow"), is aked by his foster sibling Rosemary to read "House Made of Dawn"- and there are numerous connections between Hobson's and Momaday's books. So for everyone who, like me, loved "Where the Dead Sit Talking", this is required reading, because Momaday's shows new ways to read Sequoyah's story.

A beautiful, haunting, and fascinating book that needs to be read and enjoyed slowly and with the highest concentration.
Profile Image for Mark.
417 reviews17 followers
September 7, 2007
I read this book in one sitting. I found it extremely well written, and throughout I felt like I was existing with the characters. This book achingly portrayed the plight of Native Americans in the middle of the twentieth century, torn between the ancient and modern ways, scourged by alcoholism. I really liked the way Momaday interspersed past and present, the same way that people actually experience life, in their minds. Although this work saddens me on behalf of the protagonist, it does offer hope that the ancient ways will be continued by him, so I came away with a bittersweet taste.
Profile Image for Feliks.
496 reviews
June 18, 2017
Folks, let's remember that this is a PULITZER PRIZE winning novel. If you yourself, didn't click with it, so be it. But ...who exactly are you? Please don't posture or preen when you write reviews on this silly website. Remember, the entire www.internet is junk, an embarrassment, trivial and trite. A cowardly fart of a technology that facilitates people farting in each other's faces.

Meanwhile. M. Scott Momaday wrote his ***Pulitzer-Prize winning**** novel before you were even born, and nothing you do in your entire life will ever earn as much esteem as he did with this work. Most likely, you sit around surfing the web and playing with your smart-phone. Day after day and year after year. Yeah. So when you bash Momaday, remember that you --and I-- and everyone on this website are just pathetic losers compared to what this guy did. He made something of himself. Pulitzer prize winner! None of us can even remotely claim anything about ourselves as great as this.

All I'm saying is: give credit where credit is due. There are some things in life which can't be achieved any other way except by talent and hard work. No one will ever be handed a Nobel Prize or a Pulitzer Prize ....for sitting on their duff and surfing the internet all their lives! That accomplishes ABSOLUTELY ZERO in this --or any other-- universe.
Profile Image for Joy D.
2,068 reviews240 followers
May 7, 2021
“There was a house made of dawn. It was made of pollen and of rain, and the land was very old and everlasting. There were many colors on the hills, and the plain was bright with different-colored clays and sands. Red and blue and spotted horses grazed in the plain, and there was a dark wilderness on the mountains beyond. The land was still and strong. It was beautiful all around.”

As the story opens, protagonist Abel, a young Native American, has recently returned to New Mexico after serving in WWII. He lives with his grandfather, develops a relationship with a woman, interacts with the local priest, and commits a crime. Years later, he is living in Los Angeles with a friend. He experiences drug-induced hallucinations and drinks heavily. He attends Native American ceremonies. He is beaten and left for dead. In the country or city, he has trouble assimilating.

The storyline is fragmented and told in non-linear fashion. It is one of those books where I appreciate the literary merit, but it held little appeal for me. It toggles back and forth between the current experiences, flashbacks, and stories of Native American ceremonies. I was not always sure when events were supposed to be taking place. The writing is descriptive. The concept is creative. However, I found it disjointed and never felt truly engaged.
Profile Image for Bob.
113 reviews
January 8, 2010
This was more confusing and obscure than The Sound and The Fury. I suppose the Pulitzer committee was impressed by it's veneer of native American spiritualism. I think it's an unreadable construction of meaningless imagery, with fewer than ten pages of dialogue in the whole book.
Profile Image for Sarah.
733 reviews73 followers
May 13, 2017
1.5 stars? This book annoyed me. It was jumbled and disjointed, which made it quite confusing. I recently read Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko and found myself comparing the stories and writing unfavorably for this book. They both deal with the topic of traumatized vets but Ceremony is more cohesive and relatable (I gave it 5 stars), although it was also non-linear.

I honestly have little idea what happened in this book and I ended up skipping about 10 pages of the end because I just didn't care enough to read them.
Profile Image for Julie.
1,326 reviews15 followers
February 12, 2009
Not a book one can rush through, and with it's lush, poetic prose why would you? Momaday captures the intrisic connections between the natural, spiritual and human worlds that are part of the American Indian experience. Pulitzer prize winner 1969.
Profile Image for Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac).
684 reviews603 followers
Shelved as 'did-not-finish'
December 20, 2021
I read almost half of this before giving up. I was carried along to a certain extent by some of the most powerful descriptions of the natural world that I’ve ever read, but at the 40% mark I realized that I had not made so much as a sliver of a connection to the characters or the story. Not for me.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,173 reviews8,386 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
November 26, 2022
DNFing this *just for now* - I absolutely will come back to this someday and start over. I started this on a plane ride at the start of vacation and then didn't read anything for over a week so I forget a lot of what I read and to do this justice will revisit some other time. I liked what I read but am just not in the mood to restart it right now!
Profile Image for Craig Werner.
Author 13 books166 followers
February 13, 2018
I first read House Made of Dawn in a 1970 class on modern American literature. The class had split, sometimes with great passion, into factions devoted to either Hemingway or Faulkner, with the key issue amounting to something like "clarity vs. complexity." When we showed up for the first class on House Made of Dawn, both factions were sure Momaday was on "our side." And of course, we were both both right and wrong.

I start with that because I think it speaks to the importance of Momaday's brilliant first novel. At the time it was presented in large part as the first important novel by a Native American writer (a judgment that today requires a string of footnotes, but is in some sense defensible). True enough and, especially for Native readers, the novel's meditation on tradition and modernity remains as compelling as it ever was. Like Momaday's memoir Way to Rainy Mountain, House confronts the problems of Natives in adjusting to a world that doesn't see them in any kind of 3-D form, if it sees them at all. Enmeshed in that, Momaday makes ti clear that he understands his relationship to the broad tradition of American and modern literature. The sections set in LA--with the unforgettable "Priest of the Sun" Tomasah (like Momaday a Kiowa) at the center--riff on Rinehart from Ralph Ellison's Invisile Man in a specifically Native voice. The (Hemingwayesque) scenes between Abel and Angela shimmer with erotic power; and those between Abel and the Albino echo the metaphysical unspeakablenss of Melville's white whale.

And the writing itself, especially when Momaday centers on the southwestern landscape, is simply gorgeous.

If you're only going to read a couple of books by Native writers--and you're shortchanging yourself if that's where you stop--this should join Leslie Silko's Ceremony, Ray YoungBear's Remnants of the First Earth, and Vine Deloria's collection of essays Custer Died for Your Sins, at the top of the list. If you want more, my "Native American" shelf has plenty of suggestions.
Profile Image for J.G. Keely.
546 reviews10.2k followers
June 11, 2007
Momaday's now-famous book has more social and political importance than literary. Like the genre it ushered in, it may have been positive for the writer in general, but often relied upon a cliche racist/anti-racist dichotomy played through vague and often meaningless metaphor.

The author's busy mind has made a complex work, but not one with any central point or in-depth exploration. The 1970s New Age movement was a combination of many different world philosophies, attempting to find some common ground for humanity that might soften the Hegemonic West. Unfortunately, without a rhetorical basis, this movement provided us with mere watered-down generalism.

It is now a popular personal philosophy because it is so vague that it can be used to support any concept and ideal. Momaday falls into this same trap with his erratic and varied text, which started out as a poetic series.

This all ended in Momaday's premature Pulitzer, and he's sat steadfastly on that laurel ever since, and given us no more reason to presume he deserved it. The prize committee was clearly interested in following civil rights with a politically correct investment in 'diversity'. The only problem is that Momaday's work is as fundamentally colonized as Kipling's.

His presentation of 'native' themes and storytelling methods is a fairly thin veil over what is not as much a Native American novel as just an American novel. The Native culture Momaday represented was already overwritten by the dominant western culture.

Though Momaday tried to inject some cultural understanding and 'oral traditions' into his book, in the end it is little more than a descendant of Faulkner's. Not a badly written one, but neither is it focused enough to represent some cultural 'changing of the guard'.
Profile Image for Edwin Priest.
583 reviews35 followers
April 13, 2021
You sit down to the table. It is old and stained and pitted. The light comes in sideways from the dirty opaque window on your left, with little flecks of dust floating lazily in the orange evening sunlight.

The stew sits in front of you, redolent with the essence of the Native American Southwest. Each ingredient is tangible and distinct: the warm pieces of pork, the soft orange butternut squash, the posole, the flecked pinto beans, the coarse pieces of onion and fine pieces of minced garlic, the bright green cilantro. Steam rises from the bowl as you pick up your spoon and gently the aromas stir up memories: of trips to church, of family arguments, of childhood friends, of an old lover.

You take our first bite. It is almost overpowering, each flavor palpable in your mouth: the warm cumin, the rich dark ancho chile, the bright bite of serrano, the hint of cinnamon and the oregano, especially the oregano. And yet they all blend together to make something more, something reminiscent of………… a sunrise, the rustling of autumn tree leaves, the call of a crow, your bare feet, dirty and hot in the afternoon sand, the smell of smoke from a mesquite-wood fire, flies buzzing in the sultry heat of the afternoon, and mostly blood, blood and the tears of your ancestors.

I love a good Southwestern stew, and in the same way, I loved this book.
Profile Image for Mary.
826 reviews15 followers
February 16, 2015
This novel will need several readings to be completely appreciated. I write this review having read the novel for the second time in my life. House Made of Dawn requires active, attentive, and engaged readers. There are several narrative styles and time shifts back and forth.
The prose is beautiful. Francisco and Able, grandfather and grandson, are characters whose actions and experiences illustrate Native American life as members try to hold on to their traditions and religion despite living on reservations and being forced into mainstream American life.
The novel exposes racism in different forms on the parts of both whites and Natives. There is pain and poverty and beauty and freedom in this novel.
I plan to read it again in the future. A good investment of reading time.
Profile Image for John Mccullough.
571 reviews42 followers
April 15, 2021
Surprise winner of the 1969 prize for fiction, “House ….” was the first novel of a Kiowa with an impressive White education. It chronicles the journey of GI Abel, returned from WW II back to home in Walatowa (Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico), then not really feeling at home anymore at home, and with a push from a federal administration intent on terminating all reservations, he migrates to the city where he feels even more uncomfortable.

Abel’s obvious problem was not diagnosed until the Viet Nam War – PTSD - worse for Native Americans who not only had the problems other returning GI’s, but that of having to live in two worlds – the American one of his birth and the colonial European one that has engulfed his American world.

Momaday begins his story when Abel returns from the war to “home,” Jemez Pueblo – Walatowá. There the author lays Abel’s lifeway base, describing some aspects of life for a native of Jemez newly returned from the chaotic Hell of WW II combat. This will later contrast with his life in Los Angeles where he will be even more lost and out of place.

Momaday tells the story at different times in the story sequence from the viewpoint of different actors – Abel, Francisco, Abel’s grandfather. Tosamah. Ben Benally. Milly. Angela St. John. Father Olguin. All have a different take on the situation, all “know” what is going on within their world-view, which differs radically one from the next. There is the Native-Native view on the world. There is the Europeanized-Native view. There is the European view. All of the views are represented by several individuals. It is like the movie, “Rashomon” (short story “In a Grove” by Akutagawa Ryunosuke) except Momaday describes the different viewpoints at different times in the story. The novel begins by describing Abel running in the desert as a European would see it – a lone man, running in a desolate landscape. The last chapter describes the same scene in Native eyes, a scene rich beauty and filled with the ghosts of passed runners. In doing so, Momaday completes the circle, another classic Native belief – life is a continuous circle, the future coming back to complete the past.

The abrupt see-sawing of time and character occasionally makes it difficult to mentally locate what is happening and to whom. But, it is not unlike some conversations; some parts read as if you are sitting in a bar and someone is telling you a story, complete with backtracking asides. This is a book best read twice as it is short but complex and difficult to see the subtleties if not Native. It is also a beautiful book filled with Diné (Navajo) Beauty-way song and description of how a Native views the world, how he/she sees and how it differs from the view of many Europeans (but not all!).

The book is not for everyone, but it is one of the best American novels of the 20th century, and instructive for those who are open to learning.

Osda dv!
Profile Image for Amanda.
620 reviews430 followers
December 12, 2020
I was drawn to this book (outside of wanting to read more Native American literature) by the beautiful poetic title, and was not let down by the writing inside; it is gorgeous. Other reviewers have complained of the broken up narrative, but I didn’t have much trouble understanding the different sections and their place in time, aside from part 2 where it is not clear until part 3, but is clarified quickly. It was much easier for me than my experience with Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, but perhaps that book improved my comprehension and made this one easier from the start.
Profile Image for Joseph.
224 reviews42 followers
June 18, 2023
A while back a teacher and friend asked me: “What I wonder is, to what extent is Momaday a man of words on account of his adherence to his Kiowa side (the way Stegner adhered to his Norwegian side), and to what extent is he a man of words because he is a literary man? There is no doubt the genesis of the word-man comes from the native side, which mainlines right into that great sermon in House Made of Dawn, preached from the text, "In the beginning was the Word."

Here are a couple of extracts from the great sermon referenced:

“… in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." … it was the Truth, all right, but it was more than the Truth. The truth was overgrown with fat and the fat was God. The fat as John's God and the fat stood between John and The truth.”

“In the white man’s world, language, too—and the way in which the white man thinks of it—has undergone a process of change. The white man takes such things as words and literatures for granted, as indeed he must, for nothing in his world is so commonplace. On every side of him there are words by the millions, an unending succession of pamphlets and papers, letters and books, bills and bulletins, commentaries and conversations. He has diluted and multiplied the Word, and words have begun to close in upon him. He is sated and insensitive; his regard for language—for the Word itself—as an instrument of creation has diminished nearly to the point of no return. It may be that he will perish by the word." (pp. 82-4)

I’m going to try and back into an answer.

First, House Made of Dawn is exceptional. It tells many stories, but Abel is the character at core. Although the book speaks of more than one place, the central place is Jemez, New Mexico. Abel is a composite of many American Indians. But, he is more than that. He is a WWII veteran who saw combat and there is enough in the way of flashback to recognize what we now call PTSD. He is a man who learns from his family and extended family. He suffers alcoholism and alienation. He loves and is loved by his grandfather. He knows women intimately. He suffers, is abused, kills, and is beaten almost to death. In short, he is portrayed in enough depth that it is easy to identify and empathize with him. Could a character like Abel have existed in other circumstances, i.e. outside of the Native American culture? Yes, suffering, alienation and abuse are common enough themes. Momaday has stated that Abel is a composite character based on people he knew. The literary man, Momaday, drew on his experience to draw his character. AND, by reading Momaday’s recounting of Abel’s past I can more easily identify with Guy Sajer’s The Forgotten Soldier and perhaps even my own father’s experience on Guadalcanal. Yes, Kiowa, but so much more than that.

Second, Momaday is – by his own description – a poet. And, I seem to recall that he has suggested at least once that House Made of Dawn is an extended poem. When I read passages like this:

“But the great feature of the valley was its size. It was almost too great for the eye to hold, strangely beautiful and full of distance. Such vastness makes for illusion, a kind of illusion that comprehends reality, and where it exists there is always wonder and exhilaration. He looked at the facets of a boulder that lay balanced on the edge of the land …” (p. 16)

I read it sparely with pauses as with poetry:

“The great feature
of the valley
was its size.
almost too great
for the eye to hold,
strangely beautiful
full of distance.

vastness makes for illusion,
illusion that comprehends reality,
where it exists …”

I’ve read several interviews with Momaday. One that sticks with me is done by Matthias Schubnell. They had been talking about Emily Dickinson whom Momaday describes, perhaps lovingly, as “nearly infinite in her expression” with “a kind of regard for language that a great writer must have…. I think her survival was largely intellectual.” Schubnell follows up with this: “And you see that function of creative work as a way to accommodate life in your own case?” Momaday responds: “Yes, and more and more so. … I believe that I fashion my own life out of words and images and that’s how I get by. If I didn’t do those things, I think that I would find my existence a problem of some sort. Writing gives expression to my spirit and to my mind, that’s a way of surviving of ordering one’s life. That’s a way of living, of making life acceptable to oneself.” *

I’m not sure I have answered my friend’s question. I’m not sure he was looking for a definitive answer. I miss being in his seminar, where I first read Momaday.

Not quite finished (I do go on), one more observation. I’ve sort of read Momaday backwards. I started with more recent Momaday works including: Rainy Mountain, The Man Made of Words and In the Bear’s House. In the Bear’s House is my favorite. It is a mature Momaday and it is just absolutely beautiful writing. It is, in my opinion, magical and it is Momaday at the height of his power with words. Momaday wrote House made of Dawn over two years when he was in his early thirties. He wrote In the Bear’s House at 65. Reading these two books and considering differences in Momaday’s age brings to mind these words from the Analects:

“At fifteen I set my heart on learning; at thirty I took my stand; at forty I came to be free from doubts; at fifty I understood the Decree of Heaven; at sixty my ear was attuned; at seventy I followed my heart’s desire without overstepping the line.” **

*Conversations with N. Scott Momaday, ed. Matthias Schubnell. P. 84

** Analects, Book II, Chap 4
Profile Image for Lisa Gamboa.
7 reviews
October 28, 2022
This novel requires attentive, engaged readers. The shifts in perspectives and styles cleverly highlight the broken bond between people and places, between the main character Abel and the native lands of New Mexico. A few passages are very harsh and emotionaly difficult to go through, but most of the book is full of beauty and poetry.

"He remembered the prayer, and he knew what it meant - not the words, which he had never really heard, but the low sound itself, rising and falling far away in his mind, unmistakable and unbroken. Then, under his breath and because he was alone, he spoke his brother's name"
Profile Image for Zefyr.
248 reviews13 followers
September 26, 2012
Okay, so, this is such a disjointed novel, told via descriptions of the settings of memories, and I read it so long ago, that it's hard to remember the whole picture or even much of the plot, but I had noted this quote down:

But the shoes were brown and white. They were new, almost, and shiny and beautiful; and they squeaked when he walked. In the only frame of reference he had ever known, they called attention to themselves simply, honestly. They were brown and white; they were finely crafted and therefore admirable in the way that the work of a good potter or painter or silversmith is admirable: the object is beautiful in itself, worthy of appreciation as a whole and for its own sake. But now and beyond his former frame of reference, the shoes called attention to Abel. They were brown and white; they were conspicuously new and too large; they shone; they clattered and creaked. And they were nailed to his feet. There were enemies all around, and he knew that he was ridiculous in their eyes.

And that, oh god, that I remember. In a weird weird way, the plot is almost there as a vehicle for the descriptions. It's intense and emotional and gut-tugging.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,032 reviews23 followers
November 21, 2017
This was an interesting read. I didn’t particularly like it but I didn’t dislike it either. It was about average to me. The prose is poetic and Mamaday’s descriptions of the landscape and even trivial matters such as the colors of a room were well crafted. However, the disjointed narrative and lack of detailed character development hurt the novel immensely and prevented it from being truly great in my humble opinion. I never felt a connection to the text or what story there was to be had, I merely went through the motions while reading the novel. It’s well written in terms of prose and descriptive style but it’s lacking in narrative and cohesion. I was disappointed by this one, I expected much more out of it but I don’t regret reading it and I can certainly see how it influenced later works such as Leslie Marmon Silko’s “Ceremony.”
Profile Image for Maria.
130 reviews21 followers
April 29, 2011
N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn (1968) is one of those texts that require a certain kind of patience to read, especially in a world that has come to expect information to be reduced to fifteen and thirty second sound bites. The story is told in four distinct parts by different narrators, and the reader doesn’t always know who the point of view is coming from, or why. Even more disconcerting is the way in which the story is told in a nonlinear way: The explanations for many of the mysteries in this story are provided in a fractured narrative that doesn’t become complete until the final pages of the book. I know that I had to go back several times and rethink a passage after realizing that the voice had changed or an explanation for an earlier situation is provided, and this can be extremely frustrating, especially in a book that that has less than 200 pages! This is also a book that can’t to be digested in one sitting; I’ve had to reflect on it through the lens of my experience as a first-generation American who understands that some cultural concepts are embedded in language, and nearly impossible to translate into the frame of another language. I’ve had to discuss this book with my peers, and hear their thoughts about what worked, and what didn’t. I’ve also chosen to read what others have written—both formally and informally—to gain a better understanding of how I feel about the book as a whole. This might be a little too much work for the average reader, but I feel this book, one of the first from a Native American writer to gain major recognition and critical acclaim, is an important contribution to Native American literature, and helps to provide some insight into the Native American experience.

This story is told in four parts and, aside from part 3, The Night Chanter, is told through the lens of Native American storytelling conventions. The story revolves around Abel: At the beginning of the book he has returned from years abroad serving in WWII and arrives off the bus so drunk he falls into his grandfather’s arms without recognizing him. As the story progresses, the book takes on a timeless quality; the mysteries of the book and Abel’s profound alienation from both Indian and white cultures are revealed in glimpses and flashbacks. This can be very frustrating for a reader that isn’t familiar with this storytelling convention, but this different concept and appreciation of time is important to Native American culture and is reinforced by the orality of their traditions. Time becomes a central theme—all of the chapters are dated—and the sensation of being somehow outside of time pervades the entire story. This is especially important for Abel, because he is attempting to reintegrate with his tribe, but he has been gone for years and has lost his connection to the ebb and flow of his culture, which leads to a worsening of his alcoholism and an ill-fated affair with a married white woman who briefly visits the area. Events come to a head when Abel kills an albino in his village while in a drunken stupor, claiming the man is a demon spirit, and is sentenced to prison for almost seven years. As the story winds to its conclusion the question remains: Will Abel be able to find his way back into the rhythms of his world, or will he remain isolated and lost, and ultimately destroy himself?

Without a doubt, this book is not intended for light reading: the language reveals and reflects a distinct Native American landscape and, in a subtle and oblique way, stresses how this relationship demonstrates the manner in which anyone can be recuperated by adopting a powerful cultural narrative. The novel spends a great deal of time reflecting on the meaning of words and how it takes time and patience to communicate, especially when these words are used to accomplish the goal of speaking across cultures to create understanding. I enjoyed the prose descriptions of the southwest and gained insight into this storytelling convention, but will admit that a great deal of patience is required to make it to the end of the story and even then many loose ends are left dangling. The emphasis seems to be on the frame Momaday is creating and the use of a specific set of narrative techniques, and sometimes the story suffers for this. There are few likeable characters, and little time is spent on developing them to any degree. Nevertheless, I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Native American culture and an oral tradition that is still young in developing a literary form.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 841 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.