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Spirit Car: Journey to a Dakota Past

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  251 ratings  ·  55 reviews
One day I realized that my entire back seat was filled with relatives who wondered why I wasn’t paying more attention to their part of the family story. . . . Sooner or later they all come up to the front seat and whisper stories in my ear.  Growing up in the 1950s in suburban Minneapolis, Diane Wilson had a family like everybody else’s. Her Swedish American father was a s ...more
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published August 1st 2006 by Borealis Books
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3.69  · 
Rating details
 ·  251 ratings  ·  55 reviews


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Kathryn
Aug 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Diane Wilson's beautifully crafted memoir begins with the traumatic 1862 event that creates fissures between Midwestern families, neighbors, and tribes, but this is mostly the story of a woman unburying her family's history and trying to begin the healing after hundreds of years of cultural genocide. Wilson's open, honest voice gives us a seat in her spirit car. I recommend you take the journey--it was very educational for me.
Nora
Feb 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read this because it’s the new piece of the ninth grade curriculum, taking the place of To Kill a Mockingbird. I learned quite a bit, and it made me curious about visiting some of the locations in Minnesota where parts of the book take place. I wished I had a family tree from the beginning (because I read it in kindle, the chart is at the end so I didn’t know it was there until I finished), which would probably have made the back-and-forth in time less challenging to follow. A map would have bee ...more
Elizabeth Andrew
Mar 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
I dislike reading family histories; they tend to feel dusty and insular. Which is why I postponed reading SPIRIT CAR for years, much to my regret today. Wilson's dynamic quest to open up her family history leads her back to an ugly chapter in Minnesota's past--the U.S./Dakota war and consequent forced march of women and children--and deep into her own sense of connection and belonging. There's not just continuity between the lives of our ancestors and our own lives; there's an active lineage tha ...more
Mmars
Sep 15, 2012 rated it liked it
The book opens the night before the author joins a walk reenacting one her ancestors made under guard during the Indian wars of the 1860s in Minnesota. Wilson begins with a brief history of the Minnesota Indian wars of 1862. For a more thorough history I highly recommend 38 Nooses: Lincoln, Little Crow, and the Beginning of the Frontier's End

Spirit Car is a personal history that lays bare the fate of the Dakota survivors and their generations beyond their internment at Fort Snelling. I found it
...more
Jill
Feb 20, 2013 rated it liked it
I have not had time to return to this book since February vacation, but here are my initial impressions. I really like the idea that the author wanted to attempt to re-create her family's lost history. While I have a tough time differentiating between creative non-fiction and historical fiction, I appreciate the pains she took to return to her mother's boarding school and to retrace the steps of her ancestors. If I had been her teenage daughter, I would not have enjoyed that road trip much, I su ...more
C.E. G
Jun 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, race-racism
This was Minneapolis's One Read last year and I'm trying to learn more about the history of racism in my city/state, so this book has been on my to-read list for quite a while. And honestly, I think I would have gotten to it sooner if it weren't for that god-awful cover. Seriously, I was bracing myself for a boring academic text and was pleasantly surprised by how readable she made the history of the Dakota.

I'd heard a little before about the Dakota War (largely due to This American Life's ep on
...more
Terri
Jul 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
I read "Spirit Car: Journey to a Dakota Past" by Diane Wilson, published in 2006, for my S.E.E.D. Book Club. This is one of the more enlightening and enjoyable books I've read about the American Indian, specifically the Dakota, culture.

In this family memoir Diane Wilson, who is one-eighth American Indian but has been essentially raised in a white/Swedish American world, goes in search of her Dakota history. She begins around the time of the Dakota War in the 1860's. I found this particularly int
...more
Amy
Jun 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book, though it made me tear up from time to time. If you want an accessible way of understanding and getting the background behind the U.S. Dakota War of 1862 in terms of what led up to it and the consequences and impact it still has on the Dakota people today, this is a book for you. Diane Wilson is the daughter of a 1/4 Dakota mother and a Swedish father. This book traces her journey to rediscovering and connecting not only to her family history, but to the history of the Dakota ...more
Hjordes
Apr 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
I have read books in the past with the Minnesota history of the mistreatment of the Native Americans, and the 1862 uprising, that were much better than this. Unfortunately, I have forgotten the name of the best one, but I read it in the 1960's, so maybe it was put out for the centennial. I found a list of books on the subject, and will take the Website name along to book club for those that are interested.

https://www.dakotavictims1862.com/Fam...
Kate
Apr 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Part memoir, part family history, part creative nonfiction, this book will punch you in the gut and leave you crying.

In a good way?

IDK, I'm white, and though I was born in Minnesota, growing up mostly in Kap'oza, living now so so close to Mendota, it feels important - imperative, urgent even - to engage with Dakota stories in a meaningful way.
Karin
Jul 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Spirit Car was well-written. The circular structure wasn't difficult to follow along with. Some of the chapters would be good to use in a high school classroom when covering the Dakota War. Wilson made me think also of my relatives and who travels with me in my spirit car.
Heidi Bakk-Hansen
Dec 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book because it gave me a window into my adopted home I had not previously viewed. Also, as a genealogy geek, I appreciated her journey. A decent memoir.
larry l. jerke
Mar 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Native American view of Indian/white war of 1853.
Albert Briscoe
Apr 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
One Minneapolis One Read
“Spirit Car”
Author: Diane Wilson



Diane Wilson is the descendent of a highly targeted ethnic group. With the discovery of her cultural background and the individuals who she knows as family pride and pain accompanied her uncovering who and where she came from. Diane with the support of her family and members of Native origin has helped to reveal the struggles and triumphs of a people with great tradition and intriguing legacy.

One Minneapolis One Read is in the second annual
...more
Lisa
Jan 26, 2014 rated it liked it
Talk about bringing history alive - Diane Wilson's SPIRIT CAR does that and more. Using what has been called "intuitive anthropology," Wilson devotes half of her book to telling accurate-as-possible, materially backed stories about the history of Native Americans in the Midwest. In the other half, the bicultural Minnesota author tells of her journey "back in time" as she travels the path her indigenous American ancestors took to Minnesota from their homeland of South Dakota.

One particularly imp
...more
Jo Pecor
Jun 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: turning-points
Initially I was enthusiastic to read this book due to the combination to genres-memoir, fiction and history. I was intrigued by a new term- "intuitive anthropology". While it seemed Wilson achieved her goal of being historically accurate, I found many parts to be difficult to follow or even quite boring. I almost gave up on the book entirely and found myself skimming part one.
More recently, while making a valiant attempt to connect with Book Two, it all came together for me in a grand way. I a
...more
Katie B-K
Aug 29, 2012 rated it liked it
Honestly, I'm ambivalent about this book. Will see if that translates into coherent thoughts tomorrow.

I read this book as part of the One Minneapolis One Read program, because my law firm was a sponsor and it looked interesting. I attended an event related to the book last night at the Minnneapolis Convention Center with the author and Garrison Keillor, and I think it crystallized in my head the reason for my ambivalence.

I was not particularly familiar with the Dakota war, or the forced march t
...more
Catherine
Jun 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
Spirit Car is part novel, part memoir, and part history - the story of the author's retracing of her Dakota roots, of the Dakota uprising of 1862 and the misery that came afterward, of the author's family history (told in creative form), and of the reclamation of the Dakota story by Dakota people themselves.

I was absorbed for the first two-thirds of the book, though the prose sometimes felt too simple - perhaps a product of the meld between memoir and novel that winds through those pages. But th
...more
Cindy
Jun 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was an intriguing and insightful journey into the inter-generational 'Tiyospaye' (extended family system) of the Dakota people that opens in 2002 as middle-aged siblings prepare to participate in the first ever Dakota Commemorative March. As the contemporary story unfurls, the horrific history of the Sioux Indians of Minnesota is revealed. The story volleys through time, bouncing from the boarding school assimilation of the early to mid- 1900's, the little known, and even lesser understood, ...more
Kevin
Jan 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is part memoir, part fiction about a woman exploring her family history and connection to the Dakota War of 1862 in Minnesota. It goes back and forth between re-imaged history and her own search to uncover family roots. What's fascinating is her family's status as "half-breeds," something that effectively ended with her mother (the author is one-eighth native). In 1862 the story centers on a full-blooded Dakota woman who married a French fur trader and finds herself taking refuge in Fort Ri ...more
Christy
Aug 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully written book. The author, in an effort to learn more about her mother's Dakota Indian ancestry, traces her family back to the Dakota War of 1862 in southwest Minnesota. She brings to life each generation and their struggle between claiming their Dakota heritage and assimilating into the "white" world. The book also provides insight into government policies about Indians/Native Americans over the years.

The book begins and ends with the 2002 commemorative march tracing the route the Da
...more
Anne
Jun 03, 2012 rated it it was ok
The author's story about her search for her Dakota family past and Dakota history.

This is an example to me of an important book that is not necessarily a good book. For the first 100 pages, I could lose myself in the author's family history. She created fairly vivid imagery of her ancestors and it interested me. But in the second half, when Wilson recounts her every move in finding graves and mention of various ancestors in newspapers, it starts to drag and the pace never picks up again. I can u
...more
Claire Harley
Jul 30, 2013 rated it liked it
There were some parts of this that I enjoyed and thought were significant in creating a narrative for the hardships that American Indians face. However, there were multiple portions of it that seemed only relevant to her immediate family (the listing of relatives, etc.) that could have been left out. I also disliked the structure, as it was difficult to jump around in both time and narrative style while reading. I think it would have been more successful had she first talked about the process of ...more
Karen Kennedy
Jun 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Diane Wilson connects the present to the past, writing about her ancestors in novel form, while recording her journey of discovery of her Dakota culture. The most beautifully woven prose was her recount of the first Dakota Commemorative March in November of 2002, and how during that final walk to the fort, her experience linked to the spirits of the past. I found this book very moving, and important not only for Indigenous people, but for everyone who ever wondered how the Americas were conquere ...more
Tess Mertens-Johnson
Nov 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book is a great tribute to the author's family and heritage.
In trying to learn more about her mother's Dakota Indian ancestry, traces her family back to the Dakota War of 1862 in southwest Minnesota. She follows her Native American heritage, one that her mother left behind as she grew up and married. The author brings to life each generation and their struggle between claiming their Dakota heritage and assimilating into the "white" world.
The book is part memoir and part history. The journe
...more
Krista
Oct 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Krista by: Beagle Books in Park Rapids, MN
I loved this book. It was personal, about her family, but it was also about the history of the Midwest and the U.S. More than any other book I've read about the deplorable manner in which Native Americans have been treated since Europeans arrived here, this book will make me look differently at the land around me, every day. Also, despite the fact that our family histories are very different, it made me want to look more deeply into my own family history.
Mary
It had its moments, but this feels like one of those books that would have worked better as an essay or an article. Despite her many years of research, the author didn't uncover that many facts. She seemed always to be padding the story with peripheral material and repeating herself. The description of the 2002 march was powerful, and her family's story is significant, but it didn't warrant a whole book.
Katherine
Sep 21, 2012 rated it it was ok
Personalized memoir and history of the Dakota War, starting with mid-1860's battles between the whites and Native Americans, through the aftermath. The endless interviews of distant relatives are not all that interesting. I think Minnesota has produced better memoirs.

I found Brenda Child's book 'Holding Our World Together" better written and more inclusive of history and cultural depth. Different genre.
Basheer Ismail
Oct 31, 2013 rated it liked it

Very interesting and intense description of the Dakota War in 1862. The consequences of that war deepened the historical trauma between the whites and the American Indian Dakotas. The book discusses the issue of being torn apart between two cultures..being half indian and and half white.

I did not like about the book that it became a little boring after about 70% of it.
Teshamae
Apr 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I really appreciated this book and the insight it offered into the life of a woman who is part European/part Native American. I enjoyed hearing the history of Minnesota brought to life. I was left wondering why she had to pick just one culture to follow (Native American). Isn't there a way to mesh both the European and Native parts of herself? That was disappointing.
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