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Winter in the Blood

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  2,366 ratings  ·  210 reviews
The author of Fool's Crow and Indian Lawyer presents an extraordinary, evocative novel about a young Native American coming to terms with his heritage--and his dreams. "A nearly flawless novel about human life".--Reynolds Price, New York Times Book Review.
Paperback, 177 pages
Published March 4th 1986 by Penguin Books (first published 1974)
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3.85  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,366 ratings  ·  210 reviews

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Dec 23, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beautifully written - sad and angry and full of wonderful evocations of landscape and nature. A key novel in the voicing of the Native American experience and well worth your time.
Mar 03, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What caught my attention with this book was one of the blurbs on the cover (I read an edition different from the Penguin classics one) from Charles R. Larson from The New Republic that says:
"For some readers this will be the most significant piece of Indian writing they have yet encountered; for others, it will simply be a brilliant novel."
Since my knowledge of Native American literature is presently very limited, I can say that I very much agree with Larson's blurb and the fact that this book w
Apr 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
James Welch is probably Montana's foremost Native American writer, and this wonderful novella is evidence of considerable talent. Published 30 years ago (1974), it takes place in the shadow that was cast by the nation's approaching bicentennial. While neither bitter nor angry, it manages anyway to portray a country that has little to show for itself but "greed and stupidity." The values it embraces are finally those available to every American, native or otherwise - compassion and respect for li ...more
Feb 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
This was my fourth James Welch novel and I still can't pin down what it is about his writing that I find so affecting. There is no visible effort to command your attention - no showy passages, no plot-bending events - just a slow-rolling flow of pages that sometimes don't even seem to have been written. The stories just kind of happen, pulling you in (matter-of-fact, whatever) so you don't so much as plunge in but float along and finally end up thinking about them long after you've turned the la ...more
May 27, 2010 rated it liked it
The dialogue is great; the descriptive writing a little more uneven, sometimes slipping into that dreaded vein known as "Bad Hemingway." (Something along these lines: The mountains were green. It was cold. I was fourteen then. The mountains were green and cold and we felt good.)

The story is slack, largely without tension or stakes, though a sense of hurt and emotional damage pervades it, lending some weight to the proceedings. I didn't mind the meandering plot, because individual scenes were han
Apr 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: since-joining
This is an essential book for anyone with even the slightest curiosity about what exactly it means to be Native American in America. Which essentially is me saying that everyone should read this book.

I can't really tell you much of what happens in this book. Not because the events aren't worth recounting or because I cannot remember them, but more like the fact that this isn't a book much interested in plot. The best way to call the tone of this book is "chilled" in many senses of the term. On t
Oct 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Not my usual genre, I thought as I began reading, wondering if I would continue. It seemed like a noir western, big lonesome dangerous country and smoky dive bars in very small towns - presented in language and dialogue so spare it almost read like a script. But then . . . it began to get hold of me, its grip growing tighter as the characters took on substance and shape and the mysteries began to grow. The occasional patches of description were gripping and gorgeous and perfect in the context of ...more
Paul Lawton
Jan 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: enthusiasts
Winter in the Blood had a profound personal effect on me, which may be unrelated to the actual work itself. Last year, I decided, somewhat impulsively, to abandon my life as a professor in Lethbridge, Alberta, which is relatively close to the landscape Welch describes at the Fort Belknap Indian Reserve. I grew up moving between the great Canadian cities and towns, and my presonal sense of isolation and introspection that this landscape almost requires of its citizens is deeply embedded.

Like my
Dec 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It was pure serendipity. I had never heard of James Welch, the Blackfoot/Gros Ventre who was one of the figures of the 1970s Montana literary renaissance (which I had also never heard of). I had read several books by Sherman Alexie, another Native American writer. I would have to say that Welch's Winter in the Blood hit me at such a keen angle that I felt my bones ache as I read it.

Welch gives us chains of simple declarative sentences that never pall, because suddenly he is off somewhere else; a
Feb 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Winter in the Blood appealed to me in the first few paragraphs, because the setting is one with which I'm very familiar. The bleak panorama that is north central Montana is almost a supplementary character in Welch's novel. But this sense of place almost instantly gave way to a disconnect that nonetheless was not without charm. While reading Welch's novel, I couldn't decide if it would change how I read the novel if the central character and I had not shared a common locality. The removal of alm ...more
Paula Margulies
Sep 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a lovely, haunting book, written with taut, elegant prose. There are themes of dispossession and distance (both literal and figurative) and the main character, Virgil First Raise, provides an unsentimental yet sensitive glimpse of life as a Native American in the bare, arid plains of North Dakota. I wish I had read this book sooner -- it's one that will stay with me for a long time (I'd also like to see the movie version of this story, which is currently making the rounds at indie film f ...more
Feb 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
This book taught me to stop looking for the meaning in the book--it is only possible to comprehend this book when you stop reading into it and let it begin talking to you.
Nov 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A beautifully written tale full of poetic descriptions of everything ranging from the landscape to the wall of a house. The narrator is a melancholy fellow and you feel for him as he is essentially drifting through life and seeking some sort of sense of belonging to someone or some place. This is one of those novels that can’t really be summed up in a paragraph or so. It needs to be experienced in order to appreciate the simplicity and seemingly mundane plot. The novel comes full circle with its ...more
Feb 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read this many, many years ago but hung on to my copy. It is a brilliant novel. Moving, often desperate and real.
Shawn Mooney
I read half of this: some stunning standalone scenes aside, I have failed utterly to connect with this story and its characters. This one’s just not for me.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
I read an article in the paper about a movie being made of this novel (novella, I guess, since it's under two hundred pages), so I wanted to read it before seeing it on film. I'm also interested in American Indian voices, Native people telling their own stories. As Welch said, "I've seen works written about Indians by whites...but only an Indian knows who he is." Of course, Alexie likes "playing up the Indian thing," as I heard one Lakota woman say. She said that it bothered her. The professor s ...more
Dec 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There were a number of times I had to put the book down because the writing is so painful and beautiful. The ending is unforgettable. Welch is particularly skilled at creating a pervasive sense of loneliness and solitude, only to drop in these wonderful passing moments where the characters meet and interact.

In one of the best scenes, the narrator is hitching a ride from town back home with a white family, who are just passing through Montana. The narrator has just been beaten up in a bar fight (
Linda Brunner
Jan 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book read like a snowball gathering strength and weight as it sped down hill and exploded in quiet fury as it hit something solid at the bottom.

Powerful story telling. Dialogue that brings you full on into the conversation. Incredible sensitivity for the people, animals and natural world that populate the narrator's tale. A poignant diamond sharp telling.

A master at work.
Oct 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a gem of a novella written 40 years ago when it was perhaps easier to reach back into the past when the culture of the Plains Indians still dominated. The protagonist is a 30 something Indian man living on a reservation and spending too many nights in local town bars. The writing is both taut and sparse, sometimes bordering on stream of consciousness, and a great deal is left to the reader. There are many easier reads about this history and it may help if the reader is familiar with it b ...more
Ryan Masters
Feb 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Poetic, harsh, hilarious, grim...a gorgeously written gem. Welch is a Blackfeet writer who manages to encompass generations of the Native American experience in this lean, intense novel. An absolute classic. Nothing I can say here that Louise Erdrich doesn't say better in the book's introduction. Highly recommended.
Shelby Harper
Oct 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An intense novella about an unnamed thirty-something American Indian man caught between his home reservation / losses of the past and blurry, alcohol-fueled nights in border towns. Nonlinear and experimental in style, this is a beautiful and haunting little book.
Reading this book was like taking a week-long, quiet acid trip with a sullen Indian rancher wandering around Montana. It was great.
Nathan Ostrander
Nov 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
“I felt no hatred, no love, no guilt, no conscience, nothing but a distance that had grown through the years” (2). From working the open fields of Montana on a Native American reservation to wandering the small highway towns of Highway 2, the unnamed narrator attempts to narrow a distance of the isolation that haunts him and his true strength to stand alone through women and work. This is a true story of making new connections in life to fill one’s own psychological gaps caused by the past and p ...more
Hugh Kinsey
Feb 19, 2018 rated it did not like it
"Winter in the Blood" by James Welch is easily my least favorite book, of all books that I've ever read. I have never been more uncomfortable reading a book than I was, multiple times mind you, when reading this disturbing and monotonous collection of words. The plot is nearly absent, following a character, with no name, through a few days, and years of flashbacks, of aimless drinking bouts, waiting around doing nothing, and disturbing sexual encounters. Not only is it a largely pointless and h ...more
Isabel Ross
Mar 07, 2018 rated it did not like it
I did not enjoy reading this book at all for numerous reasons. This is likely not a subject that I would have chosen to read a novel about to begin with. However, this is a simply fact that I could have gotten over had the literary elements not been so lacking. The lack of character development or an easily discernible plot made this book a little bit of a nightmare to read. Few characters had distinguishable names or features, and most left the story as quickly as they came into it. There’s not ...more
Natalie Brunner
Feb 17, 2018 rated it did not like it
When I read the back cover introduction to Winter in the Blood, I was excited to read it because the plot seemed like it would be interesting and intense. However, when I began reading the book, this was not the case. The plot seemed to take almost the entire book to begin. Not only did the plot take the majority of the book to develop, I also did not find it very interesting. I thought the main character would go through this powerful journey to learn more about himself and about others, but du ...more
Magdalene Monahan
Feb 19, 2018 rated it did not like it
Winter in the Blood by James Welch was not what I was expecting from the description of the novel. I have always had a profound interest in Native American culture and history, however, I was very unsatisfied by the way in which the community was portrayed. The protagonist was portrayed as a lazy drunk with loose morals. When the plot would lag in excitement, the author would input pleasures of the flesh. In my opinion, it was a weak attempt to keep the reader interested. There was not much of a ...more
Irene Kovacs
Jun 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful writing, surprising plot details, wonderfully rich characters.
May 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018-read
Beautiful ending
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the sense of belonging 1 2 Oct 31, 2018 06:14PM  
The Enthusiasts: Winter in the Blood (Section 1) 1 6 Jan 14, 2013 11:56AM  
  • Storyteller
  • The Grass Dancer
  • How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems 1975-2002
  • Perma Red
  • House Made of Dawn
  • The Surrounded
  • From Sand Creek
  • Waterlily
  • Mean Spirit
  • Bone Game: A Novel
  • Tracks
  • The Man Who Killed the Deer
  • Bloodlines: Odyssey of a Native Daughter
  • Genocide of the Mind: New Native American Writing
James Welch was a Blackfeet author who wrote several novels considered part of the Native American Renaissance literary movement. He is best known for his novel "Fools Crow" (1986).

His works explore the experiences of Native Americans in the 19th and 20th centuries. He worked with Paul Stekler on the documentary "Last Stand at Little Bighorn" which aired on PBS.
“He had followed the calendar, the years, time-
Bird farted.
And it came to me, as though it were riding one moment of the gusting wind, as though bird had had it in him all the time and had passed it to me in that one moment of instant corruption.”
More quotes…