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The Grass Dancer

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  2,363 ratings  ·  142 reviews
From the 1860s, when two lovers are separated by death, the cosmic drama of the two spirits desperately seeking to be reunited molds the lives and fates of their descendants, in a lyrical debut novel shaped by the lore of the Sioux. A first novel. 50,000 first printing.
Hardcover, 300 pages
Published August 3rd 1994 by Putnam Adult (first published January 1st 1994)
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3.96  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,363 ratings  ·  142 reviews

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What I said in the secrecy of my thoughts was: Fanny, mazaska, the white iron you call money, is useless to me. Even the goods I take from the sutler's store, the flour, coffee, sugar, and tobacco, the knives and blankets, are things I do not want. I give them to my cousins who live upriver.
These words belong to Red Dress, ancestor of several members of Susan Power's wonderful cast, who gives the novel a kind of foundation stone or pivot. Her presence, like that of other ancestors and spirits, i
Zoe Brooks
Jan 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: magic-realism
I loved this book and could hardly bear to put it down. In fact it is now one of my favourite magic realist books, which is saying a lot (this is the 116th review on this blog). There are some books that you should read in one sitting or as near to one as you can get. This is one such book. Each chapter in the book is almost a separate story, narrated by different characters at different times (it is important to make a note of the year that appears under each chapter heading). This patchwork of ...more
This book follows the lives of various members of the Sioux Nation starting in the 1980s and going back into the 18 hundreds. It was very interesting reading about things that many would consider paranormal or supernatural, but we're or are considered real in traditional Sioux culture. One of the characters is a Sioux witch, a rather evil one, and there are also ghosts and a shaman. Long-dead ancestors still make appearances in modern life.
At first it might seem like there are too many characte
Mar 07, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I like the structure of the book--the way the story was told in reverse. Before reading the book, I read that the story was multilayered and a bit complicated to follow but I disagree. The story and characters were well developed but I was not crazy about the content. I'm not Dakota so I can't assess whether some of the information Susan Powers included was appropriate or not. When I thought about the "equivalent" information of my people and if an author included it in a novel, I would think it ...more
Nov 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A terrific, poetic, and moving novel of resilience, pride, fear, and raw human emotion. Power’s prose is as smooth as velvet and her ability to weave a story and create such rich, complex characters is fantastic. The fantasy elements of the story are riveting and you can almost feel the magic that’s coursing through the narrative. The alternating character viewpoints and timelines helped to keep the story fresh and allowed for backstory to be provided for every character in the novel. A rich and ...more
Oct 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Two young Sioux—Harley Wind Soldier and Charlene Thunder—try to figure who they are and what love means to them on a North Dakota reservation. Their family histories create a tapestry of possibilities, ways of living with loss and love. On Harley Wind Soldier’s side, his mother Lydia Wind Soldier deals with the death of her husband and oldest son by refusing to speak, while Margaret Many Wounds, Lydia’s mother and Harley’s grandmother, keeps her grief close in a secret only revealed with her dea ...more
A great read with Ms. Power's wonderful storytelling.
Jul 14, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story has a lot of characters, introduced quickly and developed in bits and pieces as we follow their ancestry back. I do not enjoy books with so many characters so considered dropping the book. By not dropping it, I was rewarded with the good ending. One of those endings where we come full circle, the beginning of the story is clearer and a main character has come of age. Once we understand our past, we are grounded and ready to take on whatever comes next.
Joshua Buhs
This is a genuinely great book.

Is it possible to be cynical about it? Yes. It is a little too easy to describe this book in elevator-pitch terms (Michael Dorris does Wuthering Heights) and it is so cinematic that one might feel it was calculated to be a movie. (Chuck Norris the dog was made for film.) But these are unfair thoughts.

The book is cinematic because Powers is that kind of writer. She knows what literary allusions she is making and is in full control of them--she calls out Wuthering He
Christina (A Reader of Fictions)
May 06, 2013 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Christina (A Reader of Fictions) by: Ann Kristin
Right from the beginning, I knew that Susan Power's The Grass Dancer was a book I never would have picked up on my own. Though I'm generally up for reading about any culture, I've been burned by a couple about Native Americans, so I'm hesitant to read them. Still, that's not something I'm proud of and is certainly no reason to write off all of those books, so, when this showed up in Sadie Hawkins, I figured I'd give it a try. While I didn't precisely dislike The Grass Dancer, I didn't really lik ...more
Feb 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of the reasons I write "reviews" is to help jog my memory down the road when I might want to reread a book or mention it in relation to another book. But then there are stories so immediately embedded in my brain I know I won't need any reminders no matter how long it's been since I first read it. The Grass Dancer is one of those stories. It was also one of those where I would read a passage I wanted to bookmark but couldn't make myself stop reading long enough to do so.

I loved how the story
May 24, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book really interesting. Parts of it were frustrating and at times I feel like I didn't understand what was going on. There were one or two characters that I absolutely hated, but I feel like that was the point. The author then managed to bring me to pity the one character I detested throughout, so I guess that's pretty impressive.

One thing that this novel did was get me really interested in the Sioux Indian tribe. I feel like I want to go on to read other Native American fiction o
Feb 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Grass Dancer
Susan Powers
March 8, 2016

Read this book with a good friend - you will want to discuss it. The story has some many layers and yet they all work together so well that it is not overwhelming. This is probably a book you can reread many times and find new perspectives with each reading.
Is it a book about:
The contrast between tradition and progress? Yes
The conflict between Native American and mainstream culture? Yes
A coming of age story for adolescents or middle age or old age? Yes
A love
I found this a compelling read, tho I felt sometimes confused by the myriad of characters, and their connection to one another.

I see this as a set of stories describing Dakota Sioux mythology. The whole does not come clear to me. I've seen that other readers have given this book excellent reviews, yet I feel it could have been more tightly woven, and thus more accessible. I'm open to magic, and to spirituality; I just couldn't get quite into the flow here.

Easy to understand is the Sioux anger to
Dec 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: native-american
This novel is very different from most that I've been reading. It tells the story of three generations of Dakota Sioux living on a North Dakota reservation. There are multiple narrators and the story is not told in a linear way, but moves back and forth through various points in time between 1864 to 1982. There are ghosts, spirits, and visitations from ancestors. There are many characters to keep up with and due to the shifts in time, which has characters disappearing and re-entering the plot ch ...more
Heidi Garrett
Jul 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: magical-realism
The Grass Dancer a collection of vignettes about mostly women—mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers—in a Sioux tribe in North Dakota. It's sad. I mean it's really sad. The writing is beautiful, lit up with magical realism, but the stories and the breaking and broken relationships are so sad. Eleven stories that move back and forth in time they eloquently capture the Sioux way of seeing the world. I love that part, their visions and dreams and belief in them. I just wish... there had been... ...more
Teresa Thompson Arcangel
I read a hard copy of "The Grass Dancer" years ago, and looked forward to reuniting with this great story in audio. Unfortunately, I don't think I'm going to make it all the way through the audio edition. The narration is too fast, and monotonous. It ruins a fabulous story. I wish Ms. Power had hired a pro.
While on the whole I wasn't that impressed I was amazed to find that one of my favorite short stories of all time is actually a chapter from this book. It's really a lot better if read as individual stories rather than a cohesive novel.
Aug 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a beautifully written book. The magical realism, the character development, the lyricism are all fabulous. I did occasionally have trouble keeping up with who was who in the sectional changes, but not enough to effect my rating.
Jan 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
A lovely novel depicting the lives of multiple generations of Plains Indians. My publisher, Sharmagne Leland St-John, has purchased the film rights and is working on a screenplay. I'm a little mystified how this can be made into a film, but I can't wait to see it!
Darcy McNeill
It took me back to the days when all I had to worry about was if my boyfriend was ever going to tell me he loved me. Days when going to PowWow's was our summer vacation and we looked forward to it as if we were going on a trip to Disney Land.
Aug 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cbr-10, cbr11
2.10.2019: this book is better on the re-read, because you can find rich details and tons of story threads that may have passed you by the first time. This is a beautifully melancholy book.
Nov 28, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Matt by: Laura Furlan
Required reading for Am Ind Lit at UMASS-Amherst. Teetered on giving this one 5 stars because it really wraps up well...but I didn't have the anticipatory excitement of reading it that I normally would for a truly great book. A good read...funny, emotional, 'sall good.

See below for my essay, my final ten-pager for Am Ind Lit:

One Story: A Synthesis of Assimilation, Rebellion, and Rediscovery in Susan Power’s The Grass Dancer

This essay will address the role of stories in Susan Power’s The Grass
Pat Giese
Mar 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story begins at powwow where Charlene Thunder, grand-daughter of "the witch", Anna Thunder, is preparing to dance. All eyes are on the handsome Harley..... A group of 4 come from Chicago including "Pumpkin", the redhead with native blood. Pumpkin wins in the grass dance category, wowing the crowd and capturing Harley's attention. When she & her friends depart for another powwow, they all die as their car skids off a cliff. The locals wonder if Anna Thunder cast another spell to cause thi ...more
Easton Smith
Jun 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was first introduced to Susan Power in an anthology. Her story, Red Dress, was astounding, brutal and beautiful and true. I read it as the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline were picking up on Susan Power's ancestral lands. The story felt like a dreamy revelation of the violence, resilience, and spiritual fortitude of a people facing colonial occupation and genocide.

It turns out, that story is a chapter of this book. It may be the chapter around which the rest of the book revolves. T
Nov 09, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A story of Native American culture written by a Harvard educated Native American author to provide legitimacy. The story centers around a North Dakota Sioux tribe & ends as a coming of age story of a young emotionally troubled brave. The importances of traditional tribal dances & mystical beliefs are central to the theme but even more important are the personal interactions that extend over a century. The author uses an unusual approach to the latter wherein she has multiple characters e ...more
Jan 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
From the book:

"Margaret had recovered an old faith from her youth, from the days when there was magic, before the concept of sin had washed over Dakota people, just as the Oahe Dam had flooded their reservation with stagnant water."

"Be careful what you throw away," I told my daughter. "Be cautious with your spirit, because it can fill up with the wrong things. I will tell you a secret," I murmured. Crystal flinched, and it was all I could do not to slap her. The scent of plums left my mouth. "To
Oct 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
"Harley alone remained behind to entertain his grandmother. He saw there were two moons in the world: one on television and one in the sky outside his grandmother's window. "Two moons," he told Margaret, curling his thumb and forefinger into a telescope he peeked through. "More than that," Margaret told him, "many, many more. For every person who can see it, there's another one.""

The Grass Dancer travels through time with its stories, travels through planes of living and death. The characters ar
David Pickett
Apr 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is one of the greatest books i’ve ever read. Each chapter is told from a different Sioux Indian starting from a young fatherless boy, Harley Wind Soldier. The book continues to progress backwards in time piecing together the intricate relationships and the painful secrets that haunt the reservation. Despite having no understanding of the Dakota traditions I still found this book fantastic and easy to follow. Anyone who wants a different kind of book NEEDS to read this great masterpiece ...more
Feb 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-2018
The power of the rich world of Dakota Sioux traditions, contemporary and historic characters, spirits and the people they interact with...are all beautifully crafted in linked chapters/stories. "And Charlene Thunder could see only her grandmother--a plump, majestic sage grouse, a robber fly, a towering hill--wrapping her long arms around the earth and squeezing firmly, her enemies whirling into lost space (p. 67)"
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Grass Dancer 9-11 and short stories 1 6 Feb 19, 2013 01:43PM  

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Susan Power is a Standing Rock Sioux author from Chicago. She earned her bachelor's degree from Harvard University and a JD from Harvard Law School. After a short career in law, she decided to become a writer, starting her career by earning an MFA from the Iowa Writer's Workshop.
Her fellowships include an Iowa Arts Fellowship, James Michener Fellowship, Radcliffe Bunting Institute Fellowship, Prin
“She had always been different, even when she tried not to be, unable to curb her curiosity which led her to read a great number of books. Her world was constantly expanding until she could no longer fit herself into the culture that was most important to her.” 12 likes
“Because I have willed it. And I am not a fairy tale.” 9 likes
More quotes…