Miss_otis's Reviews > The Night Birds

The Night Birds by Thomas Maltman
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's review
Oct 14, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: would-buy, history-or-historical-setting

14-year-old Asa Senger is intrigued when his mysterious Aunt Hazel, recently released from an asylum, comes to stay with his family in frontier Minnesota. Come to find out, the townspeople say Hazel is/was an Indian lover (physically and simply emotionally), and they’re none too welcoming, much like Asa’s mother. Hazel’s not very forthcoming with details of her past, but little by little, Asa gathers his family’s history from her, and boy, is there history.

I liked this book a lot. I’m a big fan of realistic-feeling frontier tales, where frontier life’s not romanticized, where all the hard realities are there, stated fairly simply and not stressed by the writer as “SEE HOW TERRIBLE IT WAS”, but where the writer uses the POVs of his characters to show the harshness of such a life. I’m a bigger fan of writers who approach the Native American Position on Settlers from an angle of resentment and tentative acceptance/friendship, and who are able to make the reader understand, at least a little bit, why both the white folk and the tribes would resent each other while getting along in some ways.

Hazel’s personal history, and therefore the history of Asa’s family, is woven around an actual historic incident, the Sioux uprising of 1862, which ended in the largest mass execution in US history.

Maltman does a lovely job of using history as an underlying current in his story, builds thoughtful, complex characters, creates scenarios which seem true to time period and location, and doesn’t make anything at all easy, which is certainly how it should be. There’s nothing easy about early relations between settlers and the Native Americans; it’s traumatic and heart-breaking on both sides.

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