Order for £13.49 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Blasphemy, By Sherman Alexie. Grove Press, £14.99
Tuesday 05 February 2013
Sherman Alexie has beaten the odds. First, he wasn't expected to live, having been born with hydrocephalus, which is fatal if not treated. Secondly, not many Native Americans rise above the narrow confines set by white society – and, as Alexie illustrates, some of their own community – to reach literary success. Alexie has done so, with many national awards.
This collection, comprising 15 previously published stories and 15 new ones, explores the lives of (Native American) Indians in contemporary North America. Certain themes recur, such as national identity, and loyalty to family, friends and customs. The pathos comes from the darker side of two cultures clashing: conflicts between the old and the new, or the self-destructive urge that drives some to fulfil the doomy prophecies (alcoholism, drug abuse) and limited paths (mysticism and spirituality; menial jobs) mapped out for them by whites.
Alexie has a wonderful ear for snappy vernacular, pithy dialogue and mordant humour. In "Cry, Cry, Cry", a man tries to retain loyalty towards his cousin, who has fallen into drugs and crime. Alexie injects wit into even his darkest stories: here, Indian males try to emulate gun-toting black gangs. Instead of drive-by shootings, they engage in "drive-by cursings".
Alexie's humanity is evident. His protagonists often love and respect their parents even if they have disappointed them. Loss of parents is explored in "Whatever Happened to Frank Snake Church", in which a talented basketball player gives up the sport to honour his mother's death. Alexie's evocation of grief is heart-rippingly raw. He is equally good on the bond between friends.
Alexie's exploration of racism is handled with deftest of touches. In "Protest", a pale Indian reasserts his roots by becoming radicalised, but his protests are impotent. When he is chased by the police, he screams that they're racist. The policemen, believing they're chasing a white man, are bewildered. Sometimes, the most important subjects require the lightest approach. Alexie is a master of this technique.
Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Katie Hopkins gives rare glimpse of sensitive side with heartfelt open letter to her children penned in case she dies from epilepsy
- 2 Rihanna's Met Gala dress took one Chinese woman 2 years to make, was reduced to omelette meme in 2 seconds
- 3 Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to replace Jeremy Clarkson and co
- 4 Women think Irish men are the sexiest, survey finds
- 5 Florida couple forced to register as sex offenders for having sex on public beach
Penny Dreadful, series 2 episode 1, review: It is still gloriously silly
Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to replace Jeremy Clarkson and co
Eurovision 2015: What date and time is the song contest and who are the favourites to win?
Indiana Jones sequel confirmed by Lucasfilm - but will Harrison Ford return to the franchise?
How the Other Half Eat, Channel 4 - TV review: Swapping food trolleys shows how food and class are closely connected
In defence of liberal democracy
General Election 2015: Post-election 'shambles' looms as 70 per cent of voters say SNP 'should not be able to veto UK government policies'
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
General election live: SNP suspends two members for disrupting Labour rally
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils