Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A Review of Joseph Bruchac's Geronimo

[This review posted here with permission of its author, Beverly Slapin. It may not be published elsewhere without written permission from the author.]


Bruchac, Joseph (Abenaki), Geronimo. Scholastic Press, 2006; 360 pages, grades 5-up; Ndee (Apache)

It is 1908, more than twenty years after Geronimo’s final surrender to the White Eyes, and the grouchy, once-fearsome old man is looking for his hat. When his adopted grandson, whom he once called “Little Foot,” flicks his eyes up and then respectfully looks away, the old man discovers his hat—on his head.

As narrated by a younger Little Foot coming of age during the captivity years, the life of the man history has come to call “Geronimo” and the lives of the Ndee people who have come to be called “Apache” are rich with cultural and historical markers and a litany of broken promises. As Little Foot observes, “Lies from the mouths of the White Eyes seemed as certain as the sunrise each morning in the east. Even when they wrote their promises down on paper, they still did not keep them. Paper lies are even easier to burn.”

There is great good humor here too, as when Little Foot attempts to describe the thing called “cement” and as Nana opines in the humid Alabama weather, “Perhaps it would be better of us to sign a treaty with the mosquitoes. If they become our allies, together we can defeat all the White Eyes.”

Chronicling the years from 1886 to 1894, each short chapter begins with a historical third-person record that offers a counterpoint to Little Foot’s narrative and grounds it in the history of the times. Through Little Foot’s interpretation, middle readers will come to know the great spiritual leader as a man who loved his wives and many children, had an infectious sense of humor, and was an astute businessman besides.

Geronimo is a story of resistance and survival, courage and sacrifice, and, above all, the fight to maintain land, culture and community. Told from the perspective of the people themselves—with a refreshing absence of words such as “renegades” and “raiders”—Bruchac’s work is an antidote to the many toxic volumes, fiction and so-called non-fiction, that portray Geronimo and his people as savages.—Beverly Slapin


Anonymous said...

We are buying Joseph Bruchac's books here, but we have a problem with them. They are probably correctly cataloged as Fiction. The old Landmark Series and many "biographies" published since then are really Fiction. We wish Bruchac's books could be Biography. I am thinking of Geronimo and Jim Thorpe more recently. More students would read them if they truly were Biography (and profit from them) for a biography assignment or because they enjoy Biography. But what does being labeled fiction say to them?

pj said...

What about the way Mexicans are protrayed in the book? I had issue with the idea that all mexicans are bad parents and their children would relish being kidnapped to escape them.

JJYahn said...

I recently reviewed this novel for a class, and discussed in my critical essay the authenticity of this novel and the bias presented by its first person narration. My conclusion was the novel was a valuable resource because of its historical accuracy, and more importantly its accurate portrayal of the Native voice. I used this review along with a guideline created by Oyate for assessing American Indian literature. However, one of the things I struggled with was what flaws there might be since Joseph Bruchac is not Apache. When I read the comments of American Indian reviewers who felt the novel was accurate, I felt more at ease with my concerns. Since many novels are written by Native people, but may be written about a tribe different than their own, what are the best resources to use to determine how accurate the novel is? While I know book reviews are extremely helpful, they may not be an option, so what are other options?

Gary said...

As a librarian I'm always looking for authentic and varied material to add to the library. One of the difficulties for me is knowing what is authentic but it looks like Bruchac may be a good choice for selected materials. The positive review here and the comments from others make me think that, at least for an American Indian perspective, I should include some of his work in the collection.

John said...

was there ever a climax in this book?