Monday, June 16, 2008

Slapin's review of Landman's APACHE GIRL WARRIOR

As indicated in my previous post on this book, I asked Beverly Slapin about Landman's book. She sent this review.

[Note: This review may not be published elsewhere without written permission of its author, Beverly Slapin.]

Landman, Tanya, Apache Girl Warrior. Walker Books, 2007. Grades 5-up

This atrocious young adult historical novel is the product of Landman’s (stated) lifelong fascination with Indians combined with an outrageous sense of white entitlement, sloppy research habits, a Euro-feminist approach to history and a penchant for imaginative exercises. From her comments on the back cover: “The image of a girl carrying a spear formed behind my eyes, but I didn’t know if a Native American woman would have been allowed to become a warrior…. The more I read, the more I found that what I’d imagined was entirely plausible.”

In Landman’s imagination, the Ndee refer to themselves as “Apache” (an enemy name) in the late 1800s, all “Apache” men are warriors (whether or not they are engaged in battle), all “Apache” women (“maidens”) are ineffectual (except for the girl who becomes a warrior), all “Apaches” have those ubiquitous “black eyes” that distinguish them as Indians, and hatred and vengeance are the sole motivating factors in “Apache” life. Besides one stereotype after another, much, much cultural confusion (e.g., wikiups are not interchangeable with “teepees” [sic]), and godawful writing, including relentlessly garbled metaphors ([Y]et hope tiptoed on softly moccasined feet, setting my heart beating with excitement”) and relentless ethnographic expositions (“It is the custom of our people to burn the possessions of the dead. And thus I burned our teepee.”), there’s the complete absence of family members: grandparents, aunties and uncles, husbands, mothers, children who play, joke, sing and enjoy each other’s company. Real families. Just like anyone else’s.

And the “Apaches,” of course, are doomed: “[I]will die proud. I will die free. And first I will live, and I will fight. I am Apache.”

Landman’s “historical note” is her not-so-veiled attempt to justify what she has done: “[E]ach of the tribes, all of the characters and every place name are fictional. I’ve made no attempt to produce an accurate historical novel: this is an imagined evocation of how it may have felt to have lived through events like these. I’ve tried to be authentic as far as period detail goes, but at times I have had to stretch things in order to make the story work.”

It has just been brought to my attention that Landman has done another young adult novel, called AZTEC: THE GOLDSMITH’S DAUGHTER, about another “doomed” civilization, whose protagonist’s “spirit and fire held [her] captivated for months while [Landman] wrote her story.” Landman is one of those authors, along with Lynne Reid Banks and Anne Rinaldi, who, through willful ignorance, mangle the histories and lifeways of the peoples they write about, tromping all over real peoples whose descendants live today, in order to come up with books that sell well and win awards. These people really ought not to be writing about cultures other than their own.

Teachers and librarians who already have copies of APACHE GIRL WARRIOR can teach middle readers critical reading skills by having them compare it with Joe Bruchac’s excellent book, GERONIMO.

—Beverly Slapin

[Note from Debbie: Bruchac's book is available from Oyate.]


jpm said...

Some random thoughts about the UK version of Apache Girl Warrior, soon to be released in the US as I Am Apache.

Since I have temporary custody of Beverly Slapin’s copy, I’ll take the liberty of mentioning some statistics Beverly compiled which may help shed light on some of the problems with the book. If I’m analyzing these stats correctly, the author uses the term “warrior” (or “warriors”) no less than 210 times in 311 pages. Many times the word is used more than once on any given page. Beverly’s count found that Apache men are referred to as “men” approximately 8 times (including the term “old men”).

I went through myself looking for references to Apache men and found pretty much the same thing. Haven’t finished counting the number of times “warpath” is used; that will entail another read-through. Beverly counted the references to revenge (including “vengeance” and “avenge”) and came up with 30. So – in surprising contrast to the author’s online statements that appear to reflect a beginning understanding of forces that shaped post-Contact lives of indigenous people here -- what we have in Apache Girl Warrior is a novel for young adults that seems heavily indebted for its fan base to Europeans who believe in the images presented by the Wild West Shows that toured Europe ‘way back. The dominant image here is of the heroic, noble/savage, physically fit guys who ride around on horseback shooting arrows to avenge the deaths of loved ones at the hands of other warlike tribes. (And of the teenage girl who is allowed to join them because she has special skills, special powers, and a special reason to seek revenge.)

In this book, most of the bad guys are Mexicans, which raises a major concern about the US release of this book. In Apache Girl Warrior, the only “good” Mexicans are the ones who have been kidnapped as children and brought to live with the Apache. Otherwise, they are pretty much uniformly portrayed as bloodthirsty, land-stealing, horse-thieving, untrustworthy, sneaky, cowardly killers of young children and unarmed young Apache mothers. Oh, and finally, as sellouts to the Americans who are taking over the Apache homeland. I’m concerned that the book has the potential to fuel the worst stereotypes of Mexicans and (by association) Mexican Americans. Not something a high school librarian (or anyone else) needs.

SiouxGeonz said...

I guess this is a warped twist on the psychological process of "fanfic." Satisfy your emotional needs by fantasizing characters... unfortunately confusing immature fantasy with reality and oh, Buffy the Vampire Slayer with real peoples.