[Note: This review may not be published elsewhere without written permission of its author, Beverly Slapin.]
Landman, Tanya, Apache Girl Warrior.
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.
[Note from Debbie: Bruchac's book is available from Oyate.]