Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Ann Turner's note in FATHER OF LIES

Three Turtles and Their Pet Librarian posted a review of Ann Turner's Father of Lies. The book is about the Salem witch trials. In their review (dated Feb 24, 2011), they feature an excerpt from an author's note in the book:
The opinions about Native Americans expressed in this novel only reflect the historical record and not this author's beliefs. They are important to understanding this period. In Chapters Nineteen and Twenty-Seven, some of the responses in the witch trials are taken directly from the historical transcripts of the trials."
They go on to note what Turner's note refers to:
Truthfully, there is very little mention of Native Americans at all in the book, and it comes in the form of comments you would expect from the townspeople of that time - (from an 'afflicted' girl) "I vow the Devil was tall, dark, and wicked looking, like our enemies the Indians, with an evil heart inside." 
I have several thoughts on Turner's note.

Ann Turner wrote a book in Scholastic's Dear America series. Titled The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow: The Diary of Sarah Nita, a Navajo Girl, New Mexico, 1864, it was soundly critiqued by Beverly Slapin in A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children (by the way, A Broken Flute is a key resource and is now available in ebook from Googlebooks). In that book, Turner tried--and failed--to write from the perspective of a Dine (Navajo) child. She also failed in her attempt to write from the perspective of Sitting Bull in her book Sitting Bull Remembers. Slapin's review of Sitting Bull Remembers is here.

I wonder if those critiques prompted Turner to include the note pointing out the opinions her character expresses are from a historical transcript and not her own creation? Either way, I think it is useful to include the note. It points readers to historical documents, and that's a good thing to do. My copy of the book hasn't arrived yet, but when I get it, I'll say more about the documents. I hope she provides titles of them elsewhere in her note or in a bibliography. I'd like to read that transcript. I did a quick search using "the Devil was talk, dark, and wicked looking" and didn't find anything.

That said, it is important to point out that the note itself says that the opinions reflect "the historical record." In fact, there is more than one historical record. Turner is referring to the historical record of the white people in Salem Village in Massachusetts in 1692. Her note would be far better if she said she is referring to "a historical record." There were, of course, many Native villages all through that area. I doubt that they would liken themselves to the Puritan's Devil. Their historical record, in other words, is not the same as the one of the white people in Salem Village. 
At her website, Ann Turner has a page about her young adult books. There, she's got a "Coming in 2009" section that says:
--Father of Lies ---a novel set in the time of the Salem Witch Trials, but with a difference: the heroine has s [sic] disorder which gives her an eye of truth into the lies of the village; HarperCollins, Fall, 2009.

Turner tells us that in Father of Lies, she is doing something different. As she said on her website, her heroine has an eye for truth into the lies told by people in the village. I guess the heroine doesn't have an eye for the truth about Native people...  Or maybe we're to believe that all the people in the village believed Indians had evil hearts. I suppose that is possible, but if Ann Turner is doing something different already, wouldn't it have been cool if her heroine could see through the village "truths" about Indians, too?


Ami said...

It wasn't the heroine who made the comment I quoted, but one of the supposedly afflicted girls. The heroine has no contact with Native Americans of the area and makes no coment on them herself. She does identify with Tituba, the slave from Barbados who figures so prominently in the trials, and considers her a friend.

Debbie Reese said...


I'm guessing the heroine listened to the testimony being given by the afflicted girl. Would it have been possible for her, with her ability, to have thought to herself that, based on her relationship with Tituba, she knows that what the afflicted girl says is not true?

Polenth said...

Unless I'm missing something, the Google version of The Broken Flute isn't a full ebook. It's a preview of a few pages and it doesn't look like there's an ebook version available for sale. Maybe it's only available for Americans?

Debbie Reese said...


When you have the preview page open, do you see (on the left) an option to buy it at bookstores? Just above it (if I remember correctly) there was an option to buy it as an e-book from Google. I've got two hard cover copies of it that I use all the time, but seeing it in e-book means I don't have to hunt for it when I'm working on an essay or review.

I bought it for $30 or so. And it is the entire book. Just now, I did some e-book flipping around and am looking at Dovie Thomason's essay, A Cultural Encounter.

Polenth said...

No, there's no link like that. I tried it through an American proxy server and the buy link did come up. So looks like it's area limited.