As is the case with Tingle's other books, his storytelling voice radiates from the printed words in his books. Here's the first and last lines in the first paragraph of House of Purple Cedar:
The hour has come to speak of troubled times. It is time we spoke of Skullyville.The character saying those words is a Choctaw woman named Rose Goode. She's speaking in 1967. The troubled time she speaks of is the late 1800s when she was a young girl. The troubled times themselves? There are many. A boarding school for Choctaw girls burns down, killing 20 girls inside. At the train station, a racist town marshall attacks an elderly Choctaw man in front of his grandchildren, striking him with a plank, for no reason. There's domestic abuse in the story, too.
Lot of troubling things happen, but the ugliness that births such horrors does not suck the air or life from the story Tingle tells. Instead, his story is peopled with goodness like the traveler at the train station who helps that elderly man to his feet, and Maggie, a shopkeeper in town who will play a big part in the story.
There's goodness in endearing characters like Rose's grandparents, Amafo and Pokoni. Amafo is the elderly man at the train station. News of what happened to him at the train station ripples out to Choctaws for miles around. Rose and her brother get him home. People gather there. What will they do? The school is not the only thing that was set afire. Many homes were also burned down. People are angry. Others are afraid.
There's lot of talk as the night wears on. Amafo listens quietly. Rose and Pokoni have been busy all evening cooking and feeding the people who have come to help them, to be with them. After midnight, Pokoni sits to rest. Amafo gets up and makes her some cocoa. It is one of the many moments in this book, of kindness and caring, that warms my heart. Then, Amafo talks to the Choctaws gathered there in his home. He says:
"Marshall Hardwicke expects me to stay far away from town. And if I did, this would all be forgotten. But I will never forget this day and my grandchildren will never forget this day."Amafo has a plan. He will not show fear. He will go back to town.
Tingle's story is engrossing and inspiring. His characters will linger in your mind when you set his book down and move about your day. There's Choctaw spirituality and Christian hymns, too. There's Choctaw words, and English words. Throughout, there is a confidence in humanity.
I highly recommend House of Purple Cedar. Published in 2014 by Cinco Puntos Press, it received the kind of praise that writers hold especially dear. Gary Hobson, an esteemed scholar of Native literature, called Tingle's book a "crowning achievement" of excellence amongst Choctaw writings of the last fifteen years. Saying again: I highly recommend House of Purple Cedar.