A great writer's journey of exploration in an American place that is both strange and deeply familiar.
In Ian Frazier's bestselling Great Plains, he described meeting a man in New York City named Le War Lance, "an Oglala Sioux Indian from Oglala, South Dakota." In On the Rez, Frazier returns to the plains and focuses on a place at their center-the Pine Ridge Reservation in the prairie and badlands of South Dakota, home of the Oglala Sioux. Frazier drives around "the rez" with Le War Lance and other Oglalas as they tell stories, visit relatives, go to powwows and rodeos and package stores, and try to find parts to fix one or another of their on-the-verge-of-working cars.
On the Rez considers Indian ideas of freedom and community and equality that are basic to how we view ourselves. Most of all, he examines the Indian idea of heroism-its suffering and its pulse-quickening, public-spirited glory. On the Rez portrays the survival, through toughness and humor, of a great people whose culture has shaped our American identity.
When telling non-Indians that he was writing a book about the American Indian, Frazier (Great Plains, etc.) received a nearly unanimous reaction: that the subject sounds bleak. "Oddly," he says, "it is a word I never heard used by Indians themselves." Frazier builds his narrative--or, more deliberately, unpacks it, since he has no discernable plot, chronology or conclusion--around his 20-year friendship with the Indian Le War Lance and the Oglala Sioux of South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation. Though no "wannabe" or "buckskinner," Frazier emulates and reveres "the self-possessed sense of freedom" that he claims is the Indian contribution to the American character, adopted by the earliest European settlers and preserved in our system of government. Frazier's record of his travels with Le War Lance includes the tolls of alcohol, fights and car wrecks (Le claims to have survived 11 of them) and acknowledges the realities as well as the clich s of reservation life. But in his rendering, the calamities of American Indian life are outweighed by the pervasiveness and endurance of that same sense of freedom, a feeling that Frazier captures in his style, his organization, his wonderful eye for detail. Probably no book since Evan S. Connell's Son of the Morning Star has so imaginatively evoked the spirit of the American Indian in American life; like Connell's tours of the Little Bighorn battlefield, Frazier's visits to Pine Ridge and Wounded Knee, and to the descendants of Red Cloud and Black Elk, frame a broad meditation on American history, myth and misconception. Funny and sad, but never bleak, his meandering narrative is, in fact, the composite of many voices and many kinds of history.
Touching and Entertaining
I thought Frazier did a fantastic job with this book. I think this is a better effort than his book Great Plains (which I thoroughly enjoyed). This one is more personal and the coverage of SueAnn Big Crow was wonderful. I recommend without hesitation.