"The reading experience of a lifetime ..."--The Washington Post
The National Book Award winner takes readers inside the epic fighting retreat of the Nez Perce Indians
In this new installment in his acclaimed series of novels examining the collisions between Native Americans and European colonizers, William T. Vollmann tells the story of the Nez Perce War, with flashbacks to the Civil War. Defrauded and intimidated at every turn, the Nez Perces finally went on the warpath in 1877, subjecting the U.S. Army to its greatest defeat since Little Big Horn as they fled from northeast Oregon across Montana to the Canadian border. Vollmann’s main character is not the legendary Chief Joseph, but his pursuer, General Oliver Otis Howard, the brave, shy, tormented, devoutly Christian Civil War veteran. In this novel, we see him as commander, father, son, husband, friend, and killer.
Teeming with many vivid characters on both sides of the conflict, and written in an original style in which the printed page works as a stage with multiple layers of foreground and background, The Dying Grass is another mesmerizing achievement from one of the most ambitious writers of our time.
The Nez Perce War of 1877 lies at the center of Vollmann's epic new novel, the fifth volume in his series Seven Dreams: A Book of North American Landscapes, and the first since 2001's Argall. Not surprisingly, given its length, it also offers a panoramic view of the era and the decades leading up to it. Seventy-plus years of abuse toward the Nez Perce are stingingly presented in a chapter of quotations from famous Americans of the time period. Vollmann's prose is evocative and often lyrical, trailing down the pages like free verse. Scores of characters in different but interconnected settings contribute to a tapestry, much like that of John Dos Passos's U.S.A. trilogy. In the spring of 1877, General Oliver Howard is viewing a "city of tents" called The Dalles, formerly a Native American stronghold and bazaar for various tribes. Howard becomes the nominal protagonist, more accurately the book's linchpin, as the war proceeds on multiple fronts. By July, what has been projected as an easy fight becomes a nightmare of small skirmishes against the resourceful Nez Perce, led by Howard's archenemy Chief Joseph. He and his tribesmen call the Americans bluecoats. Ultimately, the superior resources of the U.S. Army prevail, in a war of attrition hastened by infighting among the tribes. To his credit, Volllman is as interested in context and history as in storytelling. Almost 200 pages of notes, maps, and background documents follow the narrative proper, encouraging a deeper read. This massive novel is sometimes challenging, but ultimately rewarding.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Than the hardcover. Go Judge Cote go.
Well written historical fiction!
I received a copy of this for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
This is a looooooooooong read! But an interesting one for sure. The author has a very unique writing style. He tells the story in letters, journal entries, and campfire conversations. This has the effect of really making you feel like you are there. It takes you straight back into the past with all it's glory and flaws. He makes the historical figures flesh and blood. You hear their prejudices and doubts as well as their boasts and brags.
I would add that I found his view of the past to have an interesting effect on me. Being "in the head" of some of the historical figures presented in the book was often a bit much. Their racist point of views and views of women were significantly different than you get in most modern novels. I often had to take a step back and come back again later to read more.
This is something that I do applaud him for because I feel that it is exactly how life was back then. Those thoughts and actions were normal. Too often in fiction, writers will cover everything up and apply modern thinking to a time period where it is anachronistic to do so. There are no real heroes hanging out in this novel. Just people.
If you are looking for cowboys riding into the sunset, or a light, breezy read you should pick another book. If however, you are looking for an indepth, well-researched novel that will take you into another time period completely, you should give this one a shot.
Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction and westerns.