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Ten Little Indians, by Sherman Alexie

February 16, 2012

Ten Little Indians, by Sherman Alexie. Grove Press (2004), 243 pages

Sherman Alexie’s short stories in Ten Little Indians are brilliant, subtle, hilarious, sad, and utterly irreverent.

I found Alexie to be as great a writer as I have been hearing that he is. With his sharp touch, he explores the contradictions within his characters, Indian and non-Indian alike. In critical jargon, he “destabilizes” their identity, asking what does it mean to be an Native American, white, or anything else. He writes about people on the edges of their cultures. And in depicting the contradictions and complexes of his characters, Alexie lays bare those of his readers.

But however Alexie complicates our sense of who we are, his characters never lose their unique Indian identity and their sense that white America has somehow cheated them. Several find ways to translate their bitterness into humor. They never join the amorphous, patriotic, white blob, with which the Tucson school authorities seek obliterate their students’ sense of ethnic identity and oppression, as reported by Gary Young of The Nation magazine.

In any set of short stories, we have favorites, the stories that touch us most deeply. One of my favorites in this collection was about an Indian boy’s mother and the weird group of white women who idealized her and tried to be like her. A cautionary tale for all of us white women. Another was the wonderfully drawn Indian in his pin-striped suit and braids off on a flight both afraid of terrorists and of being considered a terrorist.

My favorite story was about the young college woman who loved books and reading. She is grateful to white teachers, “their whiteness and their goodness blending and separating,” who had helped her know find what she needed to read and learn. She is a “resourceful thief, a narcissistic Robin Hood who sold a rich education from white people and kept it.” At her college library,

The huge number of books confirmed how much magic she’d been denied for most of her life, and now she hungrily wanted to read every book on every shelf.

Her love of poetry by whites is derided by her much-loved father and uncles, and she struggles with being an Indian who loves poetry by white Englishmen. Then she discovers a book of poetry by a man from her own tribe…and the story goes on from there.

I don’t expect those who ban books to be sophisticated thinkers, but I found this selection of theirs particularly ironic. This is anything but a virulent book urging hatred of whites, such as I could expect them to ban. Instead it challenges us to think about the lines we try to draw between categories like red, white, and black. Perhaps, challenging, but not removing, those lines is the most subversive thing anyone can do—and Alexie does it well.

I heartily recommend this book to everyone.

One Comment leave one →
  1. eileen permalink
    July 5, 2012 8:03 pm

    There IS NO “FREEDOM” if ANY Books are banned!!!!

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