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Roofwalker, by Susan Power.

January 9, 2014

Roofwalker, by Susan Power.  Milkweed Editions (2004), Paperback, 224 pages.


 A compelling collection of stories, some fictional and others historically true, by an urban Native American woman.

 Susan Power is a Dakota Woman who has lived most of her life in Chicago, while remaining strongly connected to her identity as a Native American. In this book she tells the stories about herself and other urban Indians.  Whether fictional or true, her stories are quirky and insightful.  They prove that although many Native Americans now live in cities, they have not assimilated and disappeared.

 I always find short stories hard to review, especially when they are as varied as Power’s.  There is no unifying plot to describe, and I simply can’t write about each story.  All I can do is provide the flavor of a few of them.  A common theme is Indians holding on to their identity as they adapt and cope with urban living.  All the stories contain unexpected elements that sharply reveal the complexity of actual human experiences.  Bits of an Indian version of magical realism surface here and there.

 Power writes about a ten-year-old girl trying to deal with the departure of her father.  Another is about a young pregnant woman who loves her man, even though he beats her.  Several of the stories focus on elderly women and men, coping with illness and eminent death by remembering.  As one of them observes,”On the reservation, memory is a sap that runs deep in the blood.  The community memory is long preserving ancient jealousies, enmities, and alliances until they become traditional.”  My favorite story was about a young Dakota woman attending Harvard and realizing that “to remain Indian in this world one must learn to accommodate contradictions.”  She searches for Caleb Cheeshateaumuck, who graduated from there in the 1600s and was featured in Caleb’s Crossing which I just read and reviewed.  When she finds his ghost he is discarding all the languages that he had learned at Harvard.

 The historical stories are written with the same tone and mood as the fictional ones.  The difference is that they are explicitly autobiographical.  Power describes herself as a girl, developing a sense of Lake Michigan as her home place.  She writes in glowing terms about her mother, a strong woman whom Power could never hope to emulate. “I am her small shadow and witness. I am the timid daughter who can rage only on paper.”  Constantly telling stories, her mother grounded her in Dakota traditions.  When Power seeks inspiration for her writing, it is still her mother’s voice that she hears.

alone and ensured that she was grounded in native traditions.   She was constantly telling her daughter stories; stories which Power has retold and lived by.

 I heartily recommend this book even for those who don’t usually appreciate short stories.  Anyone who thinks that Native Americans have simply assimilated and disappeared must read this book.

Also recommended.  Grass Dancer, Susan Power.  I read when it first appeared in 1994. and still remember its power.

Unintentionally I find myself reading and reviewing a cluster of native American books, all of them very good, but differing in the way they tell their stories.  Some are fiction and others solid historical studies, conceived and written in exciting new ways.  Here are the links to the reviews I have written and titles of the books I will review in the near future.

Katy Gale, by Llyn De Dannon.

Caleb’s Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks.

Roofwalker, by Susan Power.

DreadfulWater Appears, by Thomas King.

A Lenape among Quakers, by Dawn Marsh.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 10, 2014 8:31 am

    This sounds really good and I was thrilled to see your list at the end, as I’ve just finished The Inconvenient Indian & am in the mood for more Native American stuff.

  2. January 11, 2014 12:59 pm

    Kitty Gale and Lenape among Quakers are wonderful example of how “new” history can be written about the “invisible.” I think you would enjoy the method as well as the content.

    • January 12, 2014 1:37 am

      Ohhh: sounds like it. Of course the only one my library has from your list is Roofwalker (and DreadfulWater, which I’ve already read). :/ When I have some ILL requests free I’ll try to get the Gale & Lenape!

  3. aartichapati permalink
    January 11, 2014 1:39 pm

    I’ve been trying to find more books by Native Americans to read, too – definitely will add Susan Power to the list! Thanks for the tip.


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