“What is it like to be a Spokane Indian without wild salmon? It is like being a Christian if Jesus had never rolled back the stone and risen from his tomb.”
I wasn’t a huge fan of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian but I heard such wonderful things about Sherman Alexie’s memoir for his mother that I had to give it a read. It took me a long time to read this one, partly because I kept getting distracted by other things but also because its repetitive, choppy style lent itself well to starting and stopping over the course of several weeks. I’m not a huge poetry fan but it is hard to deny Alexie’s talent; several people have mentioned the audio-book really brings these poems to life and perhaps I will check that out at a later date.
“yet, I have spent my literary career writing loving odes to my drunken and unreliable father. I have, in a spectacular show of hypocrisy, let my father off the hook for his lifetime of carelessness. That is completely unfair to my mother.”
Sherman had a shit childhood. He grew up on a poor reservation in Washington to even poorer parents. He grew up wanting for so much which left physical and emotional scars. His father was an alcoholic and his mother was a liar. His mother recently passed away and Sherman is still working through a lot of his pain. And there is a lot of pain.
Through 78 essays and 78 poems Sherman does an excellent job of painting his mother, who died at 78, as a deeply flawed but deeply sympathetic character. She told her son she was the product of a rape but she was really the child of an affair. Named after her birth father’s wronged wife! In the sad reality Lillian was the rape victim whose first child, Sherman’s half sister, was the child born from a crime. Lillian could have had a different life, she married a man who was happy to raise her daughter as her own but she left him; she missed her rez and her husband wouldn’t follow her or else he’d miss his. She lost another daughter to a fire and lost Sherman to the outside world. Sherman unravels the narrative his mother left him, deciphering the truths and lies, by listening to other family members’ memories.
The most sickening part of Lillian’s story is how the United States poisoned the people near Wellpinit with abandoned uranium mines that leached into the air and water.
Lillian died of cancer.
Sherman will most likely die of cancer.
So will his siblings.
The things we have done to the indigenous people of America is sickening.