Saturday, April 24, 2010

On the Rez - Ian Frazier

The fact that it took me about five months to finish this book is a pretty good reflection of my thoughts about it. I orginally picked up this book, by regular New Yorker contributor Frazier, because it focuses on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota - the most impoverished reservation in the United States. I was interested in learning more about the Lakota, Oglala Sioux past, and about how people are living on the reservation today. The book is billed as just this - Frasier's observations and research about the reservation. In addition, Frasier seeks to demonstrate the hero culture of the Lakota - their reverance for heroes, and their desperate need for heroes in a culture that has been systematically destroyed by the United States government. Frasier's history is thorough, and his respect for the Sioux lends itself to a thoughtful and rich narrative about their culture. But, it did not seem as if Frasier had a unifying idea about where he wanted this book to go, or necessarily what story he wanted to tell. He talks about several individuals he has befriended on the reservation - not all painted in the most positive light. And then, about half-way through the book, he dives into the story of a female high-school basketball star in the community, who tragically dies, but not before she brings hope to the reservation. The book seemed disjointed, which is probably why I had a difficult time sticking to it. Frasier succeeds in presenting the brutal reality of hte life on the reservation - of demonstrating the effects of poverty, alcoholism, and uncertainly on the Oglala people. I think the book I wanted to read would have focused more on the Oglala individuals - tralking about their own pasts, what being a part of the nation means to them, and what they want for the future of their people. I think there are a lot of other books out there that will help me piece together the history and the narratives that I'm looking for - Frasier's book isn't the entire picture, but it's certainly started me on my way.

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