Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Review: "Indian Killer"

I finished reading Sherman Alexie's Indian Killer several days ago. I'm still not entirely sure what to make of it, but I'll make an attempt at a review. In truth, I think that this book is even more difficult to review that Alexie's other book that I have read, The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian, and that one was a tough one to review.

The book is about a young man, John Smith. John is an Indian who was adopted shortly after his birth by a white couple. We do not know much about his childhood, but it was apparently a mostly happy one albeit with a good dose of cultural confusion thrown into the mix due to being a person of color with white parents.

This mostly happy child turns into an adult who is not only a recluse, but who also suffers from a mental illness. He pushes himself away from his white parents and comes to view all whites as the enemy. He eventually becomes a killer Indian, or Indian Killer.

But enough describing the plot itself.

The book is well written, though I found it disturbing. I personally would probably have not finished reading it if it were not a school assignment. (By contrast, I just talked to a classmate on the bus who said that she loved it.) I can't quite put my finger on what bothered me, but it probably has something to do with the character John Smith.

On the upside, the book does raise interesting questions about race and racism: Is it only racism if it is whites who are prejudiced against people of color, but not the other way around? Is it appropriate for white parents to adopt a child of another race? Are stereotypes about Indians really accurate, even if they are positive stereotypes, do they in fact hurt Indians? How much blood does a person need to be considered Indian? And what makes an Indian Indian?

I think the book answers each of these questions, but it answers those questions from many -- conflicting -- viewpoints. In the end, the reader has to decide for themselves what the answer(s) might be.

The plot itself is well thought out and well written. There are many different individuals who lives touch each other in the book, and who each come to the story with their own preconceptions about Indians. Marie, a Spokane Indian who is going to college and takes a Native American Literature class so that she can challenge her professor. Dr. Mather, her professor, a white who considers himself an Indian but who is actually pretty clueless. David, his student and Marie's classmate, who has never spoken to an Indian before and comes from a family who despises them. There's Reggie, a former student of Dr. Mather's and a cousin of Marie's, a Native American young man whose mother is Indian but whose father was determined to raise him pure white. And let's not forget Truck, a radio talk show host whose opinion is violently against Native Americans and who seizes on the murders of white men to stir up hatred against Indians.

Thrown together, these characters (and more!) make for a fascinating read and a plot you won't forget any time soon.

In conclusion, it is a good book, and I do recommend it if you want to explore what Native American identity is and face some tough questions. However, be forewarned, you should brace yourself. Hopefully you'll find it an enjoyable read like my classmate did. But you might find it more disturbing than enjoyable, as I did.

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