The review of Sherman Alexie’s book: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, in which he reflects about the experience of being a native American.
I have stumbled upon this book and specifically picked it up because it has a foreword by Markus Zusak so I thought, why not? Sherman Alexie seems to have written a novel that looks more like a reflection of his own childhood, an autobiography of some sort. Alexie was born on a reservation in Washington State. He was born Spokane Indian, just like Arnold Spirit Jr. the main character of his novel. Or Junior as he is known on the reservation that’s called the “Rez”. The main character speaks directly to the readers and he also illustrates some of the events that are mentioned in the book. Junior grows up on the reservation being beaten up most of the time because of how he looks and speaks. One day Junior gets frustrated and throws a book that hits his geometry teacher in the face. When Junior gets suspended, the teacher visits him and suggests he leaves the school on the Rez and move to another school because he is a very promising student.
Junior switches to another school and that’s when people on the reservation turn their backs on him because they see him as a traitor and a hypocrite. The people in the new school do not make him feel welcomed and that’s when Junior starts feeling like he lives in two different worlds. One is full of white people who look at him differently, and the other is full of his own people who do not see him as one of them anymore.
The language in the book is very flowy and easy, and maybe that’s because the novel is a combination of written words and drawings. The book is very authentic in terms of the story it portrays. How many of us have thought of looking into the literature that represents the struggles of Native Americans? The novel was very humorous when it needed to be, and brutal and gritty when it was required.
The novel discusses themes of identity, poverty, hopes, tradition and mortality. Arnold’s transfer to another school where people like him do not exist is a journey on its own. He sees himself as two different people every time he has to move between the two locations, the farm school, and the reservation. Poverty as a theme was very raw and memorable. Poverty at the “Rez” is not an individual issue, but one that actually affects the entire community as a whole. Poverty as a theme doesn’t affect Junior as a character, but it was an inspiration for him to fight for a better life. Tradition was a very tangible theme in the novel and the way families tended to stay in one place was one of the proofs provided by Junior throughout the novel. Even though he is only fourteen, [SPOILET ALERT] he had witnessed so many deaths of his loved ones over and over again throughout the novel. The deaths in the novel are either a result of alcoholism or poverty, which paints the novel with an element of darkness, which in my opinion has given the novel a unique flavour of honesty and authenticity.
Would I recommend this book? Absolutely yes! There are so many reasons to pick this book up. Some books do not feel like books at all, but they feel like breathing living organisms. The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian is one of them. It enables its readers to feel heartbreak and happiness simultaneously over and over again. And if this is not enough, the tone, the memorable characters, the themes and the idea of reading something written by a Native American about Native Americans could be a reason on its own! Five stars to one of my favourite books in 2016.
Maitha Almuhairi (@Maithani)
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