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on May 31, 2001
I read this book for a summer class, and was therefore under a strict time constraint. Had I read it more leisurely, I may well have dropped the book as too much work for a casual read.
I'm very, very glad I stuck with it.
At first, the book's use of Pikuni concepts to describe common objects like the sun, moon, and animals is a bit disconcerting: the extra layer of decoding can be daunting, and I'm still not sure what a couple of the animals were supposed to be (I'm from New York, and plead ignorance regarding Western wildlife). However, a third of the way into the book I found myself hooked, and found that language decision to have been an effective means of drawing me into the characters and situations.
Other reviews address the historical context of the book. Look at [the internet] to get an idea of the events this book will cover, with more or less detailed attention to historical accuracy.
I came at it from a perspective of empathy and entertainment. The title character is very human, and rife with embarassing little secrets that allow us to identify with his struggles. Other characters are particularly human, and demonstrate the negative effects of bottling up secrets versus the positive side of sharing them and facing one's failings.
I suppose this review doesn't make sense without having read the book, which makes it a failure as a review. Well, here are some positive aspects of the book: Visceral confrontations will make your heart pound; Conflicting perspectives of 19th-century Euro-American western expansion will make your head pound; The cruelty of individuals among both the Pikuni and the Napikwan (whites) will make your heart ache.
If you find Native American culture at all fascinating, read this book. If you don't know a whit about Native American culture, read this book. If you've been turned off to Native American culture due to your school system's inadeqate handling of their perspective, read this book.
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on December 7, 2000
It is hard to know what to say about this book. It is centered around the story of a young Blackfoot who journeys from the name White Man's Dog to Fools Crow. (If you don't understand that, but are intrigued--definitely read this book.)

The writing is done in third person, but with a twist. It is a Native American voice that tells their story, using their words and using their paradigms to describe the world and events going on around them. I think the strength of this book is the amount of questions it leaves in its wake. How could we do this to these people? Can we make amends? Should we? Is that just the way of the world? What does the future and present hold for Native Americans? Have we, the Napikwans, wrought a world so completely devoid of sprituality and the power of dreams? Can we change that? So many questions, but the reader is left to ponder the answers.

I disagree that this book is not what high school students need to be reading! The fact that the book delves so deeply into the power of dreams (the line between real life and dreams is very thin, if not non-existent) and leaves the reader with so many questions, makes me think it should be required reading.

Who else believes so strongly in themselves and their dreams or is more open to question their reality than high school students?

No, this book is not an epic, but it is a good story about the things we lost and things we did as Americans on our way towards the 'Manifest Destiny'. I would recommend this book for those people who want to see Dances with Wolves from the other perspective.
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VINE VOICEon February 23, 2005
When I signed up for Native American Literature, I must confess that I had a preconceived notion that the assigned literature might be drab and depressing. The only Indian lit I had read previously was Leslie Marmon Silko, and while I can appreciate talent, I simply didn't like it. But "Fools Crow" by James Welch? PHENOMENAL!!!

Once you get the hang of the language he uses, you are absolutely transported to the plains where this coming-of-age story takes place.

What's unique about Welch is that he doesn't sentimentalize the plight of the Indians. He just tells a story, and a damn good one at that.

I don't want to give away the title and where it comes from, but I can sincerely say that this great story will give the reader a sense of the turmoil that was going on with Indian/white relations and perhaps give way to a new way of thinking.
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on November 11, 2005
In 1967, bored with a steady diet of History classes, I enrolled in a Creative Writing class taught by Dick Hugo (University of Montana). There I became acquainted with a young Native American student/poet by the name of Jim Welch. He was a charming and gentle,shy soul. His poetry dwarfed the clumsy efforts of most of his classmates. Of course when he began to publish, I read each of his works as soon as I could get my hands on them. His voice is as authentic as you can find, to the point that it allows a "Napikwan" to live the life of a 19th century plains Indian. Having grown up among those same landscapes as are the settings for his novels, I can attest that he captures both the mood and the power of Blackfeet country, but in a way that we of the European descent simply do not normally see or feel. Fools crow somehow helped me see my world with the eyes of an American Indian and I believe that having experienced that I began life anew. Fools Crow is Jim Welch's masterpiece - and it should be mandatory reading. Follow up with his last novel - The Heartsong of Charging Elk. These two books should lead you to reexamine the way you view the world. We have lost James Welch, the person now - far too soon, but I believe that his work will continue to teach, and to affect, untold generations to come.
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on October 2, 2000
We're all familiar with the story of the American Indians, especially the buffalo-hunting Plains Indians. Yet Welch succeeds in covering this topic in a style and perspective that is still remarkably fresh. Even though previous works have tried in recent years to pull us into the lifestyle of the Native Americans, no writer has succeeded to the degree of Welch.
Through his use of Blackfeet Indian terminology, his concise writing style, his depiction of the tribe's mythology through dream sequences, and countless other elements, the reader is truly pulled into the lives of the Pikunis as they struggle to survive against disease and the encroachment of white settlers from the east. When I read of the local chiefs meeting with officers of the U.S. military, the white Americans truly felt like outsiders to me even as they were portrayed accurately. I felt that I understood the motivations of the majority of the Pikunis who simply wanted peace with dignity, as well as the minority that cried vehemently for war. Welch's perspective allows us for a moment to transcend politics.
Through this remarkably immersive portrait of Native American life, Welch tells one of the most tragic stories the world has yet witnessed, perhaps made more tragic by our knowing that it is indeed a true story. Present throughout the book is the overriding tone of inevitability that causes us to ask, "Why bother?" Much like Hamlet pondering the death of Yorick and the nature of death itself, so too we find ourselves contemplating the nature of an Indian society we know to be doomed from the start. Nonetheless, even as we recognize the onset of the defeat we know so well, we learn of how the traditions can still be protected, and we gain a greater appreciation for a culture most of us know little about.
In my opinion, Welch succeeded thoroughly in his work. When he experimented with dream sequences that were at times bizarre, he still accomplished his purpose and carried his message effectively. My only real qualm about this work is that it depicts an Indian group most people already have a good deal of familiarity with--the Plains Indians. It might have been more interesting for such a thoughtful depiction to consider a less well-known group. On the other hand, Fools Crow might very well be the definitive work on this semi-legendary segment of American history. In any case, any informed American is obliged to read this work.
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on October 19, 1999
I have been using Fools Crow for a program, "The American West," for the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. It is a dense work, packed with insights into the condition of Northern Plains Indians. Parts of it are undoubtedly fiction, but they could be true. We look into the material and non-material lifeways of the Blackfoot people. It helps to know something of the ethnography of the Plains Indians, but there is much there for everyone. I use it in conjunction with Zane Gray's Riders of the Purple Sage and Edward Abbey's The Brave Cowboy. They make a great trilogy on the West of the 19th and 20th Century. They are fictional works set in real landscapes.
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on May 1, 2000
I enjoyed this novel immensely, reading it during a three-month stretch where I read nothing but westerns. This book is a lovely, well-drawn portrait of Plains Indian life, with a protagonist who is interesting, likable, and human.
Beyond the insights the novel gives to American Indian culture and daily life, it does an excellent job with the elegy of a dying people. The Pikunis are at the edge of the end -- their way of life may be ending and they are powerless against the inexorable advance of the white man's future.
Definitely recommended. A solid, thought-provoking book.
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on October 1, 2000
Fools Crow allowed me a historical view of the disintegration of the Native Americans in a unique and realistic way that I have never seen before. It convincincly recreates the Native American way of life and brings the reader into the culture using original and translated words such as "Napikiwan" for the white man and "Night-Red-Light" for moon. Also, Fools Crow is a coming-of-age story. It follows the young and unlucky White Man's Dog on his journey into manhood. His rebellious and angry foil, Fast Horse, adds another viewpoint to the novel. As a whole I enjoyed this book, but I disliked a few important parts. James Welch uses an unusual narration style that is not always successful. He is unable to pull off some characters, such as Raven; however, the shifting narration does add to the book as a whole in an effort to create a more complete and accurate portrayal. In addition, dreams are a key part of this book, but some dream sequences are completely confusing, leaving the reader to question their reality. I liked Welch's clear and precise writing style and his interesting characters. I found the names of the his characters to be especially fascinating because they describe the character in some way, an aspect of culture no longer found today. This book was definently worthwile to read. It entirely changed my perspective on the expansion into the West and I highly recommend it.
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on March 24, 2005
Like many reviewers, I was assigned this book to read in an American Indian Lit class at the University. I was in "read and regurgitate" mode, so I cracked the book and began to jot down salient points to possibly discuss for the coming lecture. But speed was of the essence. I had an obscene pile of books to read, and this was just one of many.

But Welch's masterpiece (I use that term literally; his other works have not resonated with me nearly as much) demanded a deep, personal reading. The eloquent language and well-crafted story pulled me deep into the place he'd so carefully created.

It took me a lot longer to read Fools Crow than it should have. I simply didn't want it to end. Never before have I savored a book like I did this one. Part of it, admittedly, was the people and the time and the circumstances. I figured it could not possibly end well. I just did not want the imagery Welch built with his words to end (in my mind).

My copy of Fools Crow is pretty battered now. When people come into my library and ask about a good book, it's the first one off the shelf. I've loaned it out numerous times and, unlike some other books, I always get it back.

Almost uniformly, it's because the person I've loaned the book to has bought their own copy.
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This novel portrays brilliantly the depletion of the Indian way of life. It has a beautiful, detailed description of life for the Native Americans and also the destruction of their people, through the eyes of those people. This novel has helped me understand what no other book on this topic has: the sufferings of the Indians and their struggle to keep their land and their beliefs. The Honors English teacher at GFHS made an excellent choice in deciding to add this to our curriculum this year. I commend her. She has opened up my eyes and my mind to different societies and their people. Thank you. And for all of those people who are interested in this book: Read It! You won't regret it.
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