34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 2005
Fans of R. A. Lafferty (1914-2002) can make a very strong case for him as the greatest American author who has ever lived. Yet even so, he has always been an little-known author and now seems fading towards total obscurity. Both in the speculative fiction community and in the world of 'serious' literature, few of even the most devoted fans will recognize his name. If Lafferty does drop out of people's awareness entirely, the world will lose more than merely a lot of great books. Lafferty's body of work, produced in a amazingly short thirteen years, is one of the great creative achievements of the human race.
"Okla Hannali", not even viewed as one of Lafferty's better novels, is a stunning achievement. Every element of the author's craft is used to near perfection: plot, character, setting, emotional arch, and language. And language. No review could do justice to Lafferty's brilliance with words, yet I must try.
"Okla Hannali" is written in many voices. An individual paragraph may sound entirely different from the next, with different vocabulary and different structure. Yet as with all of Lafferty, there is an enormous amount of method behind the madness. The voices Lafferty chooses are at every time the appropriate voices. They are the words, the styles, the flows that are exactly right for communicating the story. Lafferty set out to tell the history of the Choctaw people. To do so he had to overcome both the racist view of Indians as savages and the romanticized view of them as peace-loving and perfect. Crushing these barriers meant using some odd linguistic styles.
For instance, Lafferty tells us early on that the Choctaws never understood punctuation, and simply spoke in a stream of words without clear starts and ends. He captures this style:
"Pushmataha say that I leave my grin there grinning at him and walk out from behind it and take a ramble and a drink and a nap all the while he was hold his breath and swell up and turn purple and then I come back rested and slip into my grin again and so have him tricked"
Is reading this difficult? That's your call, of course, but you get used to it as the book goes along. But this is important. Lafferty wants to show you what life was like among the Choctaw Indians. What life was really really like.
Of course Lafferty would never settle for merely so small a goal. There is purpose here. The purpose is to document the abuses that were heaped on the Indians during the eighteenth century, bu the government. To show that no matter what excuses are offered up, there's no decent explanation for what was done to the Native American tribes in these years. And to that end, Lafferty fights with every imaginable weapon: understatement, overstatement, misdirection, fantasy sequences, subplots, historical notes, and more. Most often, though, he tells the truth. For instance when the Indians assess the land that the government tricked them into accepting in Oklahoma:
"They examined the land to the south for a month. They all realized now - (what the worldly of them had always known) - that the north-south distance was about a third of that represented to them, and that the unidsputed domain of the Plains Indians was much closer than they had been told. Three quarters of the land for which they had traded their southern acres did not exist."
R. A. Lafferty believed in things. He believed strongly, believed passionately, and fought to make readers see things his way. "Okla Hannali" is a majestic novel (though as I said it's not even one of his better books) It swings from outrageous comedy to terrible tragedy to poignant romance to gritty action so deftly that you don't notice till the end that the entire world, for one group of people was destroyed.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on September 21, 2000
A well written and engrossing story of a society and people depicted through an account of the life and experiences of a notable and idealized prominent tribal character, Okla Hannali. The main character's experiences and views embody and illustrate the ideals and principles of a developed yet, beset people. The character parallels the people's adaptation, acquiescence, manipulation and eventual conquest by accommodation of the factors which beset them.
The Choctaw evaluate and accommodate the pressure of the immigrant American drive to acquire their native lands. The tribal people adapt by shifting their territory and preserving their society in a new area. They master the new lands and restructure their society again in the area newly adopted.
The reader feels empathy with the Choctaw. The book gives new understanding and experience of the people. Their blended culture exists today in the area described in the book. It is real.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 1998
My old copy of this book is held together with a rubber band because I've read it so often, and haven't been able to find another copy anywhere. Sensitive insight into the Choctaw experience during their removal to Oklahoma. A must read for anyone interested in American Indians or American history: highly recommended for those simply looking for the story of an endearing man.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on November 7, 1997
I have bought and given away several paperback copies of this book. It mixes actual historical characters and events with fictionalones to tell an important era in Indian and Oklahioma history.
It isespecially good in pointing out the racist and genocidal policies of Andrew Jackson who should be equated with
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2000
As a life time lover of books, I now give book reviews. Years ago, I found "Okla Hannali" in a state lodge book store. I first reviewed it for a group of federated women. Some of them were teachers, and I was invited to give it to two high schools. In all, I probably gave it a dozen times and it was always well received. There was laughter, and at the end when the old chief died, there were tears. Recently, one of my daughters-in-law, who is part Choctaw, discovered it and tells me it is being taught in a class at the University of Oklahoma at Norman.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 1996
R A Lafferty is a uniquely talented writer, and OKLA
HANNALI is one of his best novels. Okla Hannali is a
historical figure, a Choctaw Indian who survived the Trail
of Tears expulsion of the Indians from the American South
to become a leader of his people in the Indian Territories
(now Oklahoma, Lafferty's home). Lafferty combines tall
tales, whimsy, and history to tell the story in an
inimitable fashion. An earlier paperback edition featured
a recommendation from Dee Brown (of I BURIED MY HEART AT
WOUNDED KNEE) on the back cover. Highly recommended.
- Brian Youmans
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 1997
"Okla Hannali" is one of the two or three best books I have ever read, and absolutely the best book about Indians--and it was written by a white guy, and a science-fiction writer at that.
This book is funny, factual, and fascinating. It should be required reading for high-school students, as it presents a fresh and realistic perspective on both American history of the era and life among the Indians of the Southeast.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 9, 1997
If you enjoyed Lafferty's "science fiction" but aren't sure that you'd like an historical novel about Native Americans, go ahead and buy this book anyway. You won't regret it.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 10, 2008
Some books can have an effect on readers that makes them read slower and slower along the line. It's because they want it never to end.
This is such a book. The mingle of history, American Indian traditions, myth, mirth and deep tragedy, all woven around the bigger than life protagonist Okla Hannali, makes one aware of every word written.
I think R.A. Lafferty has the unique capacity to make history, even at its most tragic moments a rare feast to live through.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 2011
Lafferty's science fictional tall tales are excellent in short form but have a hard time working at novel length. But this historical novel has no such problem. It's the story of the Choctaw indians from the viewpoint of a man whose life spans the nineteenth century. It's sort of like Little Big Man, but better. It uses Lafferty's tall-tale prose techniques and yet, unlike his fanciful stuff, it remains grounded and real and believable. Lafferty has written a lot of terrific stuff, but this is the only one that should be required reading for all, instead of just for a cult audience.