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On the Rez Paperback – May 4, 2001

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (May 4, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312278594
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312278595
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #216,111 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Given that the Great Plains long functioned as a stomping ground for the Oglala Sioux, it was inevitable that Ian Frazier would cross paths with them when he wrote his 1989 chronicle of that sublime flatland. But the encounter between the self-confessed "chintzy middle-class white guy" and his Native American counterparts went so swimmingly that Crazy Horse assumed a starring role in the book. Now Frazier continues his cross-cultural romance in On the Rez. This account of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota is as touching, funny, and maniacally digressive as anything he's written. What's more, he manages to avoid most of the politically correct potholes along the way, producing a vivid, ambivalent (i.e., honest) portrait of a community where the very "landscape is dense with stories."

Much of On the Rez revolves around Le War Lance, whom Frazier first met in Great Plains. This yarn-spinning, beer-swilling figure serves the author as a kind of Native American Virgil, introducing him to the hard facts of reservation life. In fact, their friendship, with its accents of deep affection and dependency, anchors the entire narrative and elicits some typically top-drawer prose:

Le's eyes can be merry and flat as a smile button, or deep and glittering with malice or slyness or something he knows and I never will. He is fifty-seven years old. I have seen his hair, which is black streaked with gray, when it was over two feet long and held with beaded ponytail holders a foot or so apart, and I have seen it much shorter, after he had shaved his head in mourning for a friend who had died.
On the Rez delivers a history of the Oglala nation that spotlights our paleface population in some of its most shameful, backstabbing moments, as well as a quick tour through Indian America. The latter, to be honest, seems a little too conscientiously cooked up from primary sources and news clippings. But elsewhere Frazier is in superb form, reporting everything he sees and hears with enviable clarity and promptly pulling the rug out from under himself whenever he seems too omniscient. Few accounts of reservation life have been this comical; even fewer have moved beyond the poverty and pandemic drunk driving to discern actual, theological wickedness on the premises: "At such moments a sense of compound evil--the evil of the human heart, in league with the original darkness of this wild continent--curls around me like shoots of a fast-growing vine." In the hands of many a writer, the previous sentence might resemble a rhetorical firecracker. In Frazier's, it comes off as a statement of fact--which is only one of the reasons why every American, Native or not, should take a look at this sad, splendid, and surprisingly hopeful book. --James Marcus --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

When telling non-Indians that he was writing a book about the American Indian, Frazier (Great Plains, etc.) received a nearly unanimous reaction: that the subject sounds bleak. "Oddly," he says, "it is a word I never heard used by Indians themselves." Frazier builds his narrative--or, more deliberately, unpacks it, since he has no discernable plot, chronology or conclusion--around his 20-year friendship with the Indian Le War Lance and the Oglala Sioux of South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation. Though no "wannabe" or "buckskinner," Frazier emulates and reveres "the self-possessed sense of freedom" that he claims is the Indian contribution to the American character, adopted by the earliest European settlers and preserved in our system of government. Frazier's record of his travels with Le War Lance includes the tolls of alcohol, fights and car wrecks (Le claims to have survived 11 of them) and acknowledges the realities as well as the clich?s of reservation life. But in his rendering, the calamities of American Indian life are outweighed by the pervasiveness and endurance of that same sense of freedom, a feeling that Frazier captures in his style, his organization, his wonderful eye for detail. Probably no book since Evan S. Connell's Son of the Morning Star has so imaginatively evoked the spirit of the American Indian in American life; like Connell's tours of the Little Bighorn battlefield, Frazier's visits to Pine Ridge and Wounded Knee, and to the descendants of Red Cloud and Black Elk, frame a broad meditation on American history, myth and misconception. Funny and sad, but never bleak, his meandering narrative is, in fact, the composite of many voices and many kinds of history. Agent, Andrew Wylie. (Jan.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

More About the Author

Ian Frazier is the author of Great Plains, The Fish's Eye, On the Rez, and Family, as well as Coyote v. Acme and Dating Your Mom, all published by FSG. A frequent contributor to The New Yorker, he lives in Montclair, New Jersey.

Customer Reviews

The more I read the book the more enjoyable it became.
Bill Emblom
For a glimpse of the lives Pine Ridge Reservation Indians endure, be sure to read Ian Frazier's On the Rez.
Faith A. Colburn
It's true this book has witty remarks, but humor is a very small part of this brilliant work.
taking a rest

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

76 of 81 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Poupart on January 13, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I always enjoy Ian Frazier's writing and On the Rez has him at the top of his form. This is a long, ruminative essay, really, on Mr Frazier's relationship with the Oglala Sioux and Le War Lance in particular. Along the way, he highlights some of the sorrowful history of Native Americans since contact with Europeans. By turns this book is informative, funny, tragic, and hopeful.
Mr Frazier makes you care about the people in this book. As he comes to know them better, so do you, the reader. I was sorry when the story stopped, which appears to happen largely because Mr Frazier had to stop writing sooner or later. But I do need to know: what happened to Le War Lance after the last page?
If you are a fan of Ian Frazier, or if you are interested in Native American issues, or history, or just like reading about interesting folks, you'll enjoy this book.
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54 of 60 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on January 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
It's true this book has witty remarks, but humor is a very small part of this brilliant work. This book is very difficult to read without being deeply affected by Mr. Frazier's words.
Mr. Frazier accomplishes what I find remarkable. He clearly is a great admirer of the tribes and individual members he writes of, but he also is brutally candid about these people who are his friends. The remarkable part is that you never sense he is judging their behavior, nor is he an apologist. He deftly mixes the history of this Country with a variety of Tribal Nations, and shows you the results. He destroys many misconceptions that exist, and makes very intuitive remarks about the future they may await these people.
If you have not already done so, I believe this book will act as a catalyst to read more about the history of these remarkable people, the opportunities that were lost, the crimes that were committed and are being addressed in Congress right now.
I live in the state that has the largest of the Casinos that many feel are providing all manner of solutions to a variety of tribes. The facts about these Casinos are a far cry from the perceptions that many people hold.
Wounded Knee and The Trail of Tears are not just words that make up titles of books. These places and events, the Presidents that governed at the time, and the President who sanctioned the largest mass execution in this Country's History will, in at least one instance shock you. I say, at least one, as one President's attitude is in keeping with his life-long conduct.
These Peoples were not exterminated, or to use the official Federal Government's word, "Terminated". They survived, and their numbers continue to grow, which alone is astonishing.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 22, 2000
Format: Paperback
...this book focuses on the many contemporary problems facing Native Americans on the Pine Ridge rez: alcoholism, suicide, unemployment and apathy, as well as short histories of both Wounded Knee conflicts. Frazier approaches these topics in a non-judgmental way, providing observations rather than solutions. The book happens to read more like a novel at times, rather than a textbook. The chapters centering on SuAnne Big Crow are worth the price of the book alone. Highly recommended!
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Steven R. Schreibman on March 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
I admit I came to Ian Frazier's "On the Rez" hoping it would be more like "On the Road," that is, a 300-page story of drunken chaos and ripe descriptions of decadence. But Frazier's respectful historical review of how Indians have shaped our lives and their continued desecration at the hands of a well-meaning but ineffectual government gave me a renewed sense of wonder about these people. Like Frazier did as a child, we all share the belief of Indians as these mystical, spiritual folks saying things like "You are very wise, Little Flower." What Frazier does instead is take us inside the Oglala Sioux reservation--really an internment camp--and shares his journey amongh the families and stories and daily life he encounters there.
Now, one wonders what Frazier was looking for when he set out on this years-long journey. Friendship? Kinship? Closeness with other men? I was confounded by his repeated attempts to ally himself with his Indian friends, particularly Le War Lance (a/k/a Leonard Thomas Walks Out--some Indians really do have cool last names just like we imagined as children). Le provides a narrative focus for the book, and we see him at his drifting, alcoholic worst throughout. He and his brother, Floyd John, spend their days doing things like travelling a hundred miles to find a spare part for their car, then spending the rest of the day tinkering with it and drinking Budweiser. One of the funniest scenes in the book is when Frazier, driving Le and Floyd John to a propane storage facility on some godforsaken errand, almost gets blown to bits when something goes wrong near one of the immense tanks.
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33 of 39 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
I found myself disliking Frazier's book-length account of life on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation despite the fact that I'd enjoyed edited excerpts from On the 'Rez in a recent edition of (can't remember which) Harper's or the Atlantic Monthly.
My bottom line is not so much that I find the narrator's account unreliable--it is, but Frazier knows it is--but that I find it confused about whether to present a morality tale or an omniscient recounting without any clear moral lesson. Far from being "unsentimental," as the other reviewers have noted, Frazier's sentimental voice clouds too many descriptions he's presented in documentary style. A good example is his discussion of White Clay, Nebraska. Frazier hems and haws about introducing this seedy hell hole, deferring his description several times because, as he suggests, the place is too foul to write about. But when he finally gets there, the town just don't look that bad--I mean, what's so shocking about the fact that an opportunist would set up shop on the border of a dry community and trade booze for cars when thirsty clients offer them? I doubt that the residents of Pine Ridge view this activity as particularly tragic; as Frazier and others have depicted them, the Sioux are people disposed to barter. Of course it is despicable to enable a population with a 50% diabetes rate to drink, but it's also kind of despicable to free-load off your white writer friend because you know he's stupid enough to keep giving you money--the story of Frazier's relationship with Le War Lance. Le is complex and ultimately redeemed by Frazier; the owner of the Arrowhead Inn is nothing short of the devil.
It bugged me.
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