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The Grass Dancer Paperback – April 1, 1997

4.3 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A major talent debuts with this beguiling novel whose characters are Dakota Sioux and their spirit ancestors. Covering some of the same themes as Louise Erdrich but displaying her own distinctive voice and transcendent imagination, Power has produced an authentic portrait of Native American culture and characters who are as resilient and tangible as the grass moving over the Great Plains. In interconnected stories that begin in 1981 and range back to 1864, the residents of a Sioux reservation endure poverty, epidemic illness, injustice and--no less importantly--jealousy, greed, anger and unrequited love. The tales begin and end with Harley Wind Soldier, a 17-year-old whose soul is a "black, empty hole" because his mother has not spoken a word since the accident 17 years earlier in which Harley's father and brother died. Eventually we discover the true circumstances surrounding that event and other secrets--of clandestine love affairs, of childrens' paternity--that stretch back several generations but hold a grip on the present. Meanwhile, Harley falls in love with enchanting Pumpkin, an amazingly adept grass dancer whose fate will make readers gasp. Mercury Thunder and her daughter Anna use magic in a sinister way, and tragedy results. Herod Small War, a Yuwipi (interpreter of dreams), tries to bring his community into harmony with the spiritual world. The existence of ghosts in the real world is accepted with calm belief by the characters, who know the old legends and understand that the direction of their lives is determined by their gods and ancestors. Power weaves historical events--the Apollo Moon landing; the 19th-century Great Plains drought--into her narrative, reinforcing the seamless coexistence of the real and the spirit realm. A consummate storyteller whose graceful prose is plangent with lyrical metaphor and sensuous detail, she deftly uses suspense, humor, irony and the gradual revelation of dramatic disclosures to compose a tapestry of human life. Seduced by her humane vision and its convincing depiction, one absorbs the traditions and lore of the Sioux community with a sense of wonder reflecting that with which the characters view the natural world. This is a book that begs to be read at one sitting, and then again. A chapter appeared in The Best American Short Stories 1993. BOMC and QPB selection.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

YA?Rich in myth and legend, this powerful story of the Dakota Indians flows seamlessly back and forth in time from 1864-1982. In the mid-1860s, a young Sioux maiden, Red Dress, translates the sermons of Father La Frambois but deliberately misinterprets the Jesuit's message, through which he hoped to convert her tribe. In a dream, she sees herself in a western settlement and is compelled to journey to Fort Laramie where she observes the violence, hypocrisy, and emptiness of frontier life. Here she becomes secretary to the zealous Rev. Pike, and falls victim to the ultimate treachery when she is murdered by the crazed preacher. In a moving ceremony immediately after her death, the grief stricken Ghost Horse symbolically marries Red Dress. He lives on as a sacred clown and frenetic dancer among his people. The memory of these two restless spirits haunts generations to come with illustrative signs, mysterious visions, and fateful interference. The strength of the novel lies in the meshing of the various stories of the descendants of Red Dress and Ghost Horse so that they all come together in one piece. The result is a passionate portrayal of universal human emotions and a vivid account of Native American history and culture.?Jackie Gropman, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 333 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley; Reissue edition (April 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0425159531
  • ISBN-13: 978-0425159538
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,231 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
Susan Power's THE GRASS DANCER, although billed as a novel, is a series of tightly bound stories centered around the thematic core of a Sioux myth. Separately, these stories, many of which have been previously published in high-quality magazines such as The Atlantic and The Paris Review, are excellent, but read as a whole, one after the other, they form a powerful whole - a novel, if you will. The world Ms. Power creates it at once current and ancient, with legends and tales of ancestors so entwined with the present day that the Native American characters seem less like individuals and more like highlighted segments on a multi-branched and infinitely continuing time line. But that is not to say that Ms. Power creates simple characters. Her people are complex and often troubled, struggling with the magic that swirls around them.

The individual stories tell the larger one of Native Americans, in particular the Sioux, and their battles, both physical and metaphysical, with the white men who invaded their land. This is not a historical novel, however, but rather a lyrically psychological one, where myth becomes fact. The pivotal legend that embraces all the characters in The Grass Dancer is the one of Red Dress, a Sioux woman with breath the scent of plums and a spirit that guides a long line of women to their destinies, both tragic and exhilarating. Charlene, a direct descendent from Red Dress, is in love with Harley, a descendent of Red Dress's husband Ghost Horse. But Harley keeps in his heart the spirit of another woman. Charlene's grandmother, Mercury, uses Red Dress's magic to control men and to wrest Charlene from her mother. Lydia, who is mute by choice, survives her husband and son, dead because of her anger with the magic of Red Dress.
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By C. Pond on November 21, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I recently was assigned The Grass Dancer for my Native American Literature class. I must say that this is a fantastic book. All of the characters are beautifully crafted. The stories of each character, such as Anna Thunder and Lydia Wind Soldier give the reader real insight as to why each character behaves in a particular way. The loss that the various characters suffer does not fill me with sadness, but gives me hope that they will see each other once again once they leave this world. The backwards progression of time brings Harley Wind Soldier to a place that allows him to fill the hole over his heart. This story displays the vivid and very much alive culture of the Dakota Sioux. Susan Power does a wonderful job of creating a world that is true and completely fictional all at the same time. I would definitely recommend this book to other people.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
If you are looking for a book that is engaging and compelling, Susan Power's "The Grass Dancer" is it. Indeed, this book is at once exciting, poignant, and meaningful. I have to say that, among the numerous books that I have read since high school, this one ranks (at least) in the top 20. When I put down the book, I felt as though I had just awoken from a beautiful dream.
Power recreates the world of magic and spirituality in a tapestry of beautiful language and webs of stories. "The Grass Dancer" is about the traditions of the Dakota Indian people-both past and present-and the narrative switches from one narrator to another, giving us multiple perspectives into the lives of these characters. The chapters go back in time, so that events unfold in front of our eyes, making the present situation of these characters understandable. Each character seems to be finding a way to be complete, and at the end of almost each chapter, each one of them sprouts strong and resilient, like grass that is hard to pull out. Power brings us in a journey through time and space, illustrating the power of imagination, such as the possibility of walking on the moon.
Grass serves as a symbol of power, particularly Indian power. Dancing becomes a way in which an Indian keeps his or her hopes up, making it a dance that is imbued with a kind of survival energy. Power's message in this book can be summed up in this sentence, where she writes, "...look at the magic. There is still magic in the world."
This book is infused with humor to keep you interested, and spirituality to keep you inspired. The presence of love among characters is so moving that it will stir your emotions.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is an interesting book that gives us a series of stories about Sioux spirituality. The stories are loosely interconnected with each other and tell of people who maintain an ability to employ a sort of black magic. With this "gift" they communicate with past generations, conjure up love potions, compel others to self destruction, and other bizarre phenomena. Within these stories is a generally clear view of life in a modern day Indian reservation. The author, an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation who grew up in Chicago, gives an inside view of a live fairly removed from mainstream America. I got the feeling that there was a fair amount of autobiographical material included in these stories.

I was prepared to give this book a "3 Star" rating until I noticed how well the author pulled things together towards the end. I had made the mistake of reading the book one story at a time spaced in between my other reading. I finished the last third of the book in a day's time and was able to catch the inter-relationships of the stories. Still, I was not as drawn into the spiritual magic as others may be. I don't discredit this phenomena but I suspect there are others who will get more out of the book than I did. I did enjoy a lot of the local flavor. I don't ever recall seeing any other novel that mentioned my wife's hometown of Mandaree, North Dakota. I have come to appreciate that there is a real element of spiritual magic through her Hidatsa/Mandan roots. Of the many stories and incidents that she has shared with me, I do vividly recall the night after her mother's funeral. My wife expressed her aprehension about going to bed that night because she was sure her mother's spirit would come to visit. That night, about 2AM, our house dog started barking.
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