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The Hiawatha: A Novel Paperback – June 3, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

There are countless reasons why families fall apart. Fratricide, the tragic incident at the center of David Treuer's second novel, The Hiawatha, is surely one of the most agonizing. "A good job, close friends, quiet nights"--all this and more seem to beckon to Ojibwe matriarch Betty in 1961 when she uproots herself and her four children from their upstate reservation and moves the family to the inner-city promise of Minneapolis. Only when her younger son is killed by his own brother are Betty's long-decaying dreams of a better life finally extinguished, exposing not only the dark side of pursuing the American Dream, but the convoluted trails of love.

Simon, Betty's oldest child, seems doomed to misfortune, frustration, and resentment. After witnessing his father's accidental death, he feels obligated to act as family savior and protector, especially once they move to the city. His best intentions aren't enough, however, and the family eventually unravels, their devastation complete after Simon's almost inexplicable, alcohol-fueled murder of his brother. Much of the novel traces the aftermath, as Simon and Betty attempt a delicate healing, their lives muddled with both affection and remorse.

Treuer is at his best when penetrating the silent emotions of confused souls and the failed promises of human hearts. And although his observations tend to be cynical and overly broad, somewhat falsely self-assured, his knowledge of the worlds of both city and reservation is remarkably precise. In a book that can be unnecessarily gruff, Treuer exposes plainly not only the persistence of tragedy, but also the tenacity of family love. --Ben Guterson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Life delivers a relentless series of devastating blows to three generations of a Native American family in this heartbreaking and harrowing second novel by the author of the praised Little. The story opens when Simon is released from prison, after serving a 10-year sentence for killing his brother Lester in a drunken rage. Simon comes home to South Minneapolis to see his mother, Betty, whose grief and isolation are compounded by bitter memories of her first disastrous loss, her woodsman husband's death in a tree-felling accident. Married at 16, Betty is still in her 20s when Jacob dies, left with four children to support. Simon, who witnessed his father's gruesome death, prematurely becomes the man of the house, getting construction work high above the city. The narrative crosscuts feverishly back and forth in time, each piece of painful family history emerging to clarify previously murky allusions. Treuer gingerly explores Lester's romance with Vera, a white girl, as they find a haven of intimacy in an abandoned wreck of an old train. At Lester's death Vera is pregnant, and she eventually leaves her infant son, Lincoln, with Betty. The uneasy reunion of Lincoln (who is unaware that his uncle killed his father), Betty and the guilt-ridden Simon is edged with fear and suspicion, but by the end of the novel, this turmoil mutates into a ravaging new cycle of despair and destruction. Treuer's powerful, disturbing portrait of one Ojibwe family's struggle with poverty, violence and racism is conveyed in terse prose of driving urgency. Their bleak circumstances render Betty catatonically docile and Simon prey to hair-trigger episodes of violence; neither can cope with the odds of life stacked against them. An assortment of supporting characters are memorable and lighten the protagonists' tragic load. Bluntly effective dialogue lays bare the tough heart of Treuer's brutally compelling saga. Author tour.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; First Edition edition (June 3, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312252722
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312252724
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,058,230 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Treuer is Ojibwe from the Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota. He grew up on Leech Lake and left to attend Princeton University where he worked with Paul Muldoon, Joanna Scott, and Toni Morrison. He published his first novel, LITTLE, when he was twenty-four. Treuer is the recipient of the Pushcart Prize, and his work has been named an editor's pick by the Washington Post, Time Out, and City Pages. His essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Esquire,, and The Washington Post.

He also earned his PhD in anthropology and teaches literature and creative writing at The University of Southern California. He divides his time between LA and The Leech Lake Reservation.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Lisa Schweitzer on July 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Other reviewers have touched on the way the book describes the hardscrabble Minneapolis slums; suffice it for me to say Treuer uses his obvious talent very, very well here. He knows what he is writing about, and he writes about it extremely well.
The realism of the writing does not take away from the wonderful storytelling in this novel. Treuer's choice--fratricide--is gutsy and engaging, and his characters are believable and decent.
Death pervades the book; the deaths of Simon's father, his brother, even that of a goose force the reader to see how close to death of us live all the time. Even Simon's job is brutally dangerous. Even though death is everywhere, Treuer's writing is brilliantly alive: his descriptions defy any characterization that I could try to use for them--they are just that good, from the beginning of the book to the end.
Perhaps the moving interesting and moving character for me is Betty, Simon's mother. Her love for the people around her is so hopeless and deep that my heart clenches even now to think of her with a dead husband, one son dead, and another a murderer. The quintessential survivor, she works, scrapes by, and tolerates a scumbag landlord for the sake of children she knows have very little chance in the world. But she gives them what chances she can, by hook or by crook, via the bridge of her back. No wonder she habitually rebuffs the tender affections of a decent man.
I am afraid I haven't done justice to this book; it is a terrific novel by a true talent. The other book of his that I have read, _Little_, is another emotionally evocative work that I cannot recommend highly enough.
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4 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
David Treuer's hand paints a landscape that is as bleak a reality as we have here in America. His characters that inhabit this modern Native American tale are so real you can see them clearly in your mind's eye. In 1969, I passed through many towns in Southern Canada bordering on the Great Lakes States and was shocked to see the level of disfunction in our Native American brothers and sisters. This novel reminded me deeply of my memories of these places and how forgotten and isolated these people are and what the result is of this abandonment. For a first novel, I think we have a lot more to look forward to from this young, and, very gifted writer.
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5 of 18 people found the following review helpful By cynthia lynn kravitz ( on August 8, 1999
Format: Hardcover
congratulations for david treuer are in order...
his is a still rivering, so generously poured~
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