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A remarkable guide into traditional Blackfoot culture
on June 3, 2016
From the first page, this novel slides you into the life and world-view of the Blackfoot tribe. Welch uses words like blackhorns or wags-his-tail for wildlife, names such as the Seven Persons for constellations, and the Blackfoot names for places like the Big River or peoples such as the Parted Hair People. In less-capable hands, this would be confusing. However, Welch has a perfect sense for how to use this shift in language to bring modern American readers into the Blackfoot world.
Welch also treats the spirit world, visions, and medicine in a perfectly natural and believable way. Some “supernatural” events defy explanation for moderns, but others have naturalistic interpretations. The overall effect is most similar to magical realism in Latin American fiction, where the supernatural fits seamlessly into a realistic story.
The protagonist, Fools Crow, undergoes several transformations in the novel. These are both personal and “political,” and part of a crescendo of events for his Pikuni band. If you know Blackfoot history, you already know where these events are leading; if not, I will let Welch guide you. And yet the book ends on a hopeful note after these dark events, a clear sense of how Welch makes sense of his people’s history today.
It’s an extraordinary novel, highly recommended for all audiences.