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Naapiikoan Winter Paperback – May 9, 2016
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"When we read NAAPIIKOAN WINTER our hearts were swept back in time. Alethea Williams writes with the same authority and beauty that A. B Guthrie, Bernard de Voto, Wallace Stegner, and Conrad Richter imparted to the page. We marveled at the quality of her research, and the precision with which Williams recreated the world of the Blackfeet at the time of white contact. Find the first page, dear reader, and you'll fall effortlessly into a long-gone world filled with both the noblest of humans, and the dross that always follows. This is no Western romance, but the nitty-gritty reality of the Northern Plains. We call NAAPIIKOAN WINTER masterful!"
An involving, richly atmospheric historical novel about the clash of cultures in frontier America.
The uneasy juxtaposition between these worlds is handled with a great deal of confidence by Williams, who very skillfully humanizes the conflict through solid period research and a series of well-drawn characters. Recommended.
The author brings the old cultures to life with ... vivid descriptions and detailed narration.
"Naapiikoan Winter" is a historical novel rich in traditions and a bit of magic, and will give many readers a new look at what it was like for the native tribes when the European traders began to spread across the Americas.
The character development reflects the reality of flawed human decision-making, motivated by greed, emotions, and pride.--Renee Hanlin, Children's Services Librarian, Wyoming State Library Book Reviews
"This isn't a surface story but a deep look into the ole' west and the Indians that were a huge part of our history...This is a story of survival."
From the Author
Fictional Characters and Real Life
by Alethea Williams
The principal sources for the second part of my historical novel, Náápiikoan Winter, were David Thompson's Narrative of His Explorations in Western America 1784-1812, and Richard Lancaster's 1966 book, Piegan. Richard Lancaster's book was helpful mainly as a narrative of a white man in Native culture,and for his accounts of trying to learn the Piikáni language. Many of the events in my story follow those David Thompson records in the last four chapters of Part One of his book, which deal with his recollections of the Plains Indians at about the turn of the nineteenth century, and in particular his dealings with the "Peeagans."
-Why isn't your primary male character named David Thompson?
Historical characters add flavor to my novel, but they only really serve to illustrate the opinions and mores of the times, both European and Piikáni. Although my novel is based on fact, the principal characters are entirely fictional. Donal Thomas resembles the young David Thompson of record in many aspects, but I wanted the freedom to place in the realm of fiction Donal's internal dialogue,the thought processes and motives that led to his decisions, and his growing awareness of the huge cultural differences he is supposed to surmount in order to succeed in bringing trade to the Piikáni at the close of the eighteenth century.
-Which characters in Náápiikoan Winter came from historical accounts?
These characters' names, their occupations, and some of their actions are recorded in David Thompson's Narrative of His Explorations in Western America 1784-1812:
William Flett, English youth in service to HBC
James Gaddy, leader of the HBC expedition to the Piikáni
The Black Indian, Nahathaway (Cree) guide
Saokohtoo(Straighten Out), the Orator of the Inuk'sik (Small Robes) band of thePiikáni
Saahkómaapi (Young Man), Beaver Bundle Man to the Inuk'sik band of the Piikáni ,the band's Dreamer
Kotonaa-áápi (White Kootenay), first war chief
John Charles, a schoolmate
I gathered other character names from modern and historical sources, many listed in the back pages of Náápiikoan Winter.
-So what does Náápiikoan mean? Why do you keep a title that few people can pronounce? Aren't you afraid readers will not be able to locate your book under a search for that title?
Variously spelled throughout history, Náápiikoan simply means white man. Retaining the word in the title implies that although the young white trader is a main character in the story, it is not just his story. His is not the only view of events that counts. He is an outsider. I think the cover of Náápiikoan Winter, by Brigida Blasi, shows why choosing that title works. "White Man Winter," of course,would have been easier to find in an internet search, but I hope no one has to put so much effort into looking for my book that they give up!
-What gives you the authority to write a book about the Piikáni people?
Although it took more than 20 years for Náápiikoan Winter to see print, I was captivated by David Thompson's story at least that long ago. I found Richard Lancaster's book in a library sale, and although Native feeling about him today is ambivalent, I found much of value in a book written by an outsider living with the Piikáni. I sincerely admire Piikáni history, and hope my novel honors the people about whose heritage I have written in Náápiikoan Winter.
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Naapiikoan Winter begins in Mexico at the turn of the 19th century. A father, Armando, steals away in the middle of the night with his young daughter, Isobel, to save her from a life of gender oppression. Two days into their journey they were attacked by an Apache war party. Isobel was kidnapped and becomes enslaved to the Apache. From her escapades with the Apache, Isobel is then sold and traded between native tribes numerous times. She suffers much abuse, humiliation, and heartache over her formative years. Seeing no escape, Isobel decides that making herself useful to her captures is her only means of survival. At this point Isobel's story temporarily fades in to the background.
Donal Thomas, the second main character of the book is introduced. Donal is an indentured employee of the Hudson Bay Company, a fur trading entity seeking a NW Passage to the Pacific Coast. Donal, because of his linguistic talents is sent out with a group of traders by the Hudson Bay Company to aid in the establishment of trade relations with Native American Cultures. The story now focuses on Donal and his group's expeditions, interacting with various native cultures.
Although Isobel is missing for a short while it has no effect on the story. Her disappearance is explained when she returns as Buffalo Stone woman, an adoptive member of the Piikani tribe. At this point in her life she has completely assimilated to the Piikani culture. Buffalo Stone Woman is a valued, useful member of the tribe but because she is an adoptee, she is treated differently than the other women in the tribe. Here the story focus on her and her relationships with two younger members of the tribe, Sweetgrass Woman and Bear Dog. Their story is one of love and hate that involves the attention of Buffalo Stone Woman's special talents. I do not want to spoil the story so that is all I will say here.
Naapiikoan Winter is a historical fiction based on true facts taken from Alethea's careful research. Having intensively studied Native American Plains Cultures, I can attest that Alethea's descriptions of tribal dynamics; tribal status, familial structure, spiritual practices and migrations are accurate. Very much to my liking, the book is littered with Native American names which are very difficult to pronounce; impossible if you're not familiar with NA languages. Don't let this slow you down, just skip over them. Alethea has graciously translated the names that are relevant to the story to English immediately following the native name. This book reveals the sad beginning of the end of Native American cultures. The ramifications set forth by their interactions with white explorers and settlers were disease, economic failure, broken traditions, broken spirituality, loss of oral history due to language loss. Once a culture's history and language are lost so is the culture. After reading Alethea's book, you can't help but reflect upon it with sadness and empathy for the people who lost their land, income, religion, pride and their identity for the almighty dollar.
Characterization is immaculate; fully developed, springing to life from the page. Transitions and continuity align perfectly. Vivid imagery sets the stage of every scene. I only noticed one typo. An insignificant letter 'a' missing from a word. This book is a clean production, exciting, informative, and provocative. I read it twice and recommend it highly.
This review is of my own words and opinions. I was not compensated by the Author in any way.
Tina Mari Combs,
TMC Author Services, LLC
Williams' story begins with a kidnapping. In brutal scenes that make it clear that native people also have the capacity to exploit others, a Mexican child is stolen into slavery by Apaches. From her captors, the child learns their healing arts and her skill becomes respected. She is traded and stolen many times, but at last finds her place as the medicine woman of the Inuk'sik, the Small Robes band of the Piikáni, a powerful tribe in the Blackfoot Confederation. Yet Buffalo Stone Woman is still a slave. All she owns are her skills, and she lives with uncertainty at the edge of a chief's tipi circle. In her effort to create an enduring place with the band, Buffalo Stone Woman will cause problems she can't solve.
Stirring those problems is a teenaged Welshman, Donal Thomas, who is indentured to the Hudson's Bay Company and bound to follow the Company's instructions. It is the 1700s. The Company sends him with a handful of other men into the unopened territory of western Canada. Their task is to learn the language and foster trade with the Piikáni, who have heard of white men but not met them. As Thomas comes to know the People, his understandings change and his loyalty is tested. But he is fundamentally in the Náápiikoan position of exploiting the resources of native people, and the author offers no facile resolution of that essential reality. She simply shows us some of the difficulties. The Piikáni want the white men's weapons and metal goods, their blankets and trinkets, yet they recognize that these strangers also bring powerful change, and new dangers.
Adding to the drama are Sweetgrass Woman and her stepmother, Makes Rain. They are women of traditional Blackfoot culture, making the most of a mix of powers, strictures, and vulnerabilities. Though highly specific in nomadic details, their work and daily lives are Everywoman's, and Sweetgrass Woman is a figure recognizable anywhere. In rebellion against her stepmother and her own limited options, she does the teenaged-girl thing and falls for the wrong man, the fascinating young trader. Meanwhile, she is sexually coerced by her stepmother's Shoshone grandson, Bear Dog. Like Buffalo Stone Woman, he struggles for acceptance by the Piikáni. He approaches the medicine woman to help him and the tangled inevitability of the story follows. Both Bear Dog and his stepbrother, Owl's Child, are driven by economic and social pressures that any modern man might recognize.
The author treads carefully, attempting to balance the differences and similarities of groups whose interests are still in conflict hundreds of years later. She shows us both sides, though native characters carry the story. (Note for the next edition: a brief historical introduction and a pronunciation guide would be helpful.) She might have come down harder on white colonialism, but this is not a political volume. It's a novel, and a compelling one. The characters have human struggles that transcend differences. In Náápiikoan Winter, Alethea Williams has created a well-written, engaging story, one that helps us to think about the roots of a struggle continuing to plague many countries. Such an author deserves to be read. And the issues raised deserve our full attention.
by Susan Schoch
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women
Most recent customer reviews
" Ms Williams writes with great skill, confidence and what appears to be highly detailed research.Read more