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Rez Life: An Indian's Journey Through Reservation Life Hardcover – February 7, 2012

4.5 out of 5 stars 82 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Winner of the Minnesota Book Award

“An affecting portrait of his childhood home, Leech Lake Indian Reservation, and his people, the Ojibwe.”—The New York Times

“In a book that is part memoir, part journalistic exposé and part cultural history, novelist Treuer offers a movingly plainspoken account of reservation life... Powerful, important reading.”—Kirkus Reviews

“In this, his first foray into non-fiction, novelist David Treuer has given us a gritty, raw, and thoroughly authentic look at reservation life — as experienced from the inside out. Here is modern America glimpsed through a different membrane, narrated in a fresh new voice. In this searching, at times heartbreaking, but often triumphant melange of history, journalism, and memoir, Treuer loudly proclaims that all reports of the American Indian's demise have been greatly exaggerated.” —Hampton Sides, bestselling author of Blood and Thunder

"An invaluable study and vivid account of problematic life on our reservations by a writer--a very good writer!--raised 'on the rez' who knows what he's talking about only too well and also knows how to tell a story, lots of stories, that document and effectively banish a number of misconceptions still held by white society. Highly recommended." —Peter Matthiessen

Rez Life is a powerful, poignant, and beautifully written history/memoir that weaves together strands of joy and tragedy, empathy and greed, hope and despair, and tradition and wrenching change. It is an important and insightful book that should be read by anyone interested in the fascinating role of reservations in America’s past, present, and future.” —Eric Jay Dolin, author of Fur, Fortune and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America

“Free of academic jargon, overflowing with terrific storytelling, David Treuer has given us the best book I have ever read on contemporary reservation life. A courageously intimate memoir of family life and community survival in his Great Lakes Indian homeland, it deftly sashays between gritty everyday realities and their well-researched historical contexts and cultural resonances through the magically readable kind of non-fiction that perhaps only a novelist could pull off. Alive with memorable personalities and harrowing dips into reservation hell, wonderfully observed road trips through Indian country and inspiring examples of traditional subsistence and linguistic renewal, this introduction to Native America is destined to be a classic.” —Peter Nabokov, Professor of American Indian Studies, UCLA, and author of Where the Lightning Strikes: The Lives of American Indian Sacred Places

"One of the most provocative voices in American Indian literary writing and criticism, David Treuer turns his piercing eye to the intertwined experiences of Native resurgence and crisis. Rez Life is for those who really want to understand Indian casinos, fishing rights, poverty, alcohol, spirituality, family, crime, war, law, sovereignty, violence, love, dedication, endurance... and most everything else. Treuer's powerful story erupts out of family history and the Native past, wraps itself around the veil of modernity, and looks with proud worry toward Indian--and American--futures." —Philip J. Deloria, author of Indians in Unexpected Places and Playing Indian

Rez Life is a compelling and unvarnished look at the unique experience of life on an Indian reservation. With a novelist’s eye for detail and a journalistic grasp of history, David Treuer reveals that this country’s crimes against its original inhabitants were not limited to the 18th and 19th centuries. This is a must-read for anyone who cares about the ongoing plight of our Native Americans.” —Brian Hicks, author of Toward the Setting Sun: John Ross, the Cherokees and the Trail of Tears

“Out of the people and places of Native America David Treuer has crafted a story of vital interest to all Americans." —Vice President Walter Mondale

Rez Life isn’t a voyeuristic march through Indian country’s wrenching ills. While Treuer doesn’t shy from the miserable side of Indian life, he unveils a world—grounded in Minnesota’s Leech Lake Reservation, where he grew up—that is complex and rich. … Treuer manages to write a book about Indian life that is often fun and occasionally hilarious.”—Lisa Jones, Outside

“A compelling account of life on native American reservations.”—The Christian Science Monitor

"Rez Life exposes the reader to the reality of reservation (or, 'rez') life in language and imagery that is raw, honest, rough, and even gut-wrenching." -Spectre Magazine

"Smartly, this book blends journalism, history and memoir... to provide both anecdotes of present-day reservation life and history... Treuer's message - the picture he gives of Indian reservation life today - is not one of defeat or demise but of miraculous survival."—Greg Sarris, San Francisco Chronicle

"Dismantles many of the preconceptions—and misconceptions—the general public has about Native Americans... A unique blend of memoir, history, and journalistic account... lends a human touch to a story that is not often presented in such terms… Rez Life is a bracing, eye-opening, often moving read. Highly recommended."—Andrea Appleton, Washington City Paper

“As novelist David Treuer wryly observes in this sobering yet quietly redemptive book, in spite of how involved Indians have been in America’s business, most people will go a lifetime without ever knowing an Indian or spending time on an Indian reservation... Treuer’s elegant chronicle of the lives and stories of individuals on his own reservation... chips away at the stony structures that embed [negative] views of the reservation in the American consciousness.” —Henry L. Carrigan Jr., BookPage

“Treuer’s poignant, penetrating blend of memoir and history illustrates that despite long-standing problems, including poverty and high rates of alcoholism, reservations remain strong, proud bastions of Native American life.”—Eric Libetrau, People Magazine

“Applied to a book, the word ‘important’ can glaze the eyes. An ‘important’ book sounds like an earnest, educational one you should read, when you get to it, someday, maybe. Rez Life is important in the word's best sense -- one you'll want to read if you're at all curious about contemporary American Indians. It's important in the way Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was when it came out in 1970, deeply moving readers as it schooled them about Indian history in a way nothing else had.”—Pamela Miller, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“Treuer sees all the poverty, the gangs and the alcohol, but he also sees great beauty in some of the last places untouched by commercial development. He hears the stories of his people in the language of his people, and he sees the pride of survivors.”—Neal Conan, NPR

“Blends memoir and history to reveal what life on a reservation is really like - neither the festival of dysfunction nor the oasis of noble, nature-loving stoics that many non-Indians imagine. … [A] blistering, illuminating, ultimately hopeful book.”—Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe

“An authoritative and vastly entertaining book. … There may be no more accurate, more engaging, more thought-provoking book on contemporary Native American Indian life than this.”—Bruce Jacobs, Shelf Awareness

“[Treuer] shocks us, he makes us laugh, then he lulls us with poetry before he wallops us with history. I loved that range in writing. I also loved this book for its harsh beauty, its honesty, and for Treuer’s incredible talent at telling stories that mean something. … this is an invaluable book for anyone who’s curious or who lives near a reservation.”—Terri Schlichenmeyer, Long Island Pulse

“[Treuer’s] upbringing on an Ojibwe reservation in Minnesota makes him adept at delving behind stereotypes of Indian life and infuses his account with passion and meticulousness.”—The New Yorker

“Rez Life is a fascinating, air-clearing look at Native American reservation life, strengthened in equal measure by its anecdotes and its scholarly attention.”—Jonathan Messinger, Time Out Chicago

“Highly recommended for anyone interested in Native American history.”—Jason Zasky, Failure Magazine

“[Rez Life] is not, for all its intimacy, just as it is not exactly a work of reportage or a work of history. Rather, it is a nuanced hybrd, a memoir, broken into six chapters, each of which begins in the personal, then expands outward to a larger theme. Sovereignty, fishing, treaty rights, the tribal justice system, education, language and assimilation – Treuer examines all of it, finding associations between the broadest stories and the most individual.”—David Ulin, Los Angeles Times

About the Author

David Treuer is the author of several books exploring Native American culture, including Native American Fiction, The Translation of Dr. Apelles, The Hiawatha, and Little.

A veteran of stage and screen, Peter Berkrot's career spans four decades, and his voice can be heard on television, radio, video games, and documentaries. He has been nominated for an Audie Award and has received a number of AudioFile Earphones Awards and starred reviews. --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; First Edition edition (February 7, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802119719
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802119711
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #371,967 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jeffrey D. Kenyon on January 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover
David Treuer's book Rez Life, is a very readable "hybrid...of journalism, history, and memoir." The style is journalistic, in which specific aspects of "rez life" are illustrated through interviews and accounts of individuals, with bits of history thrown in to illustrate how specific conflicts and situations arose. The pieces of memoir arise because much of the book is about the reservations of the author's own tribe, the Ojibwe, and the body of the book is bracketed by the suicide of his maternal grandfather at the beginning of the book, and the burial at the conclusion.

Often in the journalism, and invariably in the history, the reaction of the reader is likely to be outrage, though the telling is straightforward. It is hard to construe the actions of the U.S. Government (and the inaction/inertia of the Bureau of Indian Affairs) in a positive light. Or indeed, as anything other than disgraceful. It's also hard to avoid the conclusion that, when Congress passed laws to ostensibly help the Indian, the effect was generally to make things worse. However, the author seems hopeful, as if the bottom has been reached and that the Native Americans now have the potential to climb out of the hole of 200 years of history.

Those looking for a more authoritative history of US-Indian relations should probably look to the sources that the author mentions in the end-notes. This book seems to be trying to capture, with obvious love and affection, the good and the bad of modern reservation life. On those grounds, it succeeds.

The book does not raise this issue, but my lasting thought was one of morality: how should a government "make things right" after literally hundreds of years of doing the wrong thing at nearly every turn?
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Format: Hardcover
This is one of those gems of a book that on occasion seems to spring up out of nowhere. I wasn't expecting much when I first picked it up: perhaps a few new wrinkles and a lot of old hat. But much to my surprise, I found it to be exactly the opposite. There is some old hat, or at least old hat if you are already familiar with the U.S. government/native American treaty making experience, but even this is related in a refreshing manner. For instance, I did not know that the Delaware, when they were still residing in western Pennsylvania, were apparently offered the opportunity to be admitted into the Union as the 14th state. As the author points out, this was probably not an entirely above-board and legitimate offer, but even so, just that the offer was made points to the complexity of the treaty making process. But the real value of this book is how he relates the history of the treaty making process to life on contemporary reservations, most notably on his own native Ojibwe reservations of northern Minnesota and Wisconsin. He presents us with everyday Indians leading their everyday Indian existence, and shows how so much of their experience is still defined by those musty treaties from the past. What I particularly found impressive was that, although he does take his expected shots at the U.S. government and white civilization, he does not pull punches in regard to his own people either. Also, it is the first book I have read that deals with reservation life following the casino boom, and how some tribes have been affected favorably by it while many others have not. All in all, this is a good read - a pleasant surprise.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is about as far as one can get from a rose-colored view of Indian lives. David Treuer holds back none of the social pathologies that beset many reservations that he has known and studied. Yet he manages through an engaging style (which almost makes one forget the scholarly research that informs the chapters) to let the reader understand the chaotic chains of events that set the stage for the present conditions. The story literally comes alive as the author tells of his own family and friends. A special delight are lyrical descriptions of the Minnesota lake country. The book also educates us on the casino culture and some of the different ways that is playing out.
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Format: Hardcover
This is one of the most readable and touching accounts of important facets of American Indian history and contemporary reality I've ever come across. It took me back to my years on various "reservations" and underscored my respect for the resilience of which it speaks. One modern story struck me with particular force, that of Helen Bryan, who took to the Supreme Court a claim for her right not to have to pay $147 in state taxes on property situated on her native land--and won, with the eventual result, combined with another legal battle, that casinos now dot reservations and some have resulted in wealth for the locals.

One passage, in the form of an appeal from the author, is worthy of national attention: "'Life hasn't changed for me much,' she [Helen] says. 'I'm still poor!' But because Helen Bryan stuck up for herself and her family, a lot of Indians and a lot of tribes aren't. 'The papers picked up the story and said that the ruling affected ten thousand Indians in Minnesota. I told Russell [her husband] at the time,' says Helen, 'if we did so much maybe if every Indian in Minnesota sent us a dollar, we'd be rich!' In my opinion, everyone should. Send your dollars to Helen (Bryan) Johnson, 60876 County Road 149, Squaw Lake, MN 56681" (Treuer, 2012, p. 238).

Read this book!
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