Re: A Searing Novel of the Indian Wars

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Posted by Jeri on October 17, 2000 at 17:59:46:

In Reply to: A Searing Novel of the Indian Wars posted by Ayesha on October 17, 2000 at 17:27:21:

: Hi Everyone,

: Here is a book review from yesterday's San Francisco Examiner. It sounds like such a great read. It made me think of everyone here and my wish to share with you all. Sorry if it is a bit long, but I didn't want to cut it anywhere.

: Rich, I especially thought of you because this book is written by a man whose great great grandfather arrived at the scene of the Little Bighorn one day to late to participate in the fighting.

: Enjoy!
: Ayesha

: 'AMERICAN BY BLOOD' is masterful account of Indian wars

: By Edvins Beitiks
: OF THE EXAMINER STAFF

: So much has been written about the Indian Wars in the United States honest and dishonest, self-serving and naive, stupid and grotesque that a book that tries in its own way to be fair, tries to be true to those times, is like a long, deep breath of fresh air.

: Andrew Huebner's first novel, "American by Blood" (Simon & Schuster, New York, 245 pages, $23) may be the best work of fiction to come out of the Indian Wars. It is easily one of the best books ever written on that bleak and vicious time in this country's history.

: "American by Blood" grew out of a Huebner family legacy that Andrew's
: great-great-grandfather, August, joined the U.S. Army and arrived one day late to the scene of the Little Big Horn battle that decimated Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer's 7th Cavalry in June 1876. Andrew makes August a central character in "American by Blood," along with Lt. James Bradley, an actual scout for the cavalry who traced the
: route of Sioux and Cheyenne tribes that scattered after their victory over Custer's troops, and a young enlisted man from up-country North Carolina, William Gentle.

: Huebner's novel covers the cavalry's seasons of trekking after Indians in the wake of Little Big Horn. There is no romance to speak of, except the romance of remote landscapes and human frailty. Huebner is not interested in making either side heroic or larger-than-life, going so far as to put his own great-great-grandfather behind a Gatling
: gun at the massacre of Cheyenne at Dull Knife by a detachment of soldiers un der Col. Ranald Mackenzie in November 1876. "He saw old people naked, kneeling over the young to protect them from death that
: came anyway," Huebner writes. "Soldiers scalped them, knocked their brains to the snow. ... The mechanical roar of the Gatling guns drowned out everything, even the screams and life-gone cries of the Indians. The bodies of the dead lay steaming, melting the snowy earth, and then freezing as they died in grotesque parodies of supplication,
: struggle, shock and silence."

: "American by Blood" has won the approval of Larry McMurtry and Michael Blake, author of "Dances With Wolves," and has been called "a small masterpiece" by Charles Gaines, who wrote "A Family Place." Huebner seems to make the right decisions every step of the way, including his decision to leave quotation marks out of the book so the reader isn't forced to take conversations literally, so no one is made to believe that historical figures such as Maj. Marcus Reno and Gen. George Crook actually said these things.

: Huebner also has a way with one-liners, including his description of a group of soldiers watching Reno carry on a drunken conversation. "They all watched Reno as one might a horse in the middle of a fall, to see how bad it might be," writes Huebner.

: "American by Blood" includes some of the most vivid word-paintings of Montana and the Dakotas ever written. At one point, Hueb- ner writes of "bugs and rainbows, all shades of blue, green and brown, purple wildflowers, verdant long-lashed green grasses, rolling fields dotted with rocks, big distances. ... Like the clouds could come
: down and fill in the valleys. ... Humanlike veins in the land, land- like veins in humans, immense mountains always in background, watching... "

: And there are long passages of pure poetry, including, "It wasn't about soldiering, like Bradley thought, or about uniforms and rifles to keep or extra pairs of pants. It was about death. They were all meant to die out there.

: "Some wouldn't, but they would have no control over whether or not. If they did live, the deaths they would witness, the blood, the gore, the frozen-in-death looks of horror and surprise would never leave them. What they witnessed would be in every grass-scented breath of wind, in every trembling leaf, in the eyes of every person they
: would ever say I love you to. The memories would come upon them at odd times, from stray sensory connections, when they made love to women and held the warm bodies of their children."

: In writing the book, Huebner spent hours and days and weeks around the site of the Little Big Horn, at one point standing above the battlefield with a descendant of Crow scouts for four hours of a hot July afternoon. That led to the image of Bradley, Gentle and Huebner "finding this horrible massacre, being changed by it in horrible and
: profound ways, and then realizing that their job called for them to do the same thing to the Indians."

: In writing the book, said Huebner, he came to the conclusion that "we are a bastard country. We are a mixed breed. Our country was born of ambition and rape. ... One person who read my book said it seemed as much about Vietnam as the Indian war. I think he got it."

: There is a savagery, a touchable insanity, that rings true throughout "American by Blood," and Huebner makes no apologies for it. He continually brings the misery up
: close "When there was not rain, the heat was tropical, humid and close. Their clothes never dried, and in the early afternoon, steam rose from their woolen uniforms. They smelled for miles... Trailed by turkey vultures, batting off large, biting, black horseflies by light, mosquitoes by dark. Rainy reveille at six, breakfasts of water, and
: bitter, stale coffee... within a month they were killing the pack-mules for food."

: Huebner doesn't try to make much sense of the brutality and killing, except in brief passages. "Mebbe, you get scared of what you see, so you keep going because you git scared. Maybe some just enjoy," he writes. "You hate that you've done it, but you like how it feels. Or you can't believe you're doing it, so you do it harder. And God, he just stands by and watches."

: Gaines is right. "American by Blood" is a small masterpiece.

~~

Thanks Ayesha! This is one book I'll definitely be looking for.

..Jeri


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