Tuesday 20 October 2015

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

I am so glad that I was intrigued enough by the title of this book to search it out. I don't think it's all that well known in Australia despite winning many prestigious awards. There are 4 pages of blurbs and gushing at the start of my copy. I had seen it on a number of lists of course, and was growing increasingly curious, but didn't really know all that much of the actual book, or the author.

The Part-Time Indian of the title is Arthur Spirit, known as Junior. Junior lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation (the rez).

If the government wants to hide somebody, there's probably no place more isolated that my reservation, which is located approximately one million miles north of Important and two billion miles west of Happy. 

It's all told in Junior's engaging first person voice, more a journal than a diary, but an amazing and powerful form. It's truly laugh out loud funny at times and wry observation at others. Junior was born with hydrocephalus, he needed surgery as an infant and it wasn't known if he would even survive or if he would have brain damage. He has lopsided eyes, too many teeth, and is skinny. Now Junior is 14 and he wants to leave the impoverished school on the reservation to pursue a better education at the white high school in the nearby small town.

His father is an alcoholic, his mother was an alcoholic. His older sister Mary lives in the basement. They are poor.

Poverty doesn't give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor. 

Junior is encouraged to change schools by a teacher who doesn't want him to give up all hope as it seems everyone else has given up.

"All these kids have given up," he said. "All your friends. All the bullies. And their mothers and fathers have given up, too. And their grandparents gave up and their grandparents before them. And me and every other teacher here. We're all defeated."

Junior faces casual and organised racism at his new school. Racism, poverty, parenting among multigenerational desolation and alcoholism are all treated in this poignant, moving, funny and rather extraordinary story. Rather predictably because of these issues this book has been banned in several places in America, indeed it was the most challenged book of 2014, up from #3 the year before. Which is a great shame- to lose such a powerful, important story because of squeamishness over a few references to masturbation is particularly foolish.

I'm fourteen years old and I've been to forty-two funerals.
That's really the biggest difference between Indians and white people. 

It's made all the more fascinating by the fact that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian started out as a memoir. There is a real place called the Spokane Indian Reservation where Sherman Alexie grew up. Sherman Alexie was born with hydrocephalus too, he had an alcoholic father and he transferred to the white high school in town. He estimates that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is 78% true...

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was published in 2007. I have no idea how it missed inclusion in 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up, which was published in 2009 and included books up to 2007. I think one of the number of books never available except in Estonian or Catalan and never translated to English could have been jettisoned to make way for this masterful work.

1 comment:

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I do not understand why this book wasn't included in the 1001 list either.