Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Lone Ranger and Tonto FistFight in Heaven Book Review

The Lone Ranger and Tonto FistFight in Heaven is a book written by Sherman Alexie who is a Native  American writer and poet.It was given to me by a close friend who has Native American ancestry and it proved to be a very interesting read.I think its great to read about a life or culture that is totally different to your own and this book certainly did not disappoint.It is a collection of 22 short stories and each is unique but connected by life on the Spokane Indian Reservation.All I really knew about Native Americans was probably from the movie Dances With Wolves and the usual cliches that you see in Westerns.I did like the movie Dances With Wolves as it was sympathetic to the Indian plight but I know in TV and movies they take a lot of liberties with the truth! Just look at most movies where Ireland is depicted or Irish accents and they nearly always are wrong!!

So it was good to read something that is written by a Native American about life on a Reservation even though its fiction.I read that Sherman Alexie (pictured above)called the work a "thinly disguised memoir," as the stories are compiled from his memories and observations of life growing up.Its a very different type of book to what I have ever read and the stories range from the sad,fun and fantasy to the compassionate and uplifting.They revolve around Victor Joseph and Thomas Builds-the-Fire as they live on the Spokane Reservation and the tales go into a lot of surreal imagery, flashbacks, dream sequences, diary entries, and extended poetic passages to create stories that resemble prose poems more than conventional narratives.As I am not used to reading this kind of writing, it felt very disjointed but maybe that's what the author was trying to convey about life on the reservation.Alcohol seems to play a big part in their lives as the think of the old Indian ways and how their life is now and I could not help but draw parallels with the way the Irish drink also.They yearn for the days before the White men came when they could live free but are now on a reservation.What is interesting is the different conflicts not just between Indians and Whites but the conflicts between reservation Indians and urban Indians(Indians who don't live on the reservation), men and women and between modern Indians and traditions of the past.What is also good to read is how they love to play basketball which is not something I would have known and how they love to eat potatoes which is again very like the Irish.I remember reading in school about how when there was the Great Famine in Ireland and how the Choctaw Nation donated money to Ireland and it always amazed me.How a people with their own problems and troubles gathered money together to help a people they would never meet  really impressed me.As I have read this book I think the Irish and the Indians have a lot in common so the stories did resonate with me in that sense.

After reading the book, I was a bit unsure about how the title fits in but I assumed it was to do with the relationship between Indians and Whites.Then I read online that Sherman Alexie said the title came to him in a dream where they both are fighting and the winner goes to heaven but the loser to hell! Obviously he cheered on Tonto! He is quoted as saying the following...
Kemosabe in Apache means "idiot," as Tonto in Spanish means "idiot." They were calling each other "idiot" all those years; and they both were, so it worked out. It's always going to be antagonistic relationship between indigenous people and the colonial people. I think the theme of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is universal.
It definitely is universal as in Ireland we were occupied by the British but while its important to never forget its time to move on also.Which I think is what Sherman is trying to say in the book.New relationships need to be forged but it can be hard for some people.People want to progress but not forget the old ways.

I liked this book and I thought it had good stories.It did feel a bit disjointed though and wont be for everyone.If you like to read something different though then this book is great.It reminded me of a poem that you read and it will take several re-reads to understand it all.To some people this will sound annoying but I think that is the purpose of a good book.It should stay with you and have you still thinking about it long after you finished it.I think its studied in school in America and I can see why.There are a lot of layers to each story and different dynamics going on.There is also a movie called "Smoke Signals" that I hope to see sometime.Its based on one of the short stories in this book called "This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" So If you like a book different to others then I suggest you read this now!!

The Lone Ranger and Tonto FistFight in Heaven 7/10


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