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Reservation Blues (thoughts)

October 29, 2009

ReservationBluesI had heard of Sherman Alexie around the blogosphere for his YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. But while I enjoy YA, it’s not my favourite, can’t-miss genre, so I wasn’t completely sold. Then, in late August, I read his short story “War Dances” and loved it. I knew I wanted to read more Alexie, and I discovered he’s actually written lots of books, ranging from poetry to short stories to novels. I’m a novel girl at heart, so I plumped for his first one Reservation Blues and then ended up saving it for Dewey’s Read-a-Thon (which was last Saturday).

And can I just say:

Ohmigoditwassogood! Why is Alexie more widely known?! I want to read everything he’s ever written right now!

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s expand a little on it, shall we? Reservation Blues revolves around four young men from a Spokane Indian reservation who end forming a band after legendary 30s Blues singer Robert Johnson shows up one day and gives them his guitar. The book follows the band’s journey from its humble beginnings to trying to get a record cut. I happen to love the blues, so the premise was quite fun for me. However, this book is about so much more than music.

It’s about being in your early 20s, and not really sure what this whole ‘adulthood’ thing is.

It’s about love, and it’s about sex.

It’s about religion, both of the Western and Indian varieties, and it’s about dreams and “more things in heaven and earth.”

It’s about universal themes, but it’s also about the specific Indian experience in the late 20th century.

In short, it’s about life! Alexie’s writing is beautiful. Each chapter begins with one of the band’s songs, and even though I’m not a huge poetry reader, these songs make me want to seek out Alexie’s poetry collections. And he’s so good at making his characters come to life! Even the ones that, at the beginning, I wanted to smack upside the head, but the end Alexie makes me sympathise with completely. And the plot? It’s just marvelous! The ending is a mix of strong hope and heart-break that took my breath away.

Have I gushed enough yet? Are you rushing out to get your hands on this book? No? Well, let me also add, that in addition to all of this, Alexie can do humour! I laughed more than once while reading the book, and during the read-a-thon I shared a passage I found particularly amusing. Since I already returned the book to the library, and so can’t share any other quotes, I’ll include it:

Arnold came to the reservation in his yellow VW van, expecting tipis and buffalo, since he had never been told otherwise. He was genuinely shocked when the Indians in his congregation spoke English.
“Buffalo?” asked Bessie, the oldest Catholic on the reservation. “What do you mean, buffalo? You really thought there were going to be buffalo here?”
“Yes,” he said, “I was looking forward to it.”
“Oh, Father,” Bessie said and laughed. “There weren’t any buffalo here to begin with. We’re a salmon tribe. At least, we were a salmon tribe before they put those dams on the river.”
“What about the buffalo? I mean, Indians were always hunting buffalo on television.”
“It was those dang Sioux Indians. Those Sioux always get to be on television. They get everything.”


And guess what? Alexie recorded soundtrack for the novel! And you can listen to it for free on Rhapsody without signing up or anything.

Well, this turned out to be one of my shorter reviews. But I hope I’ve shared my love for the book, and encouraged you to give Alexie a try.

I loved how music was central to the story, and it made me want more! So what’s your favourite book that features musicians?

26 Comments leave one →
  1. October 29, 2009 1:17 pm

    Great review Eva!

  2. October 29, 2009 1:30 pm

    Wow! A friend has been insisting I read the “Part-time Indian” book so I have it on my TBR pile. Sounds like I should move it up and then get to this one, too.

    Books with music in them, hmm. I’m not sure I notice that; the last one I can think of is Bel Canto, about an opera singer (among other things)!

  3. October 29, 2009 1:37 pm

    What a great review! Thanks for posting it! I read Alexie’s short story, “Every Little Hurricane” and was just in awe over his talent.

    I think my favorite book that has to do with music is Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

  4. October 29, 2009 2:06 pm

    I had the pleasure of meeting Sherman Alexie last year at the Southern Festival of Books he is not only a talented writer, but also very funny and very kind. I’ve not read this one yet, but it’s definitely on my list :) Thanks for your review.

  5. October 29, 2009 2:09 pm

    Sounds like a wonderful book. I’m putting it on my tbr list! Great review.

  6. October 29, 2009 2:10 pm

    Fabulous review. Obviously one I now need to add to my list. I have never heard of this author. Isn’t it great to find someone new who is absolutely fantastic.

    I keep looking at the cover of the book and thinking of the film Xanadu.

  7. taraSG permalink
    October 29, 2009 2:14 pm

    I passed along the One Lovely Blog Award to you!! You can get it here!

    Tara SG

  8. October 29, 2009 3:16 pm

    Wow! SOLD! Adding to TBR list right now. I love such unbridled enthusiasm in a review. :)

  9. October 29, 2009 4:25 pm

    I’ve read Reservation Blues, and vaguely knew there was a soundtrack, but I didn’t realize it was up online anywhere! Thank you for that link, I’m listening to it right now!

    As for a favorite book to do with music, some of my favorites have already been named, but I’m also fond of Born to Rock by Gordon Korman, a hilarious YA book about a high school Young Republican in high school who learns that his biological father is actually a punk rock legend. When he loses his scholarship to college, he decides to look his dad up to see if he would pay for his college, and winds up going on a punk revival tour with his father’s band in order to bond. it’s very funny and a lot of fun.

  10. October 29, 2009 4:25 pm

    I have yet to read any Sherman Alexie, but I hope to read “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” soon. My friend told me about one of his books – Indian Killer – that she read for a college course. That one sounds perhaps a bit tough to get through.

  11. October 29, 2009 4:29 pm

    I still need to read Alexie. I have a short story of his sitting in my pile of reading. I already know I’m going to like his writing.

    Laura Esquivel’s “Law of Love” came with a CD that the reader was supposed to listen to as he/she reads the book. I’ve got it somewhere. I really loved “Like Water for Chocolate” and because of that I picked up “Law of Love.” I never got around to reading it. I’m blessed with too many books!

  12. October 29, 2009 7:18 pm

    I’ve got to read this! I read Ten Little Indians, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and some of Alexie’s poetry and everything is AWESOME. He’s just… I could gush about him all afternoon.

  13. Wendy permalink
    October 29, 2009 7:39 pm

    Okay, you’ve convinced me! Adding it to my list right now!

  14. October 29, 2009 8:41 pm

    My first Sherman Alexie book was The last Diary etc… I had the same reaction you did as to going out and picking up as much of his backlist as I could. I thought Reservation Blues was great, but Indian Killer is a tour de force. I highly recommend that book.

    His New Yorker essays are amazing, too.

    Like others, I could squee about his work all day.

  15. historyofshe permalink
    October 29, 2009 11:53 pm

    Well, you definitely have me sold! Great review!

  16. October 30, 2009 1:26 am

    I have heard a lot of really good things about Alexie. I really need to read this.

    Hmmm…. a lot of good books have centered around music. Probably one of my favorites is The Little Country by Charles de Lint. I HEART de Lint anyway, and this one was really good!

  17. October 30, 2009 3:42 pm

    I TOTALLY agree about Alexie. I went to see him at a book signing a couple of weeks ago, and am now a die hard fan even more. He is witty, smart, and keenly aware of cultural perceptions. I love his irony, and love how much he makes us all think. Great review! I’m so glad to see other Alexie fans out there singing his praises. :)

  18. stacybuckeye permalink
    October 31, 2009 12:29 pm

    I listened to the The Absolutely True Diary read by Alexie and fell in love. I am looking forward to reading everything he’s written. Glad to see you are a new fan too :)

  19. justicejenniferreads permalink
    October 31, 2009 1:25 pm

    I’m really glad that you loved this book. I haven’t read this particular Alexie book, but I did read The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and I absolutely adored the book. Last year, I started reading some Louise Erdrich as well and feel in love with books about the Native American experience. These two writers especially – they have an amazing gift. They bring people to life through words and really put you into the lives of these people that have largely been forgotten and neglected when they have so many wonderful things to share with the world.

  20. October 31, 2009 8:57 pm

    Care, thank you!

    Jeanne, I’ve read Bel Canto, but thanks for mentioning it. :)

    Vasilly, isn’t he amazing?! I got Nick & Nrah’s Infinte Playlist for my sister for Christmas last year, but I haven’t read it…maybe I’ll borrow it!

    Bookshelf Monstrosity, I’m jealous! :)

    Linda, thanks!

    Vivienne, thanks-I haven’t heard of Xanadu before.

    Tara, thank you!

    Priscilla, I really loved it. :D

    Ashley, no problem-it’s a great sound track, isn’t it?! That YA book sounds hilarious-thanks for the rec!

    Charley, Reservation Blues dealt with important issues, but it wasn’t a hard book to read. :)

    Terri, I liked Like Water for Chocolate quite a bit, so thanks for recommending Law of Love!

    Lu, I know-let’s start an Alexie gushing society, hehe.

    Wendy, yay!

    Carolyn, I’m glad I have even better books to look forward to!

    Historyofshe, thank you!

    Stephanie, I LOVE Little Country-it’s my fave de Lint! :D

    Becky, so jealous! :p

    Stacy, yay for gushing! hehe

    Jennifer, I didn’t have nearly as good an experience w/ Erdich’s Painted Drum. I plan to try her again though.

  21. November 10, 2009 5:26 pm

    I’m a huge Alexie fan too and I think you might like his movie “The Business of Fancydancing.” And don’t forget to listen to Alexie’s commentary! :)


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  2. Indian Killer (thoughts) « A Striped Armchair
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  5. Reservation Blues – Sherman Alexie « A Book Blog. Period.

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