Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Winter in the Blood a spare and lyrical novel of Indian life

Book 36: Winter in the Blood by James Welch

Bookseller Ken Lopez describes James Welch as "one of the most important and accomplished Native American writers of the post-1968 generation."

"Welch was considered, along with Leslie Silko, one of the key writers of the first generation of the renaissance in Native American literature," said Lopez.

In the introduction to the Penguin Classic edition of Welch's first book, Winter in the Blood,  author Louise Erdrich describes the book as "a central and inspiring text to a generation of western regional and Native American writers, including me."

The novel, Erdrich writes is "a quiet American masterpiece."

A masterpiece, perhaps, but a neglected one.  Few people today are talking or writing about the work of Welch, who died in 2003. And that is unfortunate for Welch, of Blackfoot-Gros Ventre heritage, is both an important writer, and a gifted one.

Winter in the Blood is a spare and lyrical novel narrated by an unnamed 32-year-old Blackfeet Indian living on the Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana. It is a story of alienation and the search for personal meaning and identity, which draws its poetry and power from Welch's powers of close observation and gift for the telling detail. 

Readers familiar with the works of popular contemporary Indian authors such as Erdrich or Sherman Alexie would do well to explore Welch's writing. His work was valuable to this current generation of Indian writers both because it provided assurances that their stories of modern Indian life were worth telling and because he set the bar so high.

A reader doesn't necessarily need to know of Welch's importance in the Indian literary canon. He should know that Welch's is a skillful writer and masterful storyteller and that his novels, Winter in the Blood among them, make for a rewarding read.

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The completion of Winter in the Blood advances me in a reading challenge that I have taken up in 2011.

The challenge was issued by The Roof Beam Reader. The 2011 TBR (To Be Read) Pile Challenge is to read 12 books from your to-be-read pile in 12 months. I have read four of my 12 since undertaking the challenge. This is where I stand:

1. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
2. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
3. War and Peace by Mr. Tolstoy
4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
5. The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker
6. Under the Dome by Stephen King
7. White Noise by Don Delillo
8. Yogi Berra Eternal Yankee by Allen Barra
9. The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies
10. Winter in the Blood by James Welch
11. Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson
12. Emotionally Weird by Kate Atkinson

Reservation Road by John Burnham Schwartz
Tales of Burning Love by Louise Erdrich

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