Read The Grass Dancer by Susan Power Free Online
Book Title: The Grass Dancer|
The author of the book: Susan Power
Edition: Berkley Books
Date of issue: April 1st 1997
ISBN 13: 9780425159538
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 4.25 MB
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Reader ratings: 6.3
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What I said in the secrecy of my thoughts was: Fanny, mazaska, the white iron you call money, is useless to me. Even the goods I take from the sutler's store, the flour, coffee, sugar, and tobacco, the knives and blankets, are things I do not want. I give them to my cousins who live upriver.These words belong to Red Dress, ancestor of several members of Susan Power's wonderful cast, who gives the novel a kind of foundation stone or pivot. Her presence, like that of other ancestors and spirits, is real in their lives: here the truth of powerful and often dangerous medicine and magic is taken for granted. I remembered a friend comforting me once saying that everything that dies goes on being somewhere and this is true if only in that afternoon country of the past, but reading The Turquoise Ledge: A Memoir before this prepared me to believe more wholeheartedly in the visions and visitations of Power's multilayered narrative, which eschews linearity and braids stories and voices in a way that reminded me of Louise Erdrich
From the beginning I was smitten with some of the characters, especially Pumpkin, full of joy to be partaking of the pow-wow, consciously shrugging off her inhibitions, flexing and displaying her abilities without vanity or disdain for others. She has been successful in the state education system and she is able to understand what this has given to and taken from her, and to see a way forward for herself that honours and includes her passionate engagement with her native heritage as well as builds on academic success.
One important character, Jeanette, is a well-intentioned ignorant and foolish white woman who has somehow managed to get herself employed as a school teacher on the reservation. Her attempts to integrate herself into Sioux culture and reflect her students' backgrounds in her teaching are almost unbearably cringeworthy, but the cringe-factor is definitely enhanced by my awareness of being a similar sort of cringey white feminist myself. While the teenage students dutifully repeat well-known stories of Iktomi, stories from their own lives or told by relatives, darker and less acceptable, run through their minds. The children use folktale cleverly as a mask or ruse to keep the truth safe from this ignorant, dangerous outsider. That Jeanette is dangerous at this point we can tell from her attitude, as she tells the students that her lessons are about give and take and she expects to learn as much as they do, her intent is exposed as the white liberal strain of extractivism, one which sees cultural heritage as a value-able resource.
Jeanette has a pleasing character arc though, gradually learning some degree of wisdom and starting to be of use to those around her rather than a pain in the ass, wielding her feminism against Herod as white women are still doing today. However, Herod's patriarchal attitudes don't get a free pass from Power. His wife isn't impressed with them either and like conservative sexual customs, they are presented as due for an update. As my friend Margaret pointed out in discussion of the book, it's easy to see how some people would benefit by discussing their feelings openly, as Pumpkin and Harley do, for example. Jeanette's confusion and naivity provides a useful opportunity to correct liberal misconceptions, but also helps other strands to stage a dynamic, living culture that is anything but frozen and monolithic. As Red Dress and uncle Ghost Horse show their descendants, selective adaptation, open-mindedness and commitment to try new ways are themselves traditional to the Sioux.
Unlike the parable-like Iktomi tales, which Frank thinks of as baby stories as he tells one, these real stories require more than an explanatory sentence of interpretation. Grandfather Herod passes on a story-stub to Harley about his uncle Ghost Horse, and Harley then has to re-enact the story in his own life to find out its importance. Reenactment is also necessary later, in response to dreams and problems. Some knowledge can't be passed on in telling, even when the seating plan is congenial, it has to be lived, entered through the body.
Harley is perhaps the closest thing the novel has to a central character, subjected to the most twists and turns of event, involved in the most relationships. I loved the scenes between Harley as a child and his grandmother, Margaret, who is ill, and Margaret's twin daughters, Evie and Harley's mother Lydia. Evie wants her mother to witness the historic Moon landing, but Margaret is unimpressed, telling Harley that there is a Moon for everyone who sees the Moon and that she could walk on the Moon herself. She proves this to him with a beautiful flourish. This reimagining disrupts the USian moon landing narrative and its Cold War subtexts, forming a spectacular decolonising gesture that Margaret gifts to her grandson, more fabulous than any material inheritance.
Anna/Mercury is a descendant of Red Dress whose magic is very powerful. She is dangerous because she uses her medicine selfishly, and perhaps Susan Power is giving a little nod here to those who know Iktomi, who is also a selfish person and is punished, reminding us that selfishness is the quality of a bad Sioux. Courage and resourceful intelligence must be the converse, since Margaret thinks, amusingly, Elizabeth Bennett 'would have made a good Sioux'.
A contrast between this book and Louise Erdrich's work is the attitude towards Christianity, the worldview and vision of which Power presents in all its deathly, world-eating, law-and-order horror through the character of a priest helped by Red Dress, who is unmoved by her Christian education, but accepts her situation among the whites as fate. Despite, or perhaps because of, the quality of her assistance he makes no converts. When she translates the priest's stories to her family, Sioux logic defeats them – they are inferior tales:Bear Soldier, head chief of our band and my own father, was a logician whose counsel was solicited by other leaders. He listened to the anecdotes I dutifully translated for the priest – Cain slaying Abel, Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac, Joseph delivered into slavery by his jealous brothers – and shook his head. My father wanted to know, “Why are his people so determined to kill their relatives?”
So I asked Father, “Why did Cain kill Abel?”
Father pointed at me and shook his finger. “Because he didn't have faith.”
I told my father, “When the priest's people don't believe in the higher spirits they go crazy.”
”Then we'll pray for them.” he said.Thus, the critical orientation to Christianity is always respectfully expressed in a way that explains Sioux traditional religion as again when Frank is chatting with a Sioux Christian and repeats one of Herod's comments: “That's what Tunkasida told me, something like that. He said the Christian God has a big lantern with the kerosene turned way up, and the people pray to Him for guidance, and he lights the way. Now, Wakan Tanka, when you cry to Him for help, says, 'Okay, here's how you start a fire.' And then you have to make your own torch”.
What you get in these stories is no blazing kerosene, but a whole lot of hard work learning, especially for Harley. The key metaphor of the grass dance in the book's title moves gently through the narrative, slowly revealing its meanings and depths, carrying joy, love, grief, anger and power, working its signs in action, in the spirit. This is a gorgeous, glorious novel and I will definitely read all Susan's books.
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Read information about the authorSusan Power is a Standing Rock Sioux author from Chicago. She earned her bachelor's degree from Harvard University and a JD from Harvard Law School. After a short career in law, she decided to become a writer, starting her career by earning an MFA from the Iowa Writer's Workshop.
Her fellowships include an Iowa Arts Fellowship, James Michener Fellowship, Radcliffe Bunting Institute Fellowship, Princeton Hodder Fellowship, and USA Artists Fellowship. She lives and teaches in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
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