The Grass Dancer

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Overview

Back in the 1860s, Ghost Horse, a handsome young heyo'ka, or sacred clown, loved and lost the beautiful warrior woman Red Dress. Since then, their spirits have sought desperately to be reunited, and it is the ceaseless playing out of this drama that shapes the sometimes violent fate of those who have come after them. Now, in the 1980s, Charlene Thunder, a teenage descendant of Red Dress, is in love with Harley Wind Soldier, the dashing traditional dancer of Ghost Horse's lineage. When Harley's redheaded soul ...
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Overview

Back in the 1860s, Ghost Horse, a handsome young heyo'ka, or sacred clown, loved and lost the beautiful warrior woman Red Dress. Since then, their spirits have sought desperately to be reunited, and it is the ceaseless playing out of this drama that shapes the sometimes violent fate of those who have come after them. Now, in the 1980s, Charlene Thunder, a teenage descendant of Red Dress, is in love with Harley Wind Soldier, the dashing traditional dancer of Ghost Horse's lineage. When Harley's redheaded soul mate, Pumpkin, dies in a crash, Charlene guiltily suspects her own grandmother, the notorious witch Anna Thunder, of causing it - as she well may have caused the collision that claimed Harley's father and brother, which even today obsesses him. Charlene and Harley each strive in solitude to make peace with the ghosts of the old ways, while they contend with the living: Jeannette McVay, an eastern college student who has been studying the tribe; Crystal Thunder, who must escape the reservation in order to understand her past; Herod Small War, whose spiritual guidance is both revered and resented; Margaret Many Wounds, Harley's grandmother, who walks on the moon.

From the lore of her people, the Sioux, Susan Power presents an extraordinary debut novel rich in drama and infused with magic. Set on a North Dakota reservation, this book weaves the stories of the old and the young, broken families, romantic rivals, and men and women in love and at war. Historical Fiction

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A major talent debuts with this beguiling novel whose characters are Dakota Sioux and their spirit ancestors. Covering some of the same themes as Louise Erdrich but displaying her own distinctive voice and transcendent imagination, Power has produced an authentic portrait of Native American culture and characters who are as resilient and tangible as the grass moving over the Great Plains. In interconnected stories that begin in 1981 and range back to 1864, the residents of a Sioux reservation endure poverty, epidemic illness, injustice and--no less importantly--jealousy, greed, anger and unrequited love. The tales begin and end with Harley Wind Soldier, a 17-year-old whose soul is a ``black, empty hole'' because his mother has not spoken a word since the accident 17 years earlier in which Harley's father and brother died. Eventually we discover the true circumstances surrounding that event and other secrets--of clandestine love affairs, of childrens' paternity--that stretch back several generations but hold a grip on the present. Meanwhile, Harley falls in love with enchanting Pumpkin, an amazingly adept grass dancer whose fate will make readers gasp. Mercury Thunder and her daughter Anna use magic in a sinister way, and tragedy results. Herod Small War, a Yuwipi (interpreter of dreams), tries to bring his community into harmony with the spiritual world. The existence of ghosts in the real world is accepted with calm belief by the characters, who know the old legends and understand that the direction of their lives is determined by their gods and ancestors. Power weaves historical events--the Apollo Moon landing; the 19th-century Great Plains drought--into her narrative, reinforcing the seamless coexistence of the real and the spirit realm. A consummate storyteller whose graceful prose is plangent with lyrical metaphor and sensuous detail, she deftly uses suspense, humor, irony and the gradual revelation of dramatic disclosures to compose a tapestry of human life. Seduced by her humane vision and its convincing depiction, one absorbs the traditions and lore of the Sioux community with a sense of wonder reflecting that with which the characters view the natural world. This is a book that begs to be read at one sitting, and then again. A chapter appeared in The Best American Short Stories 1993. BOMC and QPB selection. (Aug.)
Library Journal
In this magical first novel, Powers threads together contemporary Native American reservation life with the legends of her Dakota Sioux ancestors. (LJ 10/1/94)
School Library Journal
YA-Rich in myth and legend, this powerful story of the Dakota Indians flows seamlessly back and forth in time from 1864-1982. In the mid-1860s, a young Sioux maiden, Red Dress, translates the sermons of Father La Frambois but deliberately misinterprets the Jesuit's message, through which he hoped to convert her tribe. In a dream, she sees herself in a western settlement and is compelled to journey to Fort Laramie where she observes the violence, hypocrisy, and emptiness of frontier life. Here she becomes secretary to the zealous Rev. Pike, and falls victim to the ultimate treachery when she is murdered by the crazed preacher. In a moving ceremony immediately after her death, the grief stricken Ghost Horse symbolically marries Red Dress. He lives on as a sacred clown and frenetic dancer among his people. The memory of these two restless spirits haunts generations to come with illustrative signs, mysterious visions, and fateful interference. The strength of the novel lies in the meshing of the various stories of the descendants of Red Dress and Ghost Horse so that they all come together in one piece. The result is a passionate portrayal of universal human emotions and a vivid account of Native American history and culture.-Jackie Gropman, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA
Mary Ellen Quinn
In an impressive debut, Power writes about her people, the Sioux of North Dakota. Each chapter can stand alone as a short story, but recurring characters provide unity, and the book takes on added depth and resonance as the stories unfold. Power follows her own chronology, moving back and forth across time and generations, layering the voices of the old and young, the living and the dead. Among the voices are those of Anna Thunder, who tries to run the lives of her daughter, Crystal, and her granddaughter, Charlene. Red Dress, Anna's ancestor, narrates the story "Snakes," in which destiny takes her to Fort Laramie to exact revenge for crimes against her people. Red Dress still presides over the tribe in dreams and visions long after she has died. In the especially beautiful "Moonwalk," Margaret Many Wounds lies dying while her twin daughters, Evelyn and Lydia, are busy in the kitchen preparing her last meal, a bowl of Sioux corn soup, and the television broadcasts astronauts walking on the moon. Death for Margaret means a moon walk of her own. Her daughter Lydia marries Calvin Wind Soldier, coveted by Anna Thunder. When Calvin is killed, Lydia stops speaking. Later, Lydia and Calvin's son, Harley, is loved by Anna's granddaughter Charlene. The strongest characters are women, except for Herod Small War, and elderly man who in "The Medicine Hole" is confused by his wife's new independence, and follows a vision of the past. Comparisons between Power and Louise Erdrich are probably inevitable, but Power has her own unique vision and voice.
From Barnes & Noble
Set on a Sioux reservation in North Dakota, this novel recounts a story about the connections among generations and how the actions of our ancestors affect contemporary life. The author weaves a myriad of folk motifs into the fabric of present-day reality.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781568952154
  • Publisher: Cengage Gale
  • Publication date: 6/28/1995
  • Pages: 393

Meet the Author

Susan Power is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. Her short fiction has appeared in The Paris Review, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, High Plains Literary Review, and Story. A chapter from The Grass Dancer, her first novel, was selected for The Best American Short Stories 1993.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2003

    Magical and Captivating.

    This happends to be one of my favorite books ever it is moving powerful,haunting,vivid, compelling.A pleasure in all respects a sipmly wonderful read filled with the power of these remarkable ancient peoples the Sioux.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2002

    Profound and Moving

    The Grass Dancer is a profound and moving coming-of-age story filled with the vision and beauty of the Sioux people. Power's lyrical prose and colorful characters make the book a wonderful read.

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    Posted July 25, 2010

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    Posted July 26, 2009

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