The Light People: A Novel

Overview

The Light People is a multi-genre novel that includes a series of nested stories about a tribal community in Northern Minnesota. Major themes include Oskinaway?s search for his parents and the legal wrangling over the possession of a leg that has been removed from a tribal elder. Each story is linked to previous and successive stories to form a discourse on identity and cultural appropriation, all told with humor and wisdom.
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Overview

The Light People is a multi-genre novel that includes a series of nested stories about a tribal community in Northern Minnesota. Major themes include Oskinaway’s search for his parents and the legal wrangling over the possession of a leg that has been removed from a tribal elder. Each story is linked to previous and successive stories to form a discourse on identity and cultural appropriation, all told with humor and wisdom.
     Taking inspiration from traditional Anishinabe stories and drawing from his own family's storytelling tradition, Gordon Henry, Jr., has woven a tapestry of interlocking narratives in The Light People, a novel of surpassing emotional strength. His characters tell of their experiences, dreams, and visions in a multitude of literary styles and genres. Poetry, drama, legal testimony, letters, and essays combine with more conventional narrative techniques to create a multifaceted, deeply rooted, and vibrant portrait of the author's own tribal culture. Keenly aware of Eurocentric views of that culture, Henry offers a "corrective history" where humor and wisdom transcend the political. 
    In the contemporary Minnesota village of Four Bears, on the mythical Fineday Reservation, a young Chippewa boy named Oskinaway is trying to learn the whereabouts of his parents. His grandparents turn for help to a tribal elder, one of the light people, Jake Seed. Seed's assistant, a magician who performs at children's birthday parties, tells Oskinaway's family his story, which gives way to the stories of those he encounters. Narratives unfold into earlier narratives, spinning back in time and encompassing the intertwined lives of the Fineday Chippewas, eventually revealing the place of Oskinaway and his parents in a complex web of human relationships.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Henry, a professor of languages and literature at Ferris State University in Michigan, draws inspiration from his own Anishinabe heritage for this imaginative and entertaining novel. It is more precisely a progression of stories in which the young Anishinabe, Oskinaway, tries to learn the whereabouts of his mother, who had disappeared with a trader on the powwow trail some years earlier, leaving him with his grandparents. He seeks advice of a tribal elder, Jake Seed, which in turn leads to a consultation with Arthur Boozhoo, a young medicine man who also performs as a magician at children's parties. This in turn leads to a recitation by Seed's daughter Rose, who mysteriously turns up one day when her father (who never spoke of her existence) is sick. And so it goes in this delightful, gentle, comic piece. Prose, poetry and drama share pages with court transcripts as the author weaves his tale. Anthropologists are lampooned in the account of Moses Four Bears, whose severed leg winds up in a museum and becomes a subject for repatriation. The mixed-blood Bombarto Rose considers Indian identity as he tries to make his way between Native and white cultures. This seventh volume in the American Indian Literature and Critical Studies series edited by Gerald Vizenor is a touching and slyly humorous read. (Mar.)
Library Journal
The publisher's ``American Indian Literature and Critical Studies'' series continues with this richly complex, multilayered, multiple-genre novel. Each character tells a story up to the point where a new person is introduced; then the newcomer continues on until the next voice appears. Amazingly, the huge cast of characters and their snippets of stories manage to gel into a cohesive whole. Storytelling, poetry, and court transcripts are among the literary styles employed in an engaging tale that begins with a young boy's quest for knowledge of his parents and rambles through generations of life on the Fineday Reservation. Recommended for large collections and those specializing in Native American literature.-- Debbie Bogenschutz, Cincinnati Technical Coll.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780870136641
  • Publisher: Michigan State University Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 226
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Gordon Henry is Professor of English at Michigan State University and Director of the Native American Institute, in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University. His poetry and fiction have been published in The Black Warrior Review, Mid-American Review, Stories Migrating Home, and North Dakota Quarterly, as well as numerous other journals and anthologies. The Light People, his first novel, won the American Book Award in 1995.

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