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Reservation Blues

Reservation Blues

4.1 18
by Sherman Alexie

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Winner of the American Book Award and a critically acclaimed national best seller, Reservation Blues continues to find new and adoring readers in academic and popular circles alike. In 1931, Robert Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the devil, receiving legendary blues skills in return. He went on to record only twenty-nine songs before being murdered on August 16,


Winner of the American Book Award and a critically acclaimed national best seller, Reservation Blues continues to find new and adoring readers in academic and popular circles alike. In 1931, Robert Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the devil, receiving legendary blues skills in return. He went on to record only twenty-nine songs before being murdered on August 16, 1938. In 1992, however, Johnson suddenly reappears on the Spokane Indian Reservation and meets Thomas Builds-the-Fire, the misfit storyteller of the Spokane Tribe. When Johnson passes his enchanted instrument to Thomas - lead singer of the rock-and-roll band Coyote Springs - a magical odyssey begins that will take the band from reservation bars to small-town taverns, from the cement trails of Seattle to the concrete canyons of Manhattan. Sherman Alexie imaginatively mixes narrative, newspaper excerpts, songs, journal entries, visions, radio interviews, and dreams to explore the effects of Christianity on Native Americans in the late twentieth century. In addition, he examines the impact of cultural assimilation on the relationships between Indian women and Indian men. Reservation Blues is a painful, humorous, and ultimately redemptive symphony about God and indifference, faith and alcoholism, family and hunger, sex and death.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The characters of Alexie's acclaimed short fiction (The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven)-Thomas Builds-the-Fire, Victor, Junior, the habitus of the Spokane Indian reservation-return in this superb first novel, a lyric comic tale with magical realist overtones. A stranger arrives on the reservation carrying a magic guitar, which he's been given as part of his bargain with ``the Gentleman'' for blues immortality. Now he's trying to lose guitar, devil and deal. Taking the instrument off his hands, Thomas soon forms an all-Indian R&B band with Victor and Junior. The group, Coyote Springs, plays small clubs and bars and eventually goes on tour. They even attract their own groupies-white women Betty and Veronica and Indian sisters Chess and Checkers Warm Water. Will they succeed and, if they do, will they lose their souls? Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur D'Alene Indian, excels at creating colorful characters, and he fills his narrative with subtle and affectionate homages to other contemporary Native American writers (Jim Northrup, Thomas King et al.). Hilarious but poignant, filled with enchantments yet dead-on accurate with regard to modern Indian life, this tour de force will leave readers wondering if Alexie himself hasn't made a deal with the Gentleman in order to do everything so well. (June)
Library Journal
Alexie follows up his story collection, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (LJ 9/1/93), with a first novel about an all-Indian Catholic rock band called Coyote Springs.
From the Publisher

“The mystical complexity of Reservation Blues is as mesmerizing as the poetic power of Alexie’s writing. . . . Generously laced with bleak and sometimes wacky humor, but none of that detracts from the book’s poignant theme.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Scathingly funny . . . Reservation Blues never misses a beat, never sounds a false note.” —Los Angeles Times

“Quiet, powerful…brilliant, deeply moving…[Sherman Alexie] is funny, he is perceptive, and he knows how to stir us in large and small ways.” –Frederick Busch, The New York Times Book Review

“An important voice in American literature.” –The Boston Globe

Product Details

San Val, Incorporated
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.36(w) x 8.42(h) x 1.05(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Sherman J. Alexie, Jr., was born in October 1966. A Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, he grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington, about 50 miles northwest of Spokane. Approximately 1,100 Spokane Tribal members live there. Alexie's father is a Coeur d'Alene Indian, and his mother is a Spokane Indian.

Born hydrocephalic, with water on the brain, Alexie underwent a brain operation at the age of 6 months and was not expected to survive. When he did beat the odds, doctors predicted he would live with severe mental retardation. Though he showed no signs of this, he suffered severe side effects, such as seizures and uncontrollable bed-wetting, throughout his childhood. In spite of all this, Alexie learned to read by age three, and devoured novels, such as John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, by age five. All these things ostracized him from his peers and he was often the brunt of other kids' jokes on the reservation.

As a teenager, after finding his mother's name written in a textbook he was assigned at the Wellpinit school, Alexie made a conscious decision to attend high school off the reservation in Reardan, WA, where he knew he would get a better education. At Reardan High he was "the only Indian...except for the school mascot." There he excelled academically and became a star player on the basketball team.

He graduated from Reardan High and went on to attend Gonzaga University in Spokane on scholarship in 1985. After two years at Gonzaga, he transferred to Washington State University (WSU) in Pullman.

Alexie planned to be a doctor until he "fainted three times in human anatomy class and needed a career change." That change was fueled when he stumbled into a poetry workshop at WSU. Encouraged by poetry teacher Alex Kuo, Alexie excelled at writing and realized he'd found his new career choice. Shortly after graduating in American Studies from WSU, Alexie received the Washington State Arts Commission Poetry Fellowship in 1991 and the National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship in 1992.

Not long after receiving his second fellowship, and just one year after he left WSU, two of his poetry collections - The Business of Fancydancing and I Would Steal Horses - were published. Alexie had a problem with alcohol that began soon after he started college at Gonzaga, but after learning that Hanging Loose Press agreed to publish The Business of Fancydancing, he immediately gave up drinking, at the age of 23, and has been sober ever since.

Alexie continued to write prolifically and his first collection of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, was published by Atlantic Monthly Press in 1993. For his collection he received a PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Book of Fiction, and was awarded a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award.

Alexie was named one of Granta's Best of Young American Novelists and won the Before Columbus Foundation's American Book Award and the Murray Morgan Prize for his first novel, Reservation Blues, published in 1995 by Atlantic Monthly Press. His second novel, Indian Killer, published in 1996, also by Atlantic Monthly Press, was named one of People's Best of Pages and a New York Times Notable Book.

Alexie occasionally does reading and stand-up performances with musician Jim Boyd, a Colville Indian. Alexie and Boyd also collaborated to record the album Reservation Blues, which contains the songs from the book of the same name. One of the Reservation Blues songs, "Small World" [WAV], also appeared on Talking Rain: Spoken Word & Music from the Pacific Northwest and Honor: A Benefit for the Honor the Earth Campaign. In 1996 Boyd and Alexie opened for the Indigo Girls at a concert to benefit the Honor the Earth Campaign.

In 1997, Alexie embarked on another artistic collaboration. Chris Eyre, a Cheyenne/Arapaho Indian, discovered Alexie's writing while doing graduate work at New York University's film school. Through a mutual friend, they agreed to collaborate on a film project inspired by Alexie's work.

The basis for the screenplay was "This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona," a short story from The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. Shadow Catcher Entertainment produced the film. Released as Smoke Signals at the Sundance Film Festival in January 1998, the movie won two awards: the Audience Award and the Filmmakers Trophy.

After success at Sundance, Smoke Signals found a distributor, Miramax Films, and was released in New York and Los Angeles on June 26 and across the country on July 3. In 1999 the film received a Christopher Award, an award presented to the creators of artistic works "which affirm the highest values of the human spirit." Alexie was also nominated for the Independent Feature Project/West 1999 Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay.

In the midst of releasing Smoke Signals, Alexie competed in his first World Heavyweight Poetry Bout competition in June 1998. He went upp agaaaaainst world champion Jimmy Santiago Baca and won the Bout, and then went on to win the title again over the next three years, becoming the first poet to hold the title for three and four consecutive years. He is the current reigning World Heavyweight Poetry Bout Champion.

Known for his exceptional humor and performance ability, Alexie made his stand-up debut at the Foolproof Northwest Comedy Festival in Seattle, WA, in April 1999, and was the featured performer at the Vancouver International Comedy Festival's opening night gala in July 1999.

In 1998, Alexie participated with seven others in the PBS Lehrer News Hour Dialogue on Race with President Clinton. The discussion was moderated by Jim Lehrer and originally aired on PBS on July 9, 1998.

In June 1999, The New Yorker acknowledged Alexie as one of the top writers for the 21st Century. He was one of twenty writers featured in the magazine's Summer Fiction Edition, "20 Writers for the 21st Century."

Alexie was a 1999 O. Henry Award juror, and was one of the judges for the 2000 inaugural PEN/Amazon.com Short Story Award. He was also a member of the 2000 Independent Spirit Awards Nominating Committee - the awards for independent film.

Alexie is the guest editor for the Winter 2000 issue of Ploughshares, a prestigious literary journal.

Alexie, who resides with his wife and two sons in Seattle, WA, has published 14 books to date, including his most recent collection of short stories, The Toughest Indian in the World, and his newly released poetry collection, One Stick Song.

Honors and Awards 1991 Washington State Arts Commission Poetry Fellowship

1992 National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship

1993 Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award Citation

1994 Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Writers' Award

1998 Tacoma Public Library Annual Literary Award

1998-2001 World Heavyweight Poetry Champion

Granta Magazine: Twenty Best American Novelists Under the Age of 40

The New Yorker 1999: 20 Writers for the 21st Century

1999 Honorary Degree from Columbia College, Chicago

2000 Honorary Degree from Seattle University

For The Business of Fancydancing:

New York Times Book Review: 1992 Notable Book of the Year

"Distances" - 1993 Bram Stoker Award Nominee

For I Would Steal Horses:

1992 Slipstream Chapbook Contest Winner

For The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven:

PEN/Hemingway Award: Best First Book of Fiction Citation Winner

Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award

Washington State Governor's Writers Award

For Reservation Blues:

1996 Before Columbus Foundation: American Book Award

1996 Murray Morgan Prize

For Indian Killer:

1996 A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

1996 People Best of Pages

For Smoke Signals:

1998 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award

1999 Christopher Award

1999 Nomination for the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay

For The Toughest Indian in the World:

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Reservation Blues 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
WestMurick More than 1 year ago
I loved this book, there is so much behind the characters. This book brings in characters from Alexie's other works and gives them a new aspect of personality appropriate for the situations they are in.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of my all-time favorite books.....read it in a day and a half....I really didn't want this book to end....!! Sherman Alexie certainly has a knack for storytelling, and his vivid characters just pop off the page....!!
Travis93 More than 1 year ago
This book is amazing, it starts off with a man named Thomas. Thomas is a lonely guy, mostly because he is always repeating stories to anyone that will listen. He lives on a Spokane Indian reservation, where he has lived all his life. Not very many travelers come through the reservation, but one day a black man named Robert. He supposedly sold his soul to "the gentleman", and is seeking out big mama to help him reclaim his soul. Robert claims he sold his soul so he could be the best guitar player ever know, and when Thomas gives him a ride to the mountain where big mama lives, he leaves the guitar with Thomas. He has some friends from the reservation that ask him about the guitar, and if he can play, he replies that he can, but Victor and Junior smash the guitar on the ground. After hearing Thomas play, they decide to form a band and set off on the road to stardom. This is a great book, and I recommend it to anyone who doesn't mind the occasional profanity.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book about 3 years ago for my class on American Diversity. It was my first encounter with Native-American fiction and, honestly, one of the most powerful experiences.The poetry is beautiful, even though, sad....I watched Smoke Signals after that (it's based Sherman Alexie's books and, if I remember correctly, directed by him) and enjoyed it too. The music in the last scene is awesome. This is the music that I heard while reading the book. Totally recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I find all of Alexie's work magical and can't get my hands on enough of it. Reservation Blues is no different. The characters are complete and the story entertaining as well as pegagological. But the magic is in Alexie's narrative. The way his words fall off the pages and into the imagination will never cease to amaze me!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books I have ever read and I would gladly give it tens stars if were possible
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a sad book. Not that the truth shouldn't be told as it is, because that is exactly what this book does, but it is put in such a 'life is hopeless' way that I didn't want to leave my room for all the wrongs in the world.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What will i get in return?
Ashton10 More than 1 year ago
this appears to be a good book. acoordin to my friend he really enjoys this book. it is entertaining and keeps you interested.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought the book was boring and I barely read it in my 12th grade AP Literature Class