Ten Indians

Ten Indians

5.0 1
by Madison Smartt Bell

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Mike Devlin's life has leveled out onto a predictable plateau: he and his wife and daughter live in a large, suburban home where his days are comfortable and routine; his psychiatric practice is well-established. But when he opens a Tae Kwon Do school in a black, inner-city Baltimore neighborhood, Devlin becomes the ultimate stranger: not merely by virtue of his race,…  See more details below


Mike Devlin's life has leveled out onto a predictable plateau: he and his wife and daughter live in a large, suburban home where his days are comfortable and routine; his psychiatric practice is well-established. But when he opens a Tae Kwon Do school in a black, inner-city Baltimore neighborhood, Devlin becomes the ultimate stranger: not merely by virtue of his race, but by the facts of his life, which leave him feeling ghostly and ungrounded for all the privilege and solidity they represent. An inner voice - "I cannot do nothing" - has compelled Devlin into a world whose desperation and harshness he can only guess at. But the brutality of the streets and a series of violent deaths and deadly misunderstandings shock him into seeing how limited his influence has been. In a complex, fast-paced narrative, several richly nuanced voices weave a powerful, deeply effecting story of possibility - hopeful and dangerous - between people whose connection is often defined only by its impossibility.

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Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times Book Review
Shootings, kidnappings, hit-and-run, routine and inventive stabbings, crack overdose, fist-and-foot-fights, child neglect and abuse, a mounting toll of murder; in Ten Indians, the action unrolls at a thriller pace. Bell has a compelling, gut-gripping way with the violent incident...he builds his tightly structured narrative primarily, and most convincingly, with such wrenchingly realized moments.... Within the contexts of Bell's authentic obsessions—cruelty and fear as epitomized by our bizarre human invention, racism—Ten Indians acquires echoes and reflections of a deeper kind."—Los Angeles Times Book Review

David Futrelle

At a time when much American fiction seems lost in self-imposed solipsism, when few writers bother to examine experience much different than their own, Madison Smartt Bell is pushing himselfùand his readers -- into vastly different worlds. In All Souls Rising, published last year and nominated for a National Book Award, Bell brought his readers into the chaos and confusion of the Haitian slave uprising of 1791. In his new novel, Ten Indians, Bell once again crosses the color line, taking us into the heart of Baltimore's inner city.

Ten Indians centers around the life of Mike Devlin, a prosperous middle-aged therapist who decides (for reasons never quite explicable to himself, or to the reader) to open a Tae Kwon Do school in one of Baltimore's worst neighborhoods. Though Devlin tries to maintain the school as a kind of "sanctuary" from the violence of the streets, he becomes drawn into one of the neighborhood's internecine drug warsùand finds his own life quickly spinning out of control.

There is much to admire here. Ten Indians is ingeniously constructed, as carefully controlled as the Tae Kwon Do rituals Bell so lovingly describes. Bell's prose, too, is taut and lean. There is, one realizes, a sort of lesson here: Bell's authorial control contrasts sharply with the random chaos of the world he describes, just as the ritualsùand the controlled violenceùof Devlin's Tae Kwon Do school contrast with the careless violence of the streets. There is a power, Bell suggests, in such self-control.

Refreshingly, though, in a world that seems oversupplied with "tough love" and undersupplied with love of the more conventional kind, this book is not simply an empty rehashing of Dangerous Minds. Bell shies away from cheap melodrama and moral grandstandingùand shows the hubris inherent in Devlin's often misguided attempts to "fix" a world he doesn't really understand. Devlin, as one character notes to herself, doesn't mean any harmùbut his actions cause harm nonetheless. Good intentions, the book makes clear, "[a]in't no excuse and don't make no difference."

It's a lesson Bell would do well to ponder himself. Ten Indians is a supremely well-intentioned book, but ultimately a disappointing oneùa book that is too well-behaved for its own good. Ten Indians is full of villainy, but has no real villains; it's a battle of the blands. All of Bell's characters have souls; they just don't have much life to them. You can't hate the book, and you can't hate Bell for trying. You can only wish he had challenged himself, and his readers, a little bit more. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With his 11th work of fiction in 14 years, Bell, whose last novel, All Soul's Rising, was a finalist for the National Book Award, is threatening to become the Joyce Carol Oates of his generation: a prolific writer who, while always competent, is only intermittently inspired. His latest novel is about Mike Devlin, a middle-aged white child-therapist who, for somewhat murky reasons, decides to open a Tae Kwon Do school in the black projects of inner-city Baltimore. Unbeknownst to him, Devlin's school attracts members of two drug gangs increasingly caught up in a murderous rivalry. Meanwhile, the singularly oblivious Devlin lets his daughter, Michelle, come down to the projects to train; she soon launches an affair with the leader of one of the gangs. The book alternates between third-person narrative for sections focusing on Devlin and his family, and first-person narratives told from the perspectives of various black youths. Despite these latter bursts of ventriloquism, the novel lacks the gritty verisimilitude of, say, Richard Price's Clockers. Devlin's motivation -- she has a vague desire to participate in the world and soften some of its rougher edges -- remain personally unclear, if admirable in the abstract. Nevertheless, Bell is a natural storyteller, and the book does take on a momentum and pathos as the unnecessary death toll exacted by life on the street rises and as Devlin learns -- the hard way -- how large the distance between worlds really is. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Bell, recently identified by Granta as one of the 20 best young American novelists, here shows why. Multiple narrators cast different shadows on the story of Mike Devlin, a white, middle-class psychologist whose life is in crisis (whether he knows it or not), who sets up a Tae Kwan Do academy in a black, inner-city neighborhood (in crisis of its own) in Baltimore. The concept of "getting involved" applies in a metaphysical as well as practical sense. "Boundary crossing" also takes on multiple meanings, especially as Michelle, Devlin's teenage daughter, becomes increasingly interested in the academy and the neighborhood. Deliberately understated, the book turns the nice trick of holding the reader despite the fact that the outcome is forecast at the beginning. Readers introduced to Bell with the highly praised All Souls' Rising (LJ 10/1/95), a historical novel of Haitian independence, will find Ten Indians quite different. But the martial arts theme and inner-city setting are in fact much more typical of his oeuvre. Highly recommended for all collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/76.]Robert E. Brown, Onondaga Cty. P.L., Syracuse, N.Y.

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Product Details

Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
4.96(w) x 7.72(h) x 0.50(d)

What People are saying about this

Oscar Hijuelos
A deftly executed journey into life as experienced by struggling urban youth.

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Ten Indians 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book was a compelling struggel between two ethnic cultures with the charecters at a some what never ending battle. Child psychiatrist Mike Devlin trys what seems his entire life to make a difference but when the constant killings on the streets of baltimore leed him to belive that his efforts have failed.