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Turtle Belly: A Novel

Turtle Belly: A Novel

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by Joel Monture

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American Indian Literature, Vol 25DUEDATE: April

Joel Monture is a freelance writer and a traditional Native American storyteller and beadwork artist. He is author of The Complete Guide to Traditional Native American Beadwork and Cloudwalker: Contemporary Native American Stories.


American Indian Literature, Vol 25DUEDATE: April

Joel Monture is a freelance writer and a traditional Native American storyteller and beadwork artist. He is author of The Complete Guide to Traditional Native American Beadwork and Cloudwalker: Contemporary Native American Stories.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Tragedy leads to transformation in this poignant, graceful coming-of-age debut novel about a half-white, half-Mohawk boy raised by relatives on the Six Nations reserve near Hamilton, Canada, after he witnesses his mother's murder. Murder scene aside, Sam's story gets off to a slow start as Monture focuses on the details of reservation life, but the narrative picks up when Sam leaves home to attend Dartmouth College on an art scholarship. There he struggles against his loneliness by engaging in a problematic affair with an older waitress who conceals her sideline as a prostitute from him. Governing the novel's events are the violence and substance abuse that seem endemic to reservation life, from the car wreck that takes the life of Sam's foster mother to the accidental shotgun blast from his foster father that puts Sam in the hospital. A traditional storyteller and beadwork artist, Monture shows great flair for characterization, and Sam, his Mohawk family and friends and the waitress who falls in love with him come to life on the page. Although a weak ending fails to resolve many of the novel's themes, there's more than enough talent on display here to leave readers eager for Monture's next endeavor. (Mar.)
This coming-of-age novel, set mostly in the 1960s, will not be for every taste. I, for one, would hesitate recommending it to many of my high school students because of its frequent scenes of sex and violence. Yet it moves like lightning and is never dishonest, even when it betrays its narrator's youthful limitations. Samuel, the child of a crazed white man and a Mohawk woman in Ontario, tells his story. Dislocation and anxiety dominate from the beginning, when the worried mother delivers her son to relatives on the reservation. Quite soon the father arrives, stabs the mother, and is in turn shot by the cousin. After a few pages of charming childhood memories mostly centered around the boy's female relatives, violent deaths and bloody bar fights alternate with scenes of mind-numbing drinking, and, infrequently, tribal cooperation. As an adolescent, Sam downs cases of beer, races cars (one chapter is called "Over a Hundred Miles an Hour"), and enjoys sexual episodes with various women. Suddenly (improbably?) after graduation from high school, he goes off to Dartmouth, but, alienated from his WASPy dorm mates, he promptly shacks up with a sexually voracious waitress of 35 and flunks out of school. Back at the reservation, after experiencing another senseless death and his own drunken attempt at suicide, he somehow decides that the Indian world is better for him than the white. Although the Indian-white dichotomy is only partly explored (and is marred by a knee-jerk kind of racism) and the tragedy of violence threatens to become merely melodramatic, the novel does offer a sympathetic view of adolescent angst and an interesting insight into contemporary Mohawk culture. KLIATT Codes:A—Recommended for advanced students, and adults. 1998, Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 296p., $14.95. Ages 17 to adult. Reviewer: Michael P. Healy; English Teacher, Wood River H.S., Hailey, ID , November 2001 (Vol. 35, No. 6)
Library Journal
This first novel is the powerfully moving coming-of-age story of a boy named Sam, the son of a Mohawk mother and white father, who is called Turtle Belly because of the color of his skin. We meet Sam at age six, when his mother leaves him at the Reservation with her cousin Ellie, hoping to keep him safe from his violent father. A few days later, the two appear at Ellie's house, where the father stabs the mother to death as the young boy watches. Ellie and her husband, Tom, accept Sam as their own and surround him with older relatives and neighbors still practicing the old ways. Still, Sam grows up with one foot in each culture, a stranger to both. Life on the Reservation is hardwhat work can be found is back-breaking, dogs are numbered instead of named since so many are lost to wreckless driving, and boys learn that they have to fight constantly to maintain their places in the pecking order. We watch this frightened boy grow into a young man of integrity and value and see him off to Dartmouth, where his questioning of his place on Earth begins anew. A stunning debut by a Native American storyteller and noted beadwork artist; highly recommended for all readers.Debbie Bogenschutz, Cincinnati Technical Coll.

Product Details

University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date:
American Indian Literature Series
Product dimensions:
5.41(w) x 8.49(h) x 0.86(d)

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Turtle Belly 2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Aro_sen More than 1 year ago
As one of Joel's many ex-wives, and the one that typed up this manuscript, I have to say that Joel was an extremely talented man. This book is partially based on his own life, although his mother wasn't murdered, but she did marry in to the WASP world. And to Joel, that was like death.

A very creative work for a man's self-biography. The sex and violence is what the author was known for in his personal relationships, although his interpretation within the book "Turtle Belly" was his fascinations come to life in words.

Joel is not longer with us in this world, and I pray that the False Faces are with him in the next world as he used them in this one.