Turtle Belly: A Novel

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Overview

Sam, hero of Turtle Belly, is a mixed blood with skin the color of a turtle's belly. In this coming-of-age story, Joel Monture describes Sam's struggle to form an identity that combines his violent father's white world and his mother's traditional Mohawk culture. Attempting to escape her abusive husband, Sam's mother takes her six-year-old son to live with his cousin Ellie and her family on the Six Nations Reserve. There Sam learns the ways and stories of ancestors he has never known, and he learns to trust in ...
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Overview

Sam, hero of Turtle Belly, is a mixed blood with skin the color of a turtle's belly. In this coming-of-age story, Joel Monture describes Sam's struggle to form an identity that combines his violent father's white world and his mother's traditional Mohawk culture. Attempting to escape her abusive husband, Sam's mother takes her six-year-old son to live with his cousin Ellie and her family on the Six Nations Reserve. There Sam learns the ways and stories of ancestors he has never known, and he learns to trust in the love and loyalty of family. Stories of the Little People, the Old Ones, and the Three Sisters capture the young boy's imagination, and Sam learns to express his views by painting - a talent that eventually earns him a scholarship to Dartmouth College. Coming full circle, Sam must now learn the ways of the white world in order to survive.
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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.)
KLIATT
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.
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Product Details

Table of Contents

I Arrive 3
I Awake 11
Blood and Rain 23
There Lies My Mother 36
Shoe Laces 44
Earth Paints 56
Corn Soup 62
The Wash Rack 78
Dancing Mares 87
Angry World 109
Over a Hundred Miles and Hour 134
Talking with Father in the Barn 154
A Long Bus Ride Across Mother Earth 172
The Pink Waitress 199
The Lecture 217
Snow Night 220
Christmas 1970 236
Flying Away 250
Indian Love 265
Hangman 278
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Customer Reviews

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  • Posted December 6, 2008

    Knew Joel Monture well

    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.<BR/><BR/>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.<BR/><BR/>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.

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