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On the Rezby Ian Frazier
Synopses & Reviews
Ian Frazier is a self-confessed "wannabe" Indian. This mild envy he traces to the "self possessed sense of freedom" he sees evident in his Oglala Sioux friends and their legendary ancestors like Black Elk and Crazy Horse. On the Rez is Frazier's observational account of life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, home to some of his friends. You couldn't get a better "non-Indian" guide than Frazier, whose wry, self deprecating and honest voice has made him so popular as a columnist for the New Yorker and has also made him a bestselling author (Great Plains). Frazier resists romanticizing Indian culture. Rather, he recounts tales told to him by his friends and combines these with his own observations of the reservation's environment. Frazier writes with genuine affection and admiration for the Oglala Sioux, yet his account never neglects the brutal realities of reservation life. Cassie, Powells.com
On the Rez is a sharp, unflinching account of the modern-day American Indian experience, especially that of the Oglala Sioux, who now live on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the plains and badlands of the American West. Crazy Horse, perhaps the greatest Indian war leader of the 1800s, and Black Elk, the holy man whose teachings achieved worldwide renown, were Oglala; in these typically perceptive pages, Frazier seeks out their descendants on Pine Ridge—a/k/a "the rez"—which is one of the poorest places in America today.
Along with his longtime friend Le War Lance (whom he first wrote about in his 1989 bestseller, Great Plains) and other Oglala companions, Frazier fully explores the rez as they visit friends and relatives, go to pow-wows and rodeos and package stores, and tinker with a variety of falling-apart cars. He takes us inside the world of the Sioux as few writers ever have, writing with much wit, compassion, and imagination. In the career of SuAnne Big Crow, for example, the most admired Oglala basketball player of all time, who died in a car accident in 1992, Frazier finds a contemporary reemergence of the death-defying, public-spirited Sioux hero who fights with grace and glory to save her followers.
On the Rez vividly portrays the survival, through toughness and humor, of a great people whose culture has helped to shape the American identity.
"Frazier, in case you don't know, is one of the funniest writers around. But he's also a skilled reporter and researcher. An important and absorbing book, characterized by its wit, heart and pathos." Adrienne Miller, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)
"Frazier writes...with transcendent talent, with compelling metaphors and gorgeous description." Sherman Alexie, Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Frazier builds his narrative or, more deliberately, unpacks it, since he has no discernable plot, chronology, or conclusion around his 20-year friendship with the Indian Le War Lance and the Oglala Sioux of South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation....[In Frazier's] rendering, the calamities of American Indian life are outweighed by the pervasiveness and endurance of that same sense of freedom, a feeling that Frazier captures in his style, his organization, his wonderful eye for detail. Probably no book since Evan S. Connell's Son of the Morning Star has so imaginatively evoked the spirit of the American Indian in American life; like Connell's tours of the Little Bighorn battlefield, Frazier's visits to Pine Ridge and Wounded Knee, and to the descendants of Red Cloud and Black Elk, frame a broad meditation on American history, myth, and misconception. Funny and sad, but never bleak, his meandering narrative is, in fact, the composite of many voices and many kinds of history." Publishers Weekly
"Humorist and chronicler Frazier returns to Indian country for an astute, personal, and disarmingly frank assessment of life and conflict among the Oglala Sioux on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation....As Frazier ponders the history of Indian bars locally and nationwide, or considers the treaty violation that allowed the US government to steal the Black Hills from the Sioux, he also finds resilience in the great-granddaughter of medicine man Black Elk, and hope in the remarkable story of SuAnne Big Crow, a teenage basketball hero who reunited her bitterly divided people by her example, and whose spirit still lives even after her death in a car crash in 1992. Frazier's remarkably thorough and thoroughly eclectic study of one people in one place at a particular moment in time reveals as much about its author as its subject, and as much about 'us' as 'them.'" Kirkus Reviews
"On the Rez is Frazier's darkest, most bittersweet book to date, one that transcends the glib dandyism of the humorist's early essay collections to arrive at a troubling depiction of an American endgame, one where the lure of a wide-open highway leads either to gridlock or a reckless fatalism." Don McLeese, Book Magazine
"The word most commonly used to describe American Indian reservations is 'bleak,' a term supported by statistics on income (30.9% of Indians live below the poverty line) and mortality (their death rate from alcoholism is roughly four times the national average). But as much as it willingly concedes these problems, Ian Frazier's passionate and convincing On The Rez is committed to telling a story in which Native Americans' resilience and independent spirit are just as evident....With his flat, no-nonsense prose and frequent digressions into important historical anecdotes, Frazier demands a lot of patience from his readers. He admits as much when he sets up the story of an inspiring Oglala hero named SuAnne Big Crow, a high-school basketball star who died in a car accident at 17, and doesn't get around to telling it until about 200 pages later. But the impact of her accomplishments, specifically the way she fits into the tribe's concept of heroism, could only fully register when placed in context, however meandering the author's account can become at times." Scott Tobias, The Onion's A.V. Club
A great writer's journey of exploration in an American place that is both strange and deeply familiar.
In Ian Frazier's bestselling Great Plains, he described meeting a man in New York City named Le War Lance, "an Oglala Sioux Indian from Oglala, South Dakota." In On the Rez, Frazier returns to the plains and focuses on a place at their center-the Pine Ridge Reservation in the prairie and badlands of South Dakota, home of the Oglala Sioux. Frazier drives around "the rez" with Le War Lance and other Oglalas as they tell stories, visit relatives, go to powwows and rodeos and package stores, and try to find parts to fix one or another of their on-the-verge-of-working cars.
On the Rez considers Indian ideas of freedom and community and equality that are basic to how we view ourselves. Most of all, he examines the Indian idea of heroism-its suffering and its pulse-quickening, public-spirited glory. On the Rez portrays the survival, through toughness and humor, of a great people whose culture has shaped our American identity.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -298) and index.
About the Author
Ian Frazier lives in Montclair, New Jersey. He grew up in Ohio, graduated from Harvard and the Lampoon in 1977, and was a New Yorker staff writer. Previous books include Great Plains (1989), Family (1994), and Coyote v. Acme (1996).
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