It sounds strange today, but when James Welch was an aspiring young writer,
struggling to find his voice, it never occurred to him to write about
his experience as a Native American. In the pre-multicultural sixties
there was no such thing as an Indian writer, let alone a successful one.
Then N. Scott Momaday won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for House Made of
Dawn, and a door opened for a generation of inspired, talented young
Native Americans. James Welch, whose Fool's Crow stands among the
finest American novels, Indian or otherwise, to be published in the past
two decades, was arguably the best writer to emerge from this Native American
Renaissance. As his only other historical novel, The Heartsong of Charging
Elk marked a return of sorts to the terrain he covered in his most
famous novel. But in the years since Fool's Crow was published,
Welch's outlook softened; his vision matured. To be sure, Charging Elk,
who is abandoned by Buffalo Bill in a Marseilles hospital, suffers far
more than his share of misfortunes. In contrast to the epic tragedy of
Fool's Crow, though, The Heartsong of Charging Elk is intensely
intimate, and far more hopeful. As Charging Elk nears the end of his tumultuous
life, he makes peace with circumstance, and even finds a measure of redemption.
Welch's fifth novel demonstrated that thirty years after his first published
work he was still capable of writing a major American novel. Unfortunately,
there won't be a sixth. James Welch died in August of 2003. He was sixty-two. Farley, Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
"Fools Crow is one of the greatest, most absorbing novels of mainstream American literature. It's absurd to stick it on a 'Native American' reservation. Now, in The Heartsong of Charging Elk, the fact-based saga of an Oglala Sioux who joins Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and ends up in Marseille, James Welch has once again written a major American novel." Annie Dillard
"James Welch has done it again. The Heartsong of Charging Elk deserves a listing among the classics of American fiction." Tony Hillerman
"This moving portrait of an Oglala Sioux, cut off from the heartland and adrift in the blind bureaucracy of nineteenth-century France, has a slow, brooding power that builds majestically. I was captivated by the story of Charging Elk's peculiar and tragic exile, a brilliant representation of clashing cultures." Andrea Barrett
"This history-shadowed story, which truly reads like a song from the divided heart of the Old World and the New, is a consummate leap of imagination by a sure-handed and wise writer. James Welch, who long has been one of our finest American voices, here reaches the goal of all great literature: to transform words into worlds." Ivan Doig
"I just finished reading The Heartsong of Charging Elk. I think Jim Welch has written a masterpiece." Leslie Marmon Silko
"Horseback mornings by the Greasy Grass, Custer and Crazy Horse both dead, Buffalo Bill and his Wild West under the great Iron Tree in Paris, a stranded Sioux warrior reinventing his life on the streets of nineteenth-century Marseille The Heartsong of Charging Elk is vividly imagined and wonderfully readable, a romance, a fable, and a sternly realistic story about salvaging emotional victory. Hats off to James Welch." William Kittredge
"James Welch's Winter in the Blood is one of the masterpieces of American literature. His newest book, The Heartsong of Charging Elk, will take its place beside it a wonderful, compelling novel about a Native American stranded in Europe, whose story is both a vividly imagined account of the strange events in France as well as a striking metaphor for the tragic journey of the Sioux in South Dakota. Like all of James Welch's books, it is a cause for celebration." Kent Haruf
"There are books you read once and put away. There are books you read once and never forget. And then there are those very special books you keep returning to, reading them once or twice a year for the rest of your life. James Welch's Heartsong is one of those very special books. I have read it three times already and plan to carry it around like a traveling salesman, like a zealous evangelist, forcing the book into the hands of strangers and friends, preaching, 'Hey, this may not save your life, but it's certainly going to give you a fighting chance.'" Sherman Alexie
From a master of contemporary Native American fiction comes a haunting novel of an Oglala's Sioux's odyssey from the Great Plains to the back streets of 19th-century France. Inspired by actual historical fact, it is the story of a young Indian boy recruited by Buffalo Bill for his Wild West show.
About the Author
James Welch is the author of four previous novels, including Winter in the Blood (1974) and Fools Crow (1986), which won the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award, and one nonfiction work, Killing Custer (1994). He attended schools on the Blackfeet and Fort Belknap reservations in Montana, and studied writing at the University of Montana under the legendary teacher Richard Hugo. He lives in Missoula, Montana, with his wife, Lois.