Synopses & Reviews
“We all set our sights on the Great American Novel. . . . [Thomas Maltman] comes impressively close to laying his hands on the grail.”—Madison Smartt Bell, The Boston Globe
“Maltman’s prose and pacing flow from an expert hand. . . . His gaze is unflinching and balanced. . . . And while there is much loss in the novel, in the end there is salvation.”—Robin Vidimos, Denver Post
“Maltman’s writing is most lucid when he explores the German folklore, Dakota mysticism, and pioneer spirituality that shape his characters’ understanding of their own harsh world.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Thomas Maltman’s debut novel, The Night Birds, soars and sings like a feathered angel.”—Chicago Sun-Times
“[Maltman] excels at giving even his most harrowing scenes an understated realism and at painting characters who are richly, sometimes disturbingly human. The novel sustains its tension right to the moment it ends.”—Publishers Weekly (starred)
“[A] flawless sense of history marked by its most revealing—and harrowing—details.”—Booklist
The intertwining story of three generations of German immigrants to the Midwest—their clashes with slaveholders, the Dakota uprising and its aftermath—is seen through the eyes of young Asa Senger, named for an uncle killed by an Indian friend. It is the unexpected appearance of Asa’s aunt Hazel, institutionalized since shortly after the mass hangings of thirty-eight Dakota warriors in Mankato in 1862, that reveals to him that the past is as close as his own heartbeat.
Thomas Maltman lives in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. This is his first novel.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
"'Set in the 1860s and '70s, Maltman's superb debut evokes a Midwest lacerated by clashes between European and Native American, slaveowner and abolitionist, killer and healer, nature and culture. Asa Senger, a lonely 14-year-old boy, is at first wary when his father's sister, Hazel, arrives at his parents' Minnesota home after a long stay in a faraway asylum, but he comes to cherish the mysterious Hazel's warmth and company. Through her stories, Asa learns of his family's bitter past: the lore and dreams of their German forebears, their place in the bitter divide over slavery and, most complex of all, the bond between Hazel and the Dakotan warrior Wanikiya that deepens despite the violence between their peoples. Maltman excels at giving even his most harrowing scenes an understated realism and at painting characters who are richly, sometimes disturbingly, human. The novel sustains its tension right to the moment it ends with an adult Asa at peace with his own complicated heritage a tentative redemption that, the book's events as well as our own world's disorders suggest, is the best for which the human heart can hope.' Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)"
The summer of 1876 feels like the end of the world to fourteen-year-old Asa Senger. Locusts plague the prairie farms; his family is about to lose everything. The Dakota Indians have been banished from Minnesota, yet an aged Indian appears. His father, the sheriff, jails him, counting on a bounty payment, but Asa is somehow compelled to free the old man, and must bear this guilt. The James-Younger gang, preparing to rob Northfield, stops at their farmhouse. What has propelled them
into his life?
In this time of fear, another mysterious visitor appears, an aunt who has been confined to an asylum for years. His mother wants nothing to do with her; his father welcomes her. Asa learns that his identity is bound up in a lost history, The Great Sioux Uprising, which everyone else wants to forget. Prefigured by the twin ravens Hunin and Munin-Memory and Understanding-from his dead grandfather's treasured Grimm's fairy tales, Asa learns that the past is as close as his own heartbeat. Without understanding that past he can neither know who he is, nor who he may become.
Thomas Maltmanhas published essays, poetry, and fiction. He teaches at Silver Lake College in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. This is his first novel.
Prefigured by the twin ravens Hunin and Munin--Memory and Understanding--14-year-old Asa Senger learns that the past is as close as his own heartbeat. Without understanding that past he can neither know who he is, nor who he may become.
About the Author
Thomas Maltman's essays, poetry, and fiction have recently been published in Georgetown Review, Great River Review, and Main Channel Voices, among other journals. He has a BA from Eastern Washington University and an MFA from Minnesota State University and currently teaches creative writing and literature at Silver Lake College in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The Night Birds is his first novel.