A YELLOW RAFT IN BLUE WATER, by Michael Dorris, 1987, Henry Holt (hardcover), paper, 1988, Warner Books, 666 Fifth Avenue, NY, 10103. 372 pp, Critics' Circle Award. $8.95, 0-446-38787-8
A best-seller in its time, this book by a writer of Native ancestry married to the best-selling Turtle Mountain Ojibwe writer Louise Erdrich won the National Book Critics' Circle Award. Unlike most Indian novels especially by Indian writers, it didn't sink into instant obscurity and go out of print. Dorris tells the story from 3 viewpoints: Grandma (the reservation traditionalist), mother (the city woman who married and was deserted by a black man) and daughter (mixed-blood offspring). All women are real individuals not abstract types. Returning to the reservation, Raymona faces racism there as well, for her dark skin, nappy hair, and city ways. Reservation life, chronicled by weaving back and forth in time from about the 1930's to the present (without casinos) will be readily recognizable as any reservation of the Plains, though it is fictionalized it is neither generic nor abstractly presented. Though it's an adult book, and long for classroom use, it held the attention of Native juniors and seniors, especially young women. Most students were upset at its ending, which leaves problems of the main characters unresolved. The book ends literally up in the air, with Ida (grandma, back in time to mother Christine's very young teenage days) sitting on the roof with the reservation priest. Students were asked to write continuation stories as resolutions to those parts of the novel that had caught their interest, and did so working in small groups and discussing parts of the book at great length.
There is a connected life story over 3 generations -- with several mysteries one of which doesn't come clear at the end -- told from the viewpoints of the 3 women. The teenaged girl, mixed blood Black and Indian -- whose return to the reservation is the main focus of the story. A mixed blood, she must find her identity if she can.
Reviewed by Paula Giese
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Native American BOOKS, text and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1996
Last Updated: Wednesday, March 13, 1996 - 7:19:04 AM