The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian (by Sherman Alexie)

1 08 2011

You know what the worst thing is about reviewing a book like The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian? It’s that there’s no way to capture the magnificence and unity of voice, theme and style and the level of thought and emotion that was put into this novel all in the span of 300 words.

Sherman Alexie does not hold back in The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian and delivers just what the title promises: a semi-autobiographical portrait a 14-year-old Indian boy, Arnold Spirit – Junior – who is literally caught between cultures when he makes the decision to leave the Spokane rez to go to an all white school in Reardan. He does this after one of his reservation teachers tells him to go and “take [his] hope and go somewhere where other people have hope”. Staying on the rez means getting stuck in the ugly circle of poverty, depression and slowly killing yourself with booze. As a rule “reservation Indians don’t get to realize [their] dreams. [They] don’t get those chances. Or choices. [they]’re just poor.” (p. 13) Poor and drunk.  Junior does not want to be poor, drunk and depressed all the time. He want to be a cartoonist.

While Junior’s sister Mary Runs Away runs away “to get lost”, Junior himself goes away “because he wants to find something” (p. 46). Himself and his true identity, most of all, and he understands that when he truly wants to become a cartoonist, the rez is not the place for him. At the same time, he tragically realizes that the dream of getting out is not for everyone. The internal struggle of sometimes only being a ‘part-time’ Indian, makes Junior cry a lot in this book. He cries for instance for the fact that he knows that many of the tribesmen and -women on the rez are sad alcoholics and are as such not only killing their bodies, but also their spirit, their heritage and he thinks they should also kick and scream and want to get out.

The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian is a tragic, emotional tale of a boy growing up. A boy who has to grow up in the harshest of circumstances. But also a boy who realizes that he is Not Just An Indian. He’s also a proud member of Professional Masturbators League (if such a thing existed). He’s also a cartoonist. He’s also a bookworm etc. He realizes that one thing cannot define who you truly are, and should definitely never decide or restrict who you want to become.

The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian is also one hell of a funny book! Despite the extremely gloomy and depressing (and very true) experiences of the (Spokane) reservation Indians that Sherman Alexie describes, this book will have you pee your pants with laughter[1]. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s hopeful, it’s so horribly real. Go and run. Get this book now!

[1] Junior was born with brain damage and as a result of that he gets picked on by the other reservation kids: “My head was so big that little Indian skulls orbited around it. Some of the kids called me Orbit. And other kids just called me Globe. The bullies would pick me up, spin me in circles, put their finger down on my skull, and say, ‘I want to go there’.” (p.3)



5 responses

15 10 2012
American Born Chinese (by Gene Luen Yang) « Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] wasn’t as blown away by this tale of being caught between cultures as she was with for instance Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Share this:FacebookTwitterPrintEmailLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

10 12 2012


9 01 2013
Stupid Fast (by Geoff Herbach) « Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] embarrassingly so) and humor makes Felton’s voice reminiscent of for instance Junior’s voice in Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. And also just like Sherman Alexie’s book it combines life-changing events and serious emotions […]

28 02 2013
Nothing Special (by Geoff Herbach) | Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] need convincing here, but seriously, Felton is one of the most believable male teenage voices since Sherman Alexie’s Junior! It’s great to read a character who is as fresh as any John Green character but who also […]

29 07 2014
London and books. | Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian (by Sherman Alexie), which I didn’t own yet. […]

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