Sunday, August 22, 2010
Review: House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday
How can you not love a book that starts with this passage:
"Dypaloh. There was a house made of dawn. It was made of pollen and of rain, and the land was very old and everlasting. There were many colors on the hills, and the plain was bright with different-colored clays and sands. Red and blue and spotted horses grazed in the plain, and there was a dark wilderness on the mountains beyond. The land was still and strong. It was beautiful all around."
or a book filled with this much imagery:
"The valley was gray with rain, and snow lay out upon the dunes. It was dawn. The first light had been deep and vague in the mist, and then the sun flashed and a great yellow glare fell under the cloud."
It took me a few days to get this review written because I just loved this book SO MUCH!! I highly recommend it.
House Made of Dawn is a short novel written in 1968 by Native American author N. Scott Momaday. I've been interested in his work since taking a Native American Literature class last semester, where we read one of his short stories. This novel is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and changed the way the world views Native American Literature. It was pretty much the book that got Native American Lit noticed by "everyone else". It is the story of Abel, a young man living on a reservation during World War II. He goes off and fights in the war, and when he comes back, he feels like an outsider, both on the res and off. Abel then starts acting very recklessly and ends up sinking himself into a deep hole. This is a wonderful story about a young man who is trying to fit in with 2 different societies and struggling in both.
N. Scott Momaday is an extremely talented author. I found myself underlining and taking notes in so many passages of this book! I love the way Momaday was able to describe the isolation that Abel was feeling throughout this book. It was such a common thing for Native Americans to feel at the time the book was written, and even still today. Now that a lot of younger people are leaving reservation life and moving to cities, they are struggling with an identity crisis. When you've experienced life off of the reservation, it's easy to understand why many people would feel a bit strange coming back, yet when they grew up surrounded by people of their own cultures, moving to a big city and off of a reservation can also feel strange.
Page 21 has a great quote that deals Abel's struggle with identity after returning to the res after the war: "And suddenly he had the sense of being all alone, as if he were already miles and months away, gone long ago from the town and the valley and the hills, from everything he knew and had always known."
As does page 53: "He had tried in the days that followed to speak to his grandfather, but he could not say the things he wanted; he had tried to pray, to sing, to enter into the old rhythm of the tongue, but he was no longer attuned to it."
Momaday himself knew what this identity struggle was like because he grew up both on and off of reservations. His mother's family was mixed European and Native American blood and both of his parents were teachers who were always moving to different states and reservations for their jobs.
As I stated above somewhere, this book comes highly recommended from me, and I really can't put into words just how beautiful and well-written it really is. Read it for yourself and fall in love like I did with Native American Lit.
And here is one more awesome passage (because there were sooooo many great ones and I need to share at least a few with you!):
Pg. 63: "The specter of rain in August is a distillation of light upon the land, a harder efflorescence upon the rocks and a sterile, uncommon shine upon the river and the leaves. An element of darkness, however vague and tentative on the midsummer sky, implies a thin and colorless luster upon the sand and the cliffs and the dusty boughs of cedar and pine, and there is a quality like vain resistance in the air."
Isn't that just about the most beautiful description of rain you've ever read?!
I seriously cannot wait to read the next N. Scott Momaday book on my list, The Way to Rainy Mountain.
Title: House Made of Dawn
Author: N. Scott Momaday
Date of Publication: 1968
Number of Pages: 185
Source: personal copy