Book Review: Stone Song: A Novel of the Life of Crazy Horse by Win Blevins
Recommended: An interesting historical account of events from the perspective of Crazy Horse.
This is a book of understated heroics from a very solitary man who was little understood even by his own people, the Oglala Lakota. This Strange Man spent his life trying to adhere to his vision of wearing no adornment or trophies and leading only in war. He never wanted to be a leader or responsible for the fate of thousands, and every time he didn’t follow his vision, disaster struck.
This story takes us through his coming of age when he learns to interpret his vision, understand how to appease the spirit guide Hawk who fluttered in his chest, and speak and listen to the Inyan guides. But he is still only a man who at times falls victim to human desires, such as when his love for Black Buffalo Woman starts a rivalry with No Water and a feud with his Black Face clan which plagues him throughout his life.
It was heartbreaking to watch the lives of the Indians change, both those who gave in quickly, traded with the whites and moved onto reservations easily, and the hostiles who tried to hold on to traditions and hunting in the old ways until the bitter end when they had no choice but to relocate to reservations. Seeing white-man ways depicted alongside the noble traditions of the Indians showed the blaring discord that reigned at the time.
Although the subject matter was highly engaging, the book did at times take a concentrated effort.
The first thing that captured my attention with this book was the insight. Being written primarily from the perspective of one of history’s most notable Native American influencers, Crazy Horse, offered an interesting twist on historical accounts. Unfortunately, I also saw this as one of the biggest pitfalls of this novel - the style of writing.
While Blevins does his best to portray a vivid history and write the way he envisions the Indian characters to speak, so much of this book was laid out from within the thoughts of Crazy Horse and other Indian characters that it became cumbersome to read. I enjoyed the periods when he was setting the scene and had to deep-breathe to get back into the-way-white-man-thinks-Indians-speak texts.
That being said, at other times Blevins is very poetic and made me fall in love with the characters and the world he paints: “Worm (Father of Crazy Horse) thought anger would have been better than what he envisioned in the landscape of his son’s spirit now. A cold, bitter wind whistling through a parched desert of the heart.”
This shifting point of view between Crazy Horse, other Indians, various white men and scene-setting can at times be hard to follow. Also, there are many names in the books, understandably as it’s a historical account. But add on top of this that after an Indian youth has a vision and becomes a man, he takes a new name, often that of his father who then takes a new name for himself, and it can be hard to keep all the characters straight. Blevins does his best to help us along with tags like nephew, blood mothers’ brother, and so on.
This book is also very long, and in the middle becomes so repetitive that I stopped reading three times and came back to it only after a break. The real action and development are in the beginning and the end, so I felt the middle could have been shortened considerably.
The version I read was the 20th Anniversary Edition and I almost enjoyed Win Blevins' Introduction “My Horses are Crazy” more than the novel itself. It shows how invested the author was in getting the facts right, the immense research that went into this novel, and his passion to reach and change a million hearts.