Alexandra Fuller spent most of her life in Africa. In her letter which opens the galley of her debut novel Quiet Until the Thaw she writes that in encountering the Lakota Oglala Sioux she found an "unexpected homecoming, if home is where your soul can settle in recognition." The Native Americans were the only kindred spirits she had found in America. The love she bears her subject shines through every word and page and image.
On the Tex in the 1940s, two orphaned boys are suckled by a resentful Mina Overlooking Horse. At age forty she has raised a child every year for twenty-four years. She counts the years until the boys will be grown.
Rick Overlooking Horse keeps his words to himself, while You Choose Watson is determined to wreck his anger on the world, even to the point of self-destruction. Mina teaches Rick Overlooking Horse that the world is; nothing is taken away, nothing is added. He seeks to understand why he is in the world here, now.
Rick Overlooking Horse does not resist being drafted and sent to Vietnam; You Choose Watson fakes illness to avoid the draft. Rick Overlooking Horse survives a horrendous injury. You Choose Watson escapes into drugs and alcohol and women, only intensifying his suffering.
The boys reach manhood and impact their world, each in their own way. Rick is at peace with a traditional way of life, a teacher of the old ways. You Choose struggles and lashes out. Both become involved with the American Indian Movement and the protest at Wounded Knee.
It is the context of the boy's stories that sets the novel apart: Fuller's awareness of the Lakota understanding of reality; the reminders that white society cut the native way of life at the root, leaving their people rudderless and lost in an alien reality, and suffering the homelessness of living where your people have always lived yet not able to recognize your own land.
Fuller's authorial voice is often heard, interjecting thoughtful insight into the Native American experience. In writing beautiful and eloquent, she charges the novel with emotional intensity and devastating revelation.
Fuller's previous books were memoirs and nonfiction. Her experiences in Africa inform her insight into the Native American experience.
"While she has not written anything overtly political, she says that everything we do is political from the decision we make to wake up in the morning to the clothes we put on our bodies, to the words we have the courage to speak.
"Africa is a great teacher," she has explained. "We're not a good example of much, but we're a terrible warning of power run amok and of the long, high price of oppression."
I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
Quiet Until the Thaw
Publication June 27, 2017
$25 hard cover