Friday, February 20, 2015

Asa or Forrest

After the death of his parents, five-year-old Forrest “Little Tree” Carter found himself adopted by his Cherokee grandmother and part-Cherokee grandfather. His grandparents own a home deep in the hollows of a mountain, and that's where Little Tree follows them to learn the ways of the Cherokee.  Said ways are about living off and respecting nature.  

Honoring one's ancestors and finding encouragement through their stories also takes part in Little Tree's lessons.  Little Tree also learns/experiences the often problematic nature of his heritage, and how it relates to the white man’s view of Native Americans and their history/role in the America. A book with little to no conflict, The Education of Little Tree is mostly a romanticized example of what it meant to be Native American during The Great Depression as well as growing up thoroughly connected with Nature.

Sounds like a bubbly and syrupy summary, right? Well, the truth is that I don't know how to take this novel, after reading the history behind the author and the book itself. And it’s really, truly funny because I was about a quarter away from the end (having not researched a thing about the book/author) before I decided I was tired of feeling like there was an undertone of patronization taking place. It turns out, I was on to something. That niggling feeling wasn't there for no reason.

Here’s what I learned about this book, published in the late 70’s:

1. While the book is (or was upon its initial publication) touted as an autobiography/memoir, the author is not Native American.

2. The author was white, and apparently a ku klux klan member

3. The author was somewhat forceful in his segregation views. Which isn't much of a surprise when you take in Little Tree’s encounter with black people in the book?

And that’s just to name a few nuggets of information I've gathered. If I hadn't plucked the book from the non-fiction section at Barnes & Nobles, I may have been more or less baffled. I jumped into it thinking it was a memoir of a young Native American kid learning some hard and heart-filled lessons surrounding his heritage, but instead I got an illusion. A lie. However, halfway through I started to pick up that something wasn't right, and then, as I said, a quarter away from the end was when I felt like the voice was sort of patronizing.  It was an almost condescending and kiddy-glove approach to illustrating Native American culture. Everything seemed too charming. Too surreal. Too vividly told, yet simple at the same time. And most of all, a touch too stereotypical.

So I don't know where I stand with this book. I liked it enough that from a storytelling standpoint, it won me completely. But I honestly just… don't… know….  There's speculation as to the author's intent (his real name is Asa Earl Carter).  However, I don't have it in me to figure it out.  So I might as well move on.

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