edited: Monday, July 06, 2009
By Juliet Waldron
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Monday, July 06, 2009
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A book review for WATERLILY, a reprint of a wonderful book about the Lakota.
Ella Cara Deloria, Bison Books, 2009,
Waterlily is the child of Blue Bird. Her mother gives birth to her alone, during a long march. Blue Bird’s unstable young husband has ceremonially “thrown her away,” and because of an earlier raid, her kin are no longer alive to protect her. How Blue Bird makes her way into the safety provided by the intricate lattice of Lakota kinship systems, and how Waterlily grows to adulthood is the subject of this illuminating novel.
The story of the author is as important as the tale she tells. Ella Cara Deloria was born in 1889 on the Yankton reservation to a prominent and proud Lakota family. Raised between two worlds and in two languages, brilliant and curious, she eventually found her way to Columbia University. Fluent in Lakota, she became an important part of the linguistic team assembled under the pioneering ethnologist, Franz Boaz. Perhaps the ultimate fruit of her balancing act as tribeswoman and academic is Waterlily, told entirely from a Lakota woman’s world view. I pleasurably learned more about the Lakota gender systems and Lakota ceremony and kinship practices from this brief page-turner than from any number of texts I've plowed through.
As I'm often disappointed by “historical” novels which deliver little sense of the unique society, place or time in which they are set Waterlily was a revelation, perhaps the crowning achievement of a remarkable writer.