Quiet Until The Thaw by Alexandra Fuller

quietQuiet Until the Thaw is the first work of fiction by Fuller, who is known more for her memoirs of growing up in southern Africa (Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, Leaving Before the Rains Come, etc.).  This book is a multi-generational account of two Lakota Sioux cousins and their differing paths, one conciliatory and nurturing, the other violent.

Life on the rez, or in this case Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, is a grind of poverty, government interference, and other means of miseries.  Into this milieu come two cousins, born within months of each other in the 1940s.

Rick Overlooking Horse is by far the more thoughtful of the two.  A child and then man of few words, he endures both mental and physical injuries during his tenure in Vietnam.  On his return home, Rick rejects the outside, i.e. the white man’s world, for a stripped down teepee-dwelling pastoral life.  He becomes a go-to in the vicinity for spiritual matters.

You Choose What Son is the more difficult of the two even as a child, and this continues into adulthood, when, after evading the draft, he lives a life of crime and then ironically, leadership, when he wins the office of tribal chairman by a campaign of chicanery.  After a short reign of bullying proportions, You Choose is brought down after a bout of violence.

In the long term, You Choose’s destiny ends much more wisely, although it takes a lengthy stint in prison and a tragedy wrought by his own hand.  His cousin’s quiet and steady presence, even after his demise, continues to influence You Choose and others, including a set of twins that Rick adopted under extreme conditions.

I became aware of Quite Until the Thaw earlier this year through articles/reviews about the author.  This was during a period in which other writers were getting criticism for cultural appropriation in their books, and Alexandra Fuller also received some raised eyebrows for writing this novel about the Sioux, and her being an outsider.

My take?  I’d recommend the book.  Fuller paints an empathetic picture of reservation life, and doesn’t fail to criticize factions that have probably made situations worse at these places.  She also places historical events in their context (Wounded Knee in 1973) and this adds to the book.

Quiet Until the Thaw is a quick read.  The chapters are brief (usually just a few pages), but in their brevity pack a wallop.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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