The Man Made of Words: Essays, Stories, Passages

Natachee Scott Momaday, Author
Natachee Scott Momaday, Author St. Martin's Press $22.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-312-15581-0
Reviewed on: 04/28/1997
Release date: 05/01/1997
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With every publication since 1969, when he won the Pulitzer Prize for his first novel, House Made of Dawn, Momaday has proven that he is a preeminent voice in Native American literature. In this masterful new collection of essays and articles, it is clearer than ever that he is not simply a very good ""Indian"" writer, but a great American writer. He describes in the first part of this collection the differences between European written tradition and the oral tradition of Native Americans, this tradition being the basis for Native American literature. In an oral tradition words are held sacred: ""One who has only an oral tradition thinks of language in this way: my words exist at the level of my voice. If I do not speak with care, my words are wasted."" Momaday exemplifies this tradition by choosing every word here with great attention. His words are not ""multiplied and diluted to inflation,"" they are chosen for maximum effect. The three parts of this assemblage are wholly distinct. The first, titled ""The Man Made of Words"" is devoted to the idea of the sacredness of words, language and books. The second, ""Essays in Place,"" describes the nature of places he has visited from Russia, Bavaria and France, to the American plains and his boyhood home of New Mexico. The third, called ""The Storyteller and His Art,"" is an accumulation of short pieces on many diverse topics. His works are moving, thought-provoking and gorgeously written. His longest piece, ""The Morality of Indian Hating,"" is a concise and heartfelt, but never angry, treatment of well-meaning yet short-sighted government Indian policies and the emotional damage they continue to inflict. While ostensibly musing on Native American sacred places in the piece ""Sacred Places,"" he touches on a purely American debate about the need to preserve natural lands. In it he writes, ""It is good for us, too, to touch the earth. We, and our children, need the chance to walk the sacred earth, this final abiding place of all that lives."" Few authors write as gracefully or majestically as Momaday and these essays are more than worthy to occupy the pages of something he holds so sacred--a book. (May)
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