Buffalo Gordon: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Nate Gordon from Louisiana Slave to Buffalo Soldier

John-Paul Lewis, Author, J. P. Sinclair Lewis, Author
John-Paul Lewis, Author, J. P. Sinclair Lewis, Author Forge $25.95 (526p) ISBN 978-0-312-87376-9
Reviewed on: 02/01/2001
Release date: 02/01/2001
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Western writers have long acknowledged the need for a first-class historical novel about the heroic exploits of the all-black Ninth Cavalry Regiment. Unfortunately, Lewis's unwieldy, overwritten attempt fails to do the job. Pockmarked by hackneyed types rather than characters, this account of the all-African-American frontier force that took on the Cheyenne and Comanche on the sparsely settled high plains opens with the formation of the regiment in Louisiana immediately following the Civil War. The story staggers and stumbles from the first page. Sgt. Maj. Nate Gordon, a manumitted slave who served in the Union Army, has been ordered to recruit other freed slaves for military service. Predictably, he runs into racial prejudice on almost every level and from almost everyone. Struggling to maintain military and personal dignity when confronted by corrupt white officers and surrounded by bitter and defeated Southerners, Nate--the perfect soldier--deals with insubordination and incompetence as he whips the unit into shape, then leads it into battle on the wild frontier. What follows is a series of historically grounded adventures through a clumsy, obvious narrative. The novel is burdened by inconsistencies in plot and a use of dialect that provokes squirming discomfort. Drifting points of view, narrative intrusions and plot contrivances are additional problems. Although there is evidence of cogent historical research, the book desperately needs editorial attention on almost every page and is ultimately patronizing in tone and characterization. (Feb.)
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