WHILE THE LOCUST SLEPT: A Memoir

Peter Razor, Author . Minnesota Historical Society $19.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-87351-401-9

A stirring tale of a Native American childhood, this debut draws on personal memories and official records to track Razor's painful yet triumphant years as a ward of the state of Minnesota. Abandoned by a jobless, alcoholic Chippewa father and an emotionally troubled, institutionalized mother in 1930, Razor was taken at 17 months to the State Public School at Owatonna, which he describes as a rigid, Spartan institution, where he awaited an adoption that never happened. At 15, having endured prejudice, isolation, neglect and terrible physical abuse by the staff, he was sent to work for a local farmer named John. Via a series of detailed flashbacks, Razor recounts his oppressive relationship with his new employer in spare prose loaded with feeling and insight. John's cruel treatment of Razor and of John's own wife, only stiffens the orphan's will. Meanwhile, at school, a savage hammer attack by one of the staff leaves Peter seriously injured and unable to attend classes or work for weeks. Upon returning to school, Razor finds new friends and experiences in the local high school, recounted with great energy and humor. But his situation on John's farm worsens, and eventually he's removed. While the book's conclusion is credible, it rushes toward a feel-good finish that does not live up to the power and grit of the early chapters. The epilogue of this valuable coming of age story sketches Razor's adult livelihood as a journeyman electrician, his decision to investigate his reviled Native heritage and the three children who have enriched his life. National advertising; regional author appearances. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 08/13/2001
Release date: 08/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 200 pages - 978-0-87351-439-2
Open Ebook - 208 pages - 978-0-87351-707-2
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