cover image Child of the Dead

Child of the Dead

Don Coldsmith / Author, Don Goldsmith / Author Doubleday Books

Coldsmith continues his Spanish Bit Saga, historicals about life among the Plains Indians (Track of the Bear), with an entry that's at once elegiac and down-to-earth. Set in the 18th century, this new story depicts the trials of the tribe known as ``the People'' as they cope with the dangers posed by European diseases against which they have no natural immunity. The narrative begins just after the end of the annual Sun Dance, which brings together all the bands of the People as well as other tribes. For the aged Running Deer, it will be her last Sun Dance. Recently widowed, she believes that she has nothing left to live for and so vows that she will take her own life rather than become a burden on her friends and relatives. As her band breaks camp and heads for its winter grounds, she and her tribespeople come upon the deserted large village of another tribe. The reasons for the camp's abandonment soon become clear: it has been struck by the dreaded poch (French for smallpox). The only survivor is a young girl who is already exhibiting signs of the plague. Though others in Running Deer's band want to leave the girl to die, Running Dear decides to nurse her back to health. The bond formed between the old woman and Gray Mouse, who also becomes known as Child-of-the-Dead, forms the emotional center of this novel, which turns on love, the meaning of life and the tension between cultural alienation and the need to belong. In time, Gray Mouse grows into a young woman among a people not her own; her longing to return to her own tribe resolves in a finale that's at once touching and promising of a sequel. (Feb.)