The Heartsong of Charging Elk: A Novel

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Doubleday, 2000 - Fiction - 440 pages
3 Reviews
From a master of contemporary Native American fiction, a haunting novel of an Oglala Sioux's odyssey from the Great Plains to the back streets of nineteenth-century France.

Inspired by actual historical fact, The Heartsong of Charging Elk tells the story of an Oglala Sioux who travels the extraordinary geographical and cultural distance from tribal life in the Black Hills of South Dakota to existence on the streets of Marseilles. As a young boy, Charging Elk witnessed his people's massacre of Custer's Seventh Cavalry at Little Big Horn, followed by years of futile fighting and wandering until the Sioux were finally lured to the Pine Ridge reservation. But he preferred life in the Stronghold, living by his wits and skills in the old way.

Ironically, it is Charging Elk's horsemanship and independent air that cause Buffalo Bill to recruit him for his Wild West Show, which travels across "the big water" to create a sensation in the capitals of Europe. Charging Elk and his Sioux companions are living a life touched by fame and marked by previously unthinkable experiences -- until he falls ill in Marseilles and, through a bureaucratic mix-up, is left behind in a hospital while the show travels on. Scared, disoriented, Charging Elk escapes -- only to fall into a series of events, including a love affair with a prostitute and a shocking murder, that will change his life utterly beyond his imagination.

In The Heartsong of Charging Elk, James Welch, one of our truly great Native American writers, has taken a fascinating premise and realized it with utter mastery. Reminiscent of his classic novel of Indian life, Fools Crow, it is a haunting epic of culture shock and colliding ways of lifeand thought, sure to be hailed by reviewers and readers alike.

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User Review  - TheBooknerd - LibraryThing

Honestly, I thought this was a lukewarm and boring book. Granted, it's an interesting idea for a story, and some parts were intriguing. Also, Welch is a skilled writer capable of creating thoughtful ... Read full review


User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

Award-winning Native American novelist Welch (Fools Crow, 1986, etc.) tells a powerful story of a young Lakota who's stranded in France—and who will spend an ordeal of dark years in that strange land ... Read full review


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About the author (2000)

James Welch is the author of four previous novels, including Winter in the Blood (1974) and Fools Crow (1986), which won the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award, and one nonfiction work, Killing Custer (1994). He attended schools on the Blackfeet and Fort Belknap reservations in Montana, and studied writing at the University of Montana under the legendary teacher Richard Hugo. He lives in Missoula, Montana, with his wife, Lois.

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