Excerpt from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

by Sherman Alexie

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2007, 230 pages
    Mar 2009, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Amy Reading

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Print Excerpt


I was born with water on the brain.

Okay, so that’s not exactly true. I was actually born with too much cerebral spinal fluid inside my skull. But cerebral spinal fluid is just the doctors’ fancy way of saying brain grease. And brain grease works inside the lobes like car grease works inside an engine. It keeps things running smooth and fast. But weirdo me, I was born with too much grease inside my skull, and it got all thick and muddy and disgusting, and it only mucked up the works. My thinking and breathing and living engine slowed down and flooded.

My brain was drowning in grease.

But that makes the whole thing sound weirdo and funny, like my brain was a giant French fry, so it seems more serious and poetic and accurate to say, “I was born with water on the brain.” 

Okay, so maybe that’s not a very serious way to say it, either. Maybe the whole thing is weird and funny.

But, jeez, did my mother and father and big sister and grandma and cousins and aunts and uncles think it was funny when the doctors cut open my little skull and sucked out all that extra water with some tiny vacuum?

I was only six months old and I was supposed to croak during the surgery. And even if I somehow survived the mini-Hoover, I was supposed to suffer serious brain damage during the procedure and live the rest of my life as a vegetable.

Well, I obviously survived the surgery. I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t, but I have all sorts of physical problems that are directly the result of my brain damage.

First of all, I ended up having forty-two teeth. The typical human has thirty-two, right? But I had forty-two.

Ten more than usual.
Ten more than normal.
Ten teeth past human.

My teeth got so crowded that I could barely close my mouth. I went to Indian Health Service to get some teeth pulled so I could eat normally, not like some slobbering vulture. But the Indian Health Service funded major dental work only once a year, so I had to have all ten extra teeth pulled in one day.

And what’s more, our white dentist believed that Indians felt only half as much pain as white people did, so he gave us only half the Novocain.

What a bastard, huh?

Indian Health Service also funded eyeglass purchases only once a year and offered one style: those ugly, thick, black plastic ones.

My brain damage left me nearsighted in one eye and farsighted in the other, so my ugly glasses were all lopsided because my eyes were so lopsided.

I got headaches because my eyes were, like, enemies, you know, like they used to be married to each other but then hated each other’s guts.

And I started wearing glasses when I was three, so I ran around the reservation (the rez!) looking like a three-year-old Indian grandpa.

And, oh, I was skinny. I’d turn sideways and disappear.

But my hands and feet were huge. My feet were a size eleven when I was in third grade!

With my big feet and pencil body, I looked like a capital L walking down the road.

And my skull was enormous.


My head was so big that little Indian skulls orbited around it. Some of the kids called me Orbit. And other kids just called me Globe. The bullies would pick me up, spin me in circles, put their fingers down on my skull, and say, “I want to go there.”

So obviously, I looked goofy on the outside, but it was the inside stuff that was the worst.

First of all, I had seizures. The doctors gave me medicine for them. It was this pill called Phenobarbital, which is, like, this major sedative, so I was a junkie before I could even walk. I had to crawl across the floor in my diapers to get my fix.

Excerpted from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian © Copyright 2007 by Sherman Alexie. Reprinted with permission by Little, Brown for Young Readers, Inc. All rights reserved.

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