Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

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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 by Sherman Alexie
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2007, 230 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2009, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Amy Reading

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Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie and his avatar Junior are members of the Spokane Tribe of Indians. Alexie grew up in Wellpinit, the Tribal Headquarters on the Spokane Indian Reservation in eastern Washington. Spokane means "Children of the Sun." The Tribe once inhabited over three million acres of land surrounding the Spokane and Columbia Rivers. In 1775, their population was estimated at between 1400 and 2500 people. The first white man to enter their territory was David Thompson, a trapper, who arrived in 1807. Under the Homestead Act of 1862, white settlers began taking possession of native lands. In 1881, President Rutherford B. Hayes pared the Tribe's land down to the present-day reservation, which comprises about 150,000 acres. But while their land has shrunk, their population is growing. Lewis and Clark counted 600 Spokane Indians in the early nineteenth century. Today, the tribe numbers over 2000 and continues to grow.


The Fake Memoirs of 'Nasdijj'

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is not Alexie's first foray into memoir. In 1993, Esquire published his short story, "This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona," featuring Thomas Builds-the-Fire, a boy of fragile health born to poor Indian parents on a reservation in Washington state. Six years later, Alexie was astonished to see that Esquire had published a plagiarized version of his story. The story, called "The Blood Runs like a River Through My Dreams," featured a poor, ill Indian boy named Tommy Nothing Fancy. It was later turned into an award-winning memoir of the same name, and was followed by two more memoirs. The only problem was that the author, who went by the cryptic name of Nasdijj and claimed to be Navajo, was actually a white writer named Timothy Barrus.


Interesting Links

An essay by Sherman Alexie on why false memoirs damage ethnic communities.

A short essay by Sherman Alexie about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

This article was originally published in January 2008, and has been updated for the March 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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