Summary and book reviews of Yellow Bird by Sierra Crane Murdoch

Yellow Bird

Oil, Murder, and a Woman's Search for Justice in Indian Country

by Sierra Crane Murdoch

Yellow Bird by Sierra Crane Murdoch X
Yellow Bird by Sierra Crane Murdoch
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Feb 2020, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Peggy Kurkowski
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About this Book

Book Summary

The gripping true story of a murder on an Indian reservation, and the unforgettable Arikara woman who becomes obsessed with solving it - an urgent work of literary journalism.

When Lissa Yellow Bird was released from prison in 2009, she found her home, the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota, transformed by the Bakken oil boom. In her absence, the landscape had been altered beyond recognition, her tribal government swayed by corporate interests, and her community burdened by a surge in violence and addiction. Three years later, when Lissa learned that a young white oil worker, Kristopher "KC" Clarke, had disappeared from his reservation worksite, she became particularly concerned. No one knew where Clarke had gone, and few people were actively looking for him.
 
Yellow Bird traces Lissa's steps as she obsessively hunts for clues to Clarke's disappearance. She navigates two worlds—that of her own tribe, changed by its newfound wealth, and that of the non-Native oilmen, down on their luck, who have come to find work on the heels of the economic recession. Her pursuit of Clarke is also a pursuit of redemption, as Lissa atones for her own crimes and reckons with generations of trauma. Yellow Bird is an exquisitely written, masterfully reported story about a search for justice and a remarkable portrait of a complex woman who is smart, funny, eloquent, compassionate, and—when it serves her cause—manipulative. Drawing on eight years of immersive investigation, Sierra Crane Murdoch has produced a profound examination of the legacy of systematic violence inflicted on a tribal nation and a tale of extraordinary healing.

1
The Brightest Yellow Bird

Lissa Yellow Bird cannot explain why she went looking for Kristopher Clarke. The first time I asked her the question, she paused as if I had caught her by surprise, and then she said, "I guess I never really thought about it before." For someone so insatiably curious about the world, she is remarkably uncurious about herself. She is less interested in why she has done something than in the fact of having done it. Once, she asked me in reply if the answer even mattered. People tended to wonder all kinds of things about her: Why did she have five children with five different men? Why had she become an addict and then a drug dealer when she was capable of anything else?

Lissa stands five feet and four inches tall, moonfaced and strong-­shouldered, a belly protruding over hard, slender legs. Her teeth are white and perfectly straight. Her hair is lush and dark. She has a long nose, full lips, and brows that arch like crescents above her eyes. When I met ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

One of the most riveting and touchingly human true crime stories in recent memory, Sierra Crane Murdoch's Yellow Bird: Oil, Murder, and a Woman's Search for Justice in Indian Country, tells a deeply-researched and nuanced tale of two worlds colliding on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation during the early days of the Bakken oil boom in North Dakota. The pulsating heartbeat of this story is the larger than life character of Lissa Yellow Bird, depicted powerfully by Murdoch...continued

Full Review Members Only (503 words).

(Reviewed by Peggy Kurkowski).

Media Reviews

New York Times
I was left largely as unenlightened about Fort Berthold at the end as I was at the beginning. That said Yellow Bird isn’t an 'everything' book. Nor should it be. Its strength derives not from vast panoramas but from an intimate gaze. By looking at Clarke’s murder through Yellow Bird’s eyes, we get to see the forces that shape and ultimately unite their lives.

Los Angeles Times
The book is also a little messy — sometimes the details overwhelm when what’s really needed is a better overview. But I like its sprawl, which allows this true-crime story — and it is a great true-crime story — to reach for broader horizons. It’s also a story about a place, the people who lived and tried and failed and died on it, and those who, despite generations of betrayals, are trying still.

Kirkus Reviews
An impressive debut that serves as an eye-opening view of both the oil economy and Native American affairs.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Murdoch deepens her narrative with a searing look at the deficiencies of law and order on Native American land, corruption, and the abrogation of responsibility by the federal government. Admirers of David Grann's Killers of the Flower Moon will be drawn to this complex crime story with similar themes and settings.

Library Journal (starred review)
[A] story that expertly blends true crime, environmental drama, and family saga. For a first nonfiction work, Murdoch has outdone herself by telling the story in a beautifully narrative way...Required reading for all fans of true crime.

Author Blurb Rachel Monroe, author of Savage Appetites
Sierra Crane Murdoch has written a deft, compelling account of an oil field murder and the remarkable woman who made it her business to solve it. Like the best true crime books, Yellow Bird is about much more than an act of violence. Murdoch's careful reporting delves into the long legacies of greed and exploitation on the reservation and the oil patch, and also the moments of connection and transcendence that chip away at those systems of power. I can't stop thinking and talking about this book.

Author Blurb Bill McKibben, author of Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?
This book is a detective story, and a good one, that tells what happens when rootless greed collides with rooted culture. But it's also a classic slice of American history, and a tale of resilience in the face of remarkable trauma. Sierra Crane Murdoch is a patient, careful, and brilliant chronicler of this moment in time, a new voice who will add much to our literature in the years ahead.

Author Blurb Ted Conover, author of Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing and Rolling Nowhere
In Yellow Bird, oilfield meets reservation, and readers meet a true-to-life Native sleuth unlike any in literature. Sierra Crane Murdoch takes a modest, ignored sort of American life and renders it large, with a murder mystery driving the action. It's an empathetic, attentive account by a talented writer and listener.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Indian Casinos: Who Profits?

Mystic Lake Casino and Hotel exterior When most people hear the word "casino," they think of slot machines trilling and the tinny crashing of coins. But there is a deeper significance to gambling, especially as it pertains to casinos located on federal Indian reservations. While a fun pastime for many, casinos are the lifeblood for the Native American tribes across the country who own and operate them. But how much do casino riches contribute to the wealth and welfare of all Native Americans?

The reality is quite different from the pervasive myth of the "rich Indian" who merely opens his hand to catch the falling money from booming casino and resort profits. Indeed, of the federally recognized tribes (a prime requirement for casino ownership on reservations), the number that...

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