Tuesday, April 24, 2012

REVIEW: Empire of the Summer Moon (etc)

Title: Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History 

Author: S.C Gwynne 

Pages: 319

 Why I Read This Book: Recommended to me by our company owner who shares a love of reading. 

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis From Goodreads:
                                In the tradition of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, a stunningly vivid historical account of the forty-year battle between Comanche Indians and white settlers for control of the American West, centering on Quanah, the greatest Comanche chief of them all.
S. C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon spans two astonishing stories. The first traces the rise and fall of the Comanches, the most powerful Indian tribe in American history. The second entails one of the most remarkable narratives ever to come out of the Old West: the epic saga of the pioneer woman Cynthia Ann Parker and her mixed-blood son Quanah, who became the last and greatest chief of the Comanches.

My Review/Opinion: 
My initial reaction to the book in general is that is was:
1)   This book was 100% completely mis-named!! Quanah's name shouldn't have been in the title at all since it wasn't until the last 1/8th of the book that his story, or it's bearing on the then defunct Indian Nation, came into play. And frankly I felt Quanah was the Native version of Uncle Tom. I'd have rather seen it called Lords of the Plains (which Gwynne referred to the Comanches as in the book and the name seemed very appropriate)

2)  This was a heavily researched, dare I say Overly Detailed response to the extreme romanticism that Native Americans of the 1700 and 1800's are seen with by your average, misinformed Euro-American.
They were not always noble, or spiritual. Sometimes they were brutal. Heinously so. And NOT always 'just in response to the intrusion of the arrogant white man'. 
But the battle details, (the many, many battle details), and the atrocity details, (the many, many, many atrocity details) were a bit taxing to read. 
While some of the book attempted to intersperse prose it mainly seemed forced and for the majority of the book the narrative read more text-bookish. Which is fine and interesting, just not what I was expecting based on other reviews I'd read that touted the writing. (personally one of my pet peeves is passive voice. 'Joe would go on to become the greatest sailor ever', instead of active 'Joe became the greatest sailor'. It's a style thing I suppose, but it drives me crazy and Gwynne used it allllll the time!).
I'm actually am so glad I read this book! The history was amazing and the inevitability of the abrupt changes that came to the Plains Indians is so tragic I am at a loss on how things could have turned out otherwise, with the exception of the white man not breaking every treaty made or Comanches not attacking every wagon that passed through the plains. 
I've seen reviews that said this book was rife with bigotry and stereotyping. While I did see a bit of that I think it was meant to be more reflective of the attitudes of the American pioneers of the day than what Gwynne actually thinks of them. He does not mask the fact that there was brutality from both sides of these Cowboy and Indian wars. 
There is lots to learn about how our country came to be. If Gwynne's research is a fair representation of what really happened, and from the bibliography and citations if it's not fair it certainly is prolific!
If you can stomach the details and go into this book with open historical mind, this book will remind you of why it was called The Wild West.

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