Tuesday, June 16, 2009

On the Trail of Beauty

It is the tale of a boy with a hidden destiny, a destiny he can only share with his older mentor, discovering the secrets of the universe as he journeys alone in the world, with his faithful steed by his side. No, this is not a review of Eragon, Merlin, or any other fantasy book; it is the plot of Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer, the winner of the 1931 Newbery Medal. Armer creates a portrait of a young Nevaho Indian boy who is coming to terms with his role as a Medicine Man. Younger Brother encounters transforming sights, natural and unnatural wonders, and assorted people that change the way that he looks at the world. Within Younger Brother’s story is an anthropological study of life within the Navaho community that gives the reader glimpses at their customs and spirit. Navaho mythology is told as part of the plot with references to Coyote, the Turquoise Woman, and many others. However, this book remains firmly in the realm of realistic fiction. The characters believe in their pantheon, but unlike fantasy, no gods will step from behind the curtain to prove their existence. Instead Younger Brother must search for truth and understanding himself to lead him on the path of beauty. As Armer tells Younger Brother’s tale, it is clear she has a deep love and reverence for the Navaho people and their way of life. It is impossible to discuss Indians without thinking about the Trail of Tears, or as they call it, the Long Walk. However, while the story could turn into a tirade against the evil Pelicanos (white people), it remains a story about personal growth and love of community. Through his adventures, Younger Brother finds a stash of ancient masks that been hidden and lost during the Long Walk, and reclaims them for his community. This discovery is celebrated with song, dance, and laughter in typical Navaho style. It is this spirit of excitement for life and joy in small experiences that transports the reader into the Arizona desert.

Favorite quote: “He who creates beauty never tires.”

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