The first recorded Europeans to cross the Mississippi River reached the western shore on June 18, 1541. Hernando de Soto and his army of three hundred and fifty conquistadors spent the next year and a half conquering the nations in the fertile flood plains of eastern Arkansas.
Three surviving sixteenth-century journals written during the expedition detailed a complex array of twelve different nations. Each had separate beliefs, languages, and interconnected villages with capital towns comparable in size to European cities of the time. Through these densely populated sites, the Spanish carried a host of deadly old-world diseases, a powerful new religion, and war.
No other Europeans ventured into this land until French explorers arrived one hundred and thirty years later. They found nothing of the people or the towns that the Spanish had so vividly described. For those lost nations, the only hope that their stories, their last remaining essence will ever be heard again lies with one unlikely Storykeeper.
This tragic narrative effectively and beautifully brings to the life the world of the tribes of the Nine Rivers Valley who were visited and then subsequently conquered by the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto in the 1500s. Though packed with relevant historical details of this takeover, Smith manages to give priority to the story and also to creating authentic and relatable characters that help readers to connect emotionally to this long ago place and time. Besides the vitality of the world and characters, what is most impressive about this book is its structure and the way the author seamlessly weaves together three narratives. It is the type of story that needs to be told, and the level of structured story-telling and uncomplicated language would make this suitable for adult and we as young readers.
Date Submitted: July 21, 2016
DeSoto and his band of men were the first to cross the Mississippi and conquer the natives in Arkansas. Three old 16th century journeys documented their travels and battles.
A hundred years have passed and the stories revolving around these bloody encounters have all but vanished - but one old woman, one of the last surviving storytellers able to relate eyewitness stories of the bloodshed, defies native custom to tell youngsters around the campfire what really happened - and her voice can't be halted.
The truth takes facts about early Native American life and turns them upside down, telling of the breech of a forbidden practice and weaving together the lives of an orphan who grows up with oral accounts of some of the last witnesses of genocide of her times, a hermit who raises her, and a tribe that has maintained a vested interest in ignoring the truth for the sake of their survival.
In some ways Storykeeper is the quintessential survivor's account and in other ways it's so much more: fiction interspersed with the fluidity of time that sometimes keeps readers guessing but more often keeps them on their toes. It's a compelling saga of one child's ability to survive all odds only to grow into an adult world where her stories and experiences are shunned, and it offers a rare glimpse into early Native cultures and what they faced and perceived when the Europeans arrived.
Storykeeper is a complex, sometimes potentially confusing read: narrators and perspectives change, Manaha's own name changes, and events surrounding the 'Son of the Sun' take place forty-nine years after 'their' arrival in her childhood. With both perspective and time in flux, readers are carried along on a historical and cultural journey that, while compelling, requires attention to detail: not for those seeking light entertainment, it's a saga that demands - and deserves - careful reading and contemplation.
These cautions aside, readers who relish detailed historical fiction, stories of early Native American tradition and experience, and an unusual focus packed with historical details not typically explored in fictional format will find Storykeeper a tale of not just one woman's observations, but how she carries and imparts the memories of generations in a form that eschews paper in favor of oral accounts steeped in immediacy and vivid detail.
It's a novel that's surprisingly succinct for its subject, rich in its detail, and highly recommended for historical fiction readers who want more than a casual pursuit: a saga of revenge, bribery, political bargaining, death and disease, and so much more.
“Remember this,” he said, “once told, a story is never lost.”
1541 and the Spanish are sweeping across eastern Arkansas, claiming land and spreading disease. For one Native American tribesman, coming into contact with the invaders brings a world of opportunity, power, devastation and a new religion. In his wake, Manaha, who is reaching the end of her life, is driven by a vision in a dream to bring Taninto’s story to her people, before all is lost. But who will listen when she is surrounded by those who refuse to believe their lives will change? The story must be told, and that job falls to the Storykeeper.
Storykeeper is a stunning novel and a joy to read. It takes a master artist to create a picture of such perfect detail that it looks like a photograph. Smith paints this amazing picture with words, and indeed is himself a storykeeper. To translate a culture that is unfamiliar with such accuracy and poetry is a great achievement.
Jam-packed with a wealth of well-researched historical content, there is a genuine and realistic feel to the text, and a close-up view of the culture of the Native people who populated the Americas.
I was not only entertained by this book, but educated about a period of history of which I knew nothing. I loved the chapter structure which has a rhythm of its own, all wrapped in an attractive and appropriate cover. I have no hesitation in recommending this book no matter where your historical interest may lie. I give it 5 stars!
A novel delivers stark tales from storytellers who chronicle a vanished Arkansas tribe.
In the year Europeans called 1541, Taninto’s childhood is destroyed when a band of strangers cross the Mizzissibizzibbippi with weapons “that smoked like burning leaves and roared like thunder.” The Spanish conquistadors and their arquebuses cause chaos (this was an enemy who “killed without concern or hesitation, without ritual or purpose”), but the wave of diseases that follows wreaks even greater damage on the nations of the Nine-Rivers Valley. In his debut novel, Smith imagines a series of storytellers who evoke one another in their tales and, in doing so, describe the century that saw the last of 12 interconnected tribes, from the splendor of the temple city of Casqui to the “old and tired” land to which its survivors must retreat. Many years after the calamity, Manaha fights to relate her memories to a village that fears those recollections “will only bring the sickness again.” The stories she tells recount the life of the lost Palisema girl Nanza who—sick with smallpox and left for dead—finds herself rescued by an aged Taninto. In lternating chapters, three narratives unwind: the conquest Taninto witnesses, the flight Nanza endures, and the remembrances Manaha struggles to share. In the process, the history of a nearly forgotten people is imagined, or reimagined. Smith (The Great Turtle and the White Bird, 2013) writes fluidly, and the society he depicts is intriguingly complex. While some readers may wish for more direct evocation of the sensory details of that world (more smells, tastes, and sounds), others will be grateful for the short glimpse they’ve been given into a culture until now kept solely in the prison of the past. “A man without a story is one without a past,” Smith writes, “and a man without a past is one without wisdom.” By the time readers have wandered freely through the strange realm of the Storykeeper, they may well find those words more prophetic, and more powerful.
A vivid, slowly unfolding epic of disaster and survival in 16th-century America.