It is the late 1800s, and a shameful time in American history. The U.S. Government has mandated native tribes send their young people to Indian schools where they are stripped of their native heritage by people they think of as The Others.
Otter and Sun Song are members of The Tribe, and betrothed to be married when they turn eighteen. But when they are sent East to school, Otter, renamed Gideon, tries to adapt, while Sun Song does not, resulting in brutal attacks from the school headmaster. Gideon, thinking Sun Song has spurned him, turns for comfort to Wendy Thatcher, the daughter of a wealthy school patron, beginning a forbidden affair of the heart.
But the Spirits have different plans for Gideon and Sun Song. "You are both child and mother of The Original People," Sun Song is told. "When it is right, you will be safe once more." What follows is a harrowing journey through time and the Five Worlds of the Desert Southwest tribes.
A haunting and magical journey, based on Native American history
By Jim Bessey
This book's title doesn't reveal the true scope of Zeidel's story. The backdrop for this very personal drama (just four key characters) is a scathing look at the way American Indians were "schooled" in the white man's ways near the turn of the 20th century. I'm sure most Americans would find this treatment unacceptable today. At the time, however, there was a "fatherly" attitude expressed by the white establishment, who sought to knock the native "savagery" out of the remaining Indian population, essentially by dismissing ALL Native American culture, history, and beliefs as childlike whimsy worthy only of destruction. The Storyteller's Bracelet isn't presented as an expose or rebuke, but instead employs a gut-wrenching sequence of events to explore the mysteries of that culture.
While there are indeed elements of magic and faith included as key plot devices, the base story itself holds power and truth on its own. I found myself caring very deeply about the fate of each protagonist. Readers will feel at least some vindication when the tale's antagonist suffers his due justice, too. Despite some painful lessons, this is a story of love and faith in the end. I enjoyed it start to finish.
Rating: ***** Five stars
I have to admit, I am partial to Native American themed stories. I appreciated the way Ms. Zeidel wove the tribal belief systems and symbols together to include all Native American people. Their connectedness to Mother Earth and sense of community is something I can identify with. This story depicts a history that has been excluded in United States history school books of the atrocities that Native American youth endured at the hands of the Others, the White Man. They were forcibly removed from their families and taken to schools far away from home to teach them how to assimilate into the white mans’ world. They were stripped of their native attire and names given to them by their parents. The school assigned everyone an English sounding name, handed them English styled clothes, and hard leather shoes. They were taught English and not allowed to use their native language. The male children were given haircuts and taught a trade. The girls were not allowed to braid their hair and they were taught housekeeping, gardening, and other menial jobs. More or less they were being taught how to be slaves for the Others.
Sun Song/Susan tried her hardest to hold onto her native roots, she was a storyteller at heart. Otter/Gideon was able to see some benefit in knowing the English language, which would make trading with the white man easier, for the tribe as a whole. He is a storyteller also, but tells his stories on silver with pictographs and tribal symbols. This is their story. Both are seventeen and see themselves married in the future. Little did they know what was in store for them both in the world of the Others. Although, Sun Song had a clue after watching her brother’s transformation upon returning from his schooling back East. As with all school systems there were a few good teachers who had compassion for the Native American plight. However, their hands were often tied and unable to change the system as a whole under the current administration.
The different storylines were easy to follow and woven together seamlessly. Sun Song and Otter were not allowed to socialize, even in the dining hall. With the third person perspective we are able to see Sun Song’s journey as well as Otter’s. The story is told with sensitivity and compassion. There are many twists in the plot that complicate matters and a few magical moments that had me in awe. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Native American tales. Ms. Zeidel’s prose is easy to read, highly descriptive, and inspiring.
The Storyteller’s Bracelet takes the best of the creation stories of Native Americans and weaves them together into a tale offering a new universal truth. It is insightful and poignant, telling the story of the harsh realities of the Indian Schools of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It examines the mystical beliefs of the Native Americans, especially through Sun Song’s character and shows a people who are deeply connected to the world around, far more so than the conquering “white” man.The Storyteller’s Bracelet is the story of Otter and Sun Song, two members of the tribe who are deeply in love and who are being sent east to the Indian Schools. Neither one of them wants to go, they are both nearly adults and all they want to do is turn eighteen so they can be married. Sun Song’s father is making her go East, just like he did to her brother before her. Sun Song does not care for the man her brother has become since he returned from school. Instead of growing into the fine Indian he was becoming, he now drives a broken down wagon and runs errands for the people of the village. He drinks too much and is no longer the brother Sun Song once knew.Otter has always been away from the village when the white people come to collect the students to take back East, but this time there has been a protest made to his father about how he hides his son away like a pup in a den. This time there is no way his father can prevent it, Otter is going east too.Arriving at the school the students are made to get rid of anything of Indian origin, including their clothes and shoes. The boys’ hair is cut – something the members of the Tribe never do unless they are in mourning. Their hair is bathed in kerosene to get rid of nonexistent lice and they are humiliated. They are told they are to speak only in English from now on and not in their own language. They are assigned English names. Sun Song refuses to say hers and in fact will face great difficulty ever speaking to people again, she does however remember the ways of her people and at night, she sneaks out a window and talks to the Grandmother Sycamore tree.Otter has been given the name Gideon and he excels at school. The boys and girls are kept strictly separated at the school, still, he does not understand why Sun Song will not look his way, or answer the letters he sneaks to her. Rejected, heartbroken he finds comfort in the arms of a twenty-year-old white girl named Wendy. Alone, abandoned, Sun Song finds nothing but trouble and grief. Yet a plan has been made for Sun Song, and for Otter too, if he can find his way back to his Indian roots. A plan that will change things forever across three different worlds.Smoky Zeidel breathes life into these characters and those they encounter. She shows the existence of some people who truly care about the Indians and the existence of the majority who look down on them. She paints the difficulties of their lives so far away from all they know and love, subjected to scorn, inhumanity and illnesses that they simply can’t fight off. She makes your heart ache for both Sun Song and Otter as they are caught in a world that is changing to quickly for their people to keep up, if they even want to.Zeidel’s plotting is superb easily keeping track of the various storylines in the novel and making each of them active, powerful and believable. I love that Zeidel, at least in the context of the novel believes in magic and the unusual ways it can interact with circumstances in the characters’ lives. I like that she makes it mystical and powerful without overwhelming anyone with dogma. I like the way the main storyline is developed bit-by-bit beginning at the very start, although there are many interesting and unforeseen twists along the way.I was absorbed in this book. I felt as though the truths Zeidel were speaking were the ones in my own heart. I felt as though her conglomeration of Native stories of life and creation rang truer than any story I had ever heard or read in any holy book. It was a tale of life, of community, of unity and togetherness. It touched me deeply and at the end of the book, I found myself saying, “Now this is how it should be.”
I hesitate to say too much about the story itself—I found myself surprised on more than one occasion by the twists and turns the story took, and I would hate to ruin them for another reader. Instead, I’d like to spend the rest of my allotted space talking about some of the larger thematic issues at work in The Storyteller’s Bracelet.
It is clear that Zeidel’s decision to pull traditions and myths from numerous tribes instead of focusing on a specific group was an excellent one. It gives her freedom to combine the strongest elements available to reinforce her story and it guards her against offending or otherwise misrepresenting any given group. It is also then easier for the reader to get inside the symbols and freely swim around inside of them.
Zeidel also does a fine job of telling the story with balance and multiple viewpoints. As she says in the Afterword, not all Indian Schools were the vicious, disrespectful, and dangerous place as this book’s Oak Tree School is, but in the pursuit of telling an engaging and edgy story that will keep the reader’s attention (especially in our desensitized, visually and aurally overwhelmed modern world) this “heightening and compressing” (as writing theory calls it), is both appropriate and necessary.
The Whites and Native Peoples represent a broad spectrum of beliefs and actions. Zeidel has confidence enough in the tale she wants to tell to let the circumstances speak for themselves. Because all points of view are given equal weight in the core story, there is no agenda on the author’s part, and that is to be applauded. Agenda-ism is killing healthy dialogue in modern America, to our collective peril.