House Made of Dawn – Momaday

A few weeks ago, I was watching a Ken Burns documentary on the American West and there was a man who spoke so eloquently it took my attention immediately.  The text on the screen said this man was N. Scott Momaday, a Native American Writer.  Immediately I started a search for books and found that he was the 1969 Pulitzer Prize winner for his novel House Made of Dawn. Add to cart, purchase, ship, read.

I’m about halfway through with HMoD, reading a little here and there over the Thanksgiving holiday.  This novel is set in the late 1940s/early 1950s.  The theme centers around Abel’s journey from native culture of his family to the assimilation to the white man’s way.  After the American Indian’s legal struggles throughout the 19th century, it seems as if Abel’s generation was really feeling a divide and nearing a decision to carry their ancestors ways or melt into a foreign way of life as many did before him.  Abel was in a difficult struggle to fit in with either culture.

A few observations of the book so far:  Descriptive.  Momaday uses an extensive vocabulary to describe canyons, villages, people, rain storms, death, love, struggles.  I really enjoy how he paints the picture:

“The canyon is a ladder to the plain. The valley is pale in the end of July, when the corn and melons come of age and slowly the fields are ready for the yield, and a faint, false air of autumn- an illusion still in the land- rises somewhere away in the high north country, a vague suspicion of red and yellow on the furthest summits. And the town lies out like a scattering of bones in the heart of the land, low in the valley, where the earth is a kiln and the soil is carried here and there in the wind and all harvests are a poor survival of the seed.”

While the descriptions are enjoyable, the story line is a little confusing.  I hope it will straighten out a little and tie together by the end.  There are dreams, diaries, and different characters that have small connections to each other.  It’s hard to put the connections together at this time, except that each major character has a different perspective of the time.  There is Abel, a young man who doesn’t fit in with either culture; Abel’s grandfather, Francisco, who is Abel’s last link to the old ways;  and Father Olguin, a priest sent to help ‘civilize’ and guide the natives to the European way of life.

At the point I am at in the book now, it is 1952 and Abel lives in LA.  He is struggling with alcoholism and it is painful to read about his physical  struggle.  A religious group of American Indians is mentioned, they had a peyote ceremony, the leader (Priest of the Sun) works to make connections between story telling of his ancestors and the written word of the Bible.

More to come…


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