Based on the real life of Ely Parker, the Indian, Grant's Indian pivots at Appomattox, then loops back to Parker's adventures as an Indian boy in upstate New York, his youth as tribal translator and diplomat in Washington, and his career as a U.S. engineer, which leads to his meeting "Useless" Ulysses Grant in a barroom brawl in Galena, Illinois.
After Appomattox, Parker travels with the western Sioux, marries a white girl half his age, becomes commissioner of Indian affairs, resigns in disgrace, makes and loses a fortune on Wall Street, and spends his last 20 years as a clerk in the New York City Police Department.
Parker is an American Indian becoming an American, wearing "Janus masks, one looking inward and one outward, one forward and one back, the two occasionally catching a mutual glimpse and staring like an ape at its own reflection." His quest gets him into all sorts of trouble, including his comic-opera wedding, which he misses once by getting drunk and throwing himself into the Potomac. He dons successive careers, ultimately succeeding inwardly (while his outer success fades), through his young wife's urging him not to be an Indian or be a white, but "Just be a man!"
Parker's journey follows the grand sweep of the 19th century: from Dolley Madison to Abraham Lincoln to Theodore Roosevelt; from the Mexican War to the Civil War to Custer and Crazy Horse; from the woodland Seneca to the western Sioux to Mohawk iron workers on the Brooklyn Bridge.
©2009 Peter Johnson; (P)2009 Peter Johnson
Grant's Indian is a thoroughly enjoyable read. Peter Johnson's detail-oriented prose breathes life into a time that I had previously only caught glimpses of in my schoolbooks. He accomplishes this by following the life and times of Ely Parker, a thoughtful, matter-of-fact, and relatable individual who had the unique position of existing in two separate, but often overlapping, worlds. General Parker bears his dual citizenship with both pain and pride, oscillating between sides as he finds his path. In Grant's Indian, the author seamlessly weaves together themes of war, friendship, love, identity, and politics to craft a wholly absorbing story.
I love listening to audiobooks that are read by the author, and Peter Johnson's deep, versatile voice and reading style make the audiobook a wonderful experience. Highly recommended!
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