by Vella Munn
Published by Forge
366 pages, 2001
Buy it online
Reviewed by Lynne Remick
The saga of the Native American Indian remains a sad but fascinating chapter in America's history. Their customs and beliefs continues to amaze and intrigue me. The undying pride of the Indian Nation still blazes. Above all, the plight of these peoples through oppression and hunger proves universal and timely. So, of course, when presented with the opportunity to review a historical fiction treatment of the lives of the Cheyenne prior to the European invasion, I seized the chance.
Cheyenne Summer is presented as historical fiction, yet I could not shake the romance fiction feel of the title, expecting a sudden flare of passion as I rode the distance. It would be a long time before I encountered this type of romantic interlude, and when it arrived, it would not be what I expected. I can't help but feel that perhaps a more apt title might have better settled me in for the ride. On the other hand, some romance might have eased me over the dry spots.
Focusing for the most part, on the lives of four unmarried Native American Indians -- women "Seeks Fire" and "Touches the Wind" and men "Great Bear" and "Lone Hawk"--Cheyenne Summer follows their tribe through a killing drought, hunger, buffalo hunts, Pawnee raids, fire and other natural dangers. Through emotional and/or physical strength some of the tribe will continue the existence of the Cheyenne. But will only the strong survive?
From the beginning, the presence of four main characters makes it continuously difficult to keep track of each one's actions, thoughts and motivations. After a while it becomes clear that reader/character intimacy is not achievable in this novel, given the fact that the book deals with so many characters all in close proximity.
At first, the unfamiliarity of the names and many characters renders the story confusing. However, once the main characters are firmly placed in the reader's mind, secondary characters [Knows No Fear, Follower, Walking Rabbit, Little Bird, Calf Woman, Sweet Grass Eater, Nightelk, Two Coyotes, Long Chin, Wooden Legs, Jumps Like Ants, Kicked by Horse, Last Runner, Wolf Robe, Easy Singer, Rich in Hides, Sweet Medicine, Stands in Timber, White Hair and so on], their importance or lack of same continue to render confusion. A horse named "Legs Like Lightning" and a dog named "Black Eyes" also serve, at times, as sources of pause. In many places, I often had to re-read selected text to get my bearing on who the players were in the scene.
The distinct culture of the Native American Indian first drew me to this book, and kept me connected with it:
"Come in," Walking Rabbit said and shuffled back.
While I did enjoy this bird's eye view of interpersonal relationships in a Cheyenne village, I remained an outsider. I might have enjoyed becoming more a part of any one of the characters, had the opportunity surfaced.
Fascinated by Native Americans, past and present, Vella Munn has written many books on the subject, including Blackfeet Season, Soul of the Sacred Earth, Spirit of the Eagle, Seminole Song and others. She became intrigued by the belief systems, legends, and lifestyles and portrays these cultural imprints in her writing. These aspects comprised what is, in my opinion, the best part of Cheyenne Summer.
Though my journey through this book was not easy, I arrived at story's end somewhat satisfied. Although the characters had not taken hold of me, bits of Indian legend and folklore did. With that in mind, the journey was not a failure. | August 2001
An avid reader, established reviewer and writer of poetry, non-fiction, fiction, historical romance and children's books, Lynne Remick can always be found with a book in her hand. She lives in New York with her fiancé Michael, her son Kevin, her Schipperke Dante, a feral cat named Sahara and a spoiled hedgehog named Nike. There, in a little house once owned by her great grandparents, she reads, writes stories, book reviews, writing columns and poetry.