"The Sea of Grass" will live on
The Sea of Grass is the tale of Walter R. Echo-Hawk’s family and tribe. The narration is built in sections, depending on the main character at the period of time covered. This is important, as Mr Echo-Hawk uses the traditional Pawnee storytelling formula to re-tell history. It begins with the myths of creation of the Pawnee people; then, the arrival of European colonists; the move to the reservations and the massacre of population; the World Wars… all the way to today.
This is a text book, a teaching tool despite the similarities to a novel. Yet, it is so much more. It is the tale behind the struggle to safeguard the identity of the tribal nation, its interactions as family, its efforts to maintain its traditions and beliefs.
Who would enjoy it
The Sea of Grass is a wonderful book for anyone interested in history, particularly in history from the perspective of the minorities. It has good research behind, as well, for those who care about that aspect.
It is also an excellent choice for those interested in narrative techniques. Mr Echo-Hawk adapts the style to the narrator, so each period has a different voice.
Who should give this a pass
Since The Sea of Grass is written in the form of oral storytelling, it can be a bit hard to follow. The pace is slow, which may make it a bit boring for readers who enjoy fast action.
Also, it has a very clear narrative bias, with a nostalgic superiority of the Pawnee and their ways. While this is understandable from a personal memoir, readers of history will have to remain aware of it in order to prevent being jarred into suspicion of the events told.
Similarly, there seems to be a slight imbalance in relevance allocated to events. For example, we are told about visions at length, but barely dwell on the very events of massacres or life with the new illnesses that decimated the populations. I would expect an opposing balance.
Conclusions and suggestions
The Sea of Grass is a wonderful book, in both style and content. Walter R. Echo-Hawk had clearly planned this work meticulously, crafted it lovingly. I would love to see it reach wide audiences, both for its literary skill, for its didactic load, and as fair returns to the author.
That said, I would like to draw attention to a few items for other authors to remember as they write their one books:
· Work hard to give a consistent voice to your main characters and/or narrators;
· Select how much length you give each event, so it becomes proportionally relevant;
· Understand that not all readers, let alone all generations, have the same storytelling habits. Oral traditions, for example, may be a bit difficult to keep a younger audience (used to the immediacy of media) engaged for the length of the volume.