Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Review-Black Hills, by Dan Simmons

Black Hills
Dan Simmons
A Reagan Arthur Book
Hachette Book Group
February 24, 2010
512 pages

In 1876 Paha Sapa, a young boy of ten is at Little Bighorn, during the massacre and carnage of Custer’s Last Stand. His future desire is to become a wičasa wakan, a holy man. He has a gift of sight that enables him to see the future through his sense of touch. Having no heart for fighting, nor an innate will to become a warrior, he counts coup in battle, touching Custer at exact the moment he dies. Immediately he fears something has changed, and with trepidation and unease he knows the dead man’s ghost has seeped into his body. A lifetime of competitive chatter begins for Paha Sapa as his mind rattles with the dialogue of General Custer, his beliefs, feelings, opinions, love life, and memories. Throughout the book, Simmons allows his voice to be heard through Paha Sapa and his uninvited ghost resident, Custer.

As a future wakan, Paha Sapa must embark on his vision quest and it is there he is terrorized by the dismal and shocking views that shape his people’s future: the ravages to the earth, the end to the buffalo and the Sioux known as the “Natural Free Human Beings.”

The story alternates between two time periods. Fluctuating between Paha Sapa’s early life in 1876 at the battle of Little Bighorn, to the 1930’s where Paha Sapa is a dynamite man working for Gutzon Borglum on the famous Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota. It is during this time period, dying of cancer, that Paha Sapa sets in motion a plan to blow up the colossal monuments in stone. In his mind the stones are an insult to his people’s culture and life. It is not the first time he has seen the Black Hills heads emerge out of the mountains, as they were a part of his vision quest when he was a boy.

Historical events depicted in the novel provide a fascinating setting as Paha Sapa ages over seven decades. His presence is there for the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and he attends the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 where he marvels at Mr. Ferris’ great wheel. He views the ravages of the Dust Bowl and becomes a key worker when the heads of stone are the carved out of the Black HIll, known as Mr. Rushmore. Simmons uses an impressive bibliography of noteworthy sources that also provides further suggestive reading.

The text is in italics when characters are speaking. This is awkward at first to get used to, especially when Custer’s ghost is speaking. Custer’s letters to his wife were oddly uncomfortable intimacies that could have been eliminated. Black Hills is appropriately presented at a time when go green is in vogue and Earth’s survival depends on our corrective action. It is cautionary tale, to embrace. It is a call to action for those who read Black HIlls to act, to solve and implement plans for the future to stave off what seems to be the inevitable demise of our planet. Reflectively unique both disturbing and hopeful, Simmons has tantalized the reader with a wonderful story from our past, while questioning the future. Highly recommended.


bermudaonion said...

Wow! This is the first review I've seen of this book and it sounds fantastic! I'm really anxious to read it now.

bermudaonion said...

Whoops, I forgot to say that I'll link this to the Reagan Arthur Books Challenge Blog.

Julie P. said...

Yep -- you're the first! I enjoyed DROOD and am looking forward to BLACK HILLS.

Serena said...

This sounds great! Thanks for the review...great for the regean arthur reading challenge.

serendipity_viv said...

This hasn't come out over here yet, but I will definitely get it when it does. Good job I picked up Drood this week, to keep me going until it comes out.

Ti said...

I like Simmons a lot. I really enjoyed The Terror. Have you read that one? If not, read it during the hot summer months as it takes place amongst the frozen tundra and I swear, I froze my butt off every time I picked it up.

wisteria said...

Bermuda..As a history nut..I loved it. Thanks for stopping and posting this to the challenge. Looking forward to other reads by RA.
Julie P. Can't wait to read Drood as this one was my first Simmons read.
I have Drood..just never got around to reading it.
Serena..Thanks for stopping.I hope you like it if you read it.
Vivienne..I am anxious to start Drood now. Let me know what you think. You will probably read it before I do.
Ti..Thanks for telling me about Terror..and the heads up about reading it in the summer. I will hold off and read it when I'm off for summer vacation. Thanks for stopping.

nomadreader said...

I still haven't gotten around to reading Drood, but I may read this one first. I'm so glad to hear you loved it1

Alice said...

This is another great review of a book I've seen reviewed on a few blogs. I've also read a book by Nora Roberts bearing the same title and set at Black Hills. I'm keeping this in my wish list!