Home > 2000, 21st Century, Alexie Sherman, American Literature, Short Stories > Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie

Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie

Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie 2003. French title: Dix petits indiens.

Alexie_Dix_Petits_IndiensThis book came in the same birthday gift as Notting Hell and it just confirms one thing: J’ai Lu can’t be trusted while 10:18 are a sure bet. I’m referring to the respective publishers of the two books. While I never take a chance buying an unknown J’ai Lu book, I often give in trying an unknown writer published by 10:18. As I’m settling to write this billet, I’m very frustrated that I have a copy of Ten Little Indians in French, which means I won’t be able to insert quotes in my post. And Sherman Alexie’s prose deserves quotes. Ten Little Indians is a collection of nine short stories published in 2003 and Sherman Alexie sounds like a merger between Joseph O’Connor and Woody Allen.

Alexie is an Indian Spokane who lives in Seattle. His stories feature Spokanes who live in Seattle. I loved his quiet tribute to his people that resonates through his stories; this is his Joseph O’Connor side. The characters are single moms, losers, successful businessmen, homeless or students. This collection was published in 2003 and the consequences of 9/11 are present in the book. For example, Indians have a brown skin and are mistaken for potential terrorists by white racists. Alexie describes life in Seattle and detaches himself from Indian clichés.  Just as Joseph O’Connor pictures contemporary Ireland without falling for Irish clichés, Alexie avoids the pitfall of showing Indian traditions or portraying poor and drunk Indians. His Spokanes are like everyone else, poor or well-off, uneducated or university teachers, faithful spouses or cheaters,…His stories are original, full of funny characters and ooze tenderness for the Spokanes. Alexie wonders: what does it mean to be a Native American in the 21st century?

Alexie_Ten_Little_IndiansThe characters have a wicked sense of humour and deep feelings for their family. I loved Alexie’s sense of humour. That’s his Woody Allen side. When I was reading, I was thinking his characters had a Jewish sense of humour. Then later, one of them says that the funniest tribes are the Indians and the Jews and that it must have something to do with a sense of humour inherent to genocide. In another story, William is afraid to fly. Every time he needs to hop on a plane, he listens to his special playlist of songs written by artists who died in a plane crash. The story The Life and Times of Estelle Walks Above made me laugh out loud. It’s told by Estelle’s son and he sounds like Alexander Portnoy minus the sex obsession or like Gary in Promise at Dawn. Jewish lit, I tell you. He relates his adolescence in 1976 with his feminist Spokane mother. Hilarious.

Writing about short stories is always challenging, I hope I was good enough for you to check out Sherman Alexie if you haven’t read him yet. He’s worth discovering. He’s certainly a writer I want to explore.

Now that I think of it, most of the regular readers of this blog can read French. You know what, I’m leaving you with quotes from my favourite stories of the book and coming from the French translation. It’s better than nothing, right?

Corliss se demanda ce qui arrivait à un livre qui demeurait trente ans sur une étagère de bibliothèque sans être lu. Est-ce qu’un livre qu’on ne lisait pas pouvait encore mériter le nom de livre ? Si un arbre s’abat dans une forêt et qu’il est réduit en pâte à papier dans le but de fabriquer un livre qu’on ne lira jamais, là où il n’y a personne pour le lire, est-ce que cela s’entend ?

In The Search Engine

 Another one:

Elle m’a emmené à sept matchs de baseball et quatorze lectures de poésie, et j’ai trouvé ces deux passe-temps étonnamment semblables :

1)      Est-ce que je dois applaudir maintenant ?

2)      C’était beau ?

3)      Pourquoi il se gratte les couilles ?

In The Life and Times of Estelle Walks Above.

And the last one:

Jusqu’à ce jour, il ne m’est pas souvent arrivé de me regarder dans la glace et de me dire : je suis un Indien. Je ne sais pas nécessairement ce qu’un Indien est censé être. Après tout, je ne parle pas la langue de ma tribu et je suis allergique à la terre. Quand la verdure pousse, j’éternue. En salish, « Spokane » signifie « Enfants du soleil », et je suis un peu allergique au soleil aussi. Quand je passe trop de temps dehors, je récolte de vilaines éruptions. Je doute que Crazy Horse ait eu besoin de talc pour traverser une chaude journée estivale. Vous imaginez Sacajawea en train de franchir la ligne de partage des eaux la goutte au nez ? Je ne suis pas particulièrement représentatif de la fierté indigène. Je ne pense à mon héritage tribal que quand un Blanc me le rappelle :

Q : « Hé !, me, t’es Indien, hein ? »

R : « Euh, ouais »

In The Life and Times of Estelle Walks Above.

  1. August 13, 2013 at 4:00 am

    I’d never heard of this author, Emma. I took a look on Amazon and this had some good reviews. Obviously a writer with a following

    Like

    • August 13, 2013 at 5:37 pm

      This is a first: me, writing about an American writer you don’t know.
      I think you’d like him.

      Like

  2. August 13, 2013 at 9:43 am

    I’ve read some of his short stories. I’ve read quite a few American Indian authors and he’s one of the best. He has loads of followers but not in Europe I’d say.

    Like

    • August 13, 2013 at 5:39 pm

      His other books are translated into French and published by 10:18 as well.
      Who would recommend as Indian Amercan writers? I tried Louise Erdrich but I couldn’t finish it. I want to try it again, though.

      Like

      • August 13, 2013 at 5:47 pm

        I liked Erdrich. I liked N. Scott Momaday, and Susan Power.
        Leslie Marmon Silko. I thought there were some more but I can’t remeber them. I wanted to include Silko in my read along, I might do it next year, if I don’t read it before.

        Like

        • August 15, 2013 at 2:56 pm

          I think I tried Erdrich at a bad moment. Thanks for the other recommendations, I don’t know them but I’ll check them out.

          Like

  3. August 13, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    Nice review, Emma. Glad to know that you liked Alexie’s book and it made you laugh out loud. That feminist Spokane mother – I want to read that story. I haven’t read this book yet, but I remember one of my friends also recommending it. I will look for it. Thanks for this wonderful review.

    Like

    • August 13, 2013 at 5:39 pm

      Thanks Vishy. This story is very funny, I hope you can find it.

      Like

  4. August 14, 2013 at 11:07 am

    Great commentary as always Emma.

    The comment about Indian and Jews is tragic and hilarious at the same time. It is amazing and terribly sad about the post 9/11 discrimination.

    Like

    • August 15, 2013 at 2:57 pm

      Thanks Brian.
      The same kind of discrimination happened in Britain (very clear in Brick Lane that I reviewed the other day) and in France. (we call it the “délit de faciès” in French)

      Like

  1. October 12, 2014 at 12:13 am

I love to hear your thoughts, thanks for commenting. Comments in French are welcome

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