Born in 1863 of mixed black and Indian blood to a sharecropper’s family, Elijah Yancy of Spartanburg, South Carolina, lives surrounded by racism. One day as a small boy, he decides to walk on the sidewalk restricted for whites only. Upon returning home, his family decides that South Carolina is no place for a young black man who wishes to change the status quo and still remain alive. Told he must leave home and travel north, Elijah walks west and winds up in Nebraska, where he joins the cavalry. After becoming a “buffalo soldier,” he fights the Plains Indians, forcing them onto reservations; travels to the Philippines during the Spanish-American War and fights the brown man; and then finally is stationed at Yosemite National Park in the early 20th century.
I found this novel difficult to read and enjoy. The book flap states: “This novel (is) a literary meditation on finding a self and a spiritual home while unveiling a little-known chapter of America’s past.” Shelton Johnson is a fine and gifted writer and will probably write many more exceptional novels. For me, however, the story tended to preach about the racial problems that existed in America at this time through the protagonist’s “meditations” rather than through his interaction with other characters or the setting. There was very little action or suspense to make the characters come alive. I am sure the author wrote this book with this desired result, and those who enjoy this type of novel may like his approach to the story. Therefore, I can’t say I would dismiss this work, but I would recommend it with reservations.