American Woman

Written by R. Garcia y Robertson
Review by Sarah L. Nesbeitt

This novel’s finale will come as no surprise: on June 25, 1876, General George Armstrong Custer led the soldiers of the 7th Cavalry to their deaths at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Despite this fact, this novel, beginning three years earlier, hardly follows a predictable path. The narrator is American Woman, born Sarah Kilory, a blonde Quaker from Pennsylvania who originally headed west to convert the natives to Christianity. Her plans suddenly changed when she fell in love with a Lakota warrior and medicine man — and soon after became his second wife.

Through her eyes we see the events leading up to the Little Big Horn from multiple viewpoints. As a member of the Lakota tribe, American Woman struggles with her identity as an outsider whose sister-wife takes precedence in all but their husband’s heart. She also sympathizes with the plight of the Indians at a time when the buffalo are near extinction and the railroad threatens their open lands. Still moving well in white circles, she befriends and pities Libbie Custer. However, the Lakotas are the clear protagonists, as Sarah is now more Indian than white.

Throughout her ordeals the narrator is practically fearless, approaching dangerous situations with poise (not to mention humor and sarcasm); her own survival is never in doubt. However, that of her compatriots on both sides is less certain. American Woman, through the author, brings a fresh voice to this familiar story. This novel is for those so-called discriminating readers who insist they don’t like westerns; if this exciting, moving exploration of a lost way of life won’t convince them otherwise, chances are that nothing will.