Cherokee America

Written by Margaret Verble
Review by Katie Stine

For some, the idea that the United States government enveloped sovereign nations sounds strange. But this novel reminds the reader that sovereign entities existed amongst the American states. Set in 1875, before Oklahoma was created, the Cherokee Nation was home to the titular character.

Check, the main character, is the center of a powerful family in the Cherokee Nation. Two of her five sons are nearly grown, and her husband is on his deathbed. The dance of full-blood, mixed-blood (the “Cherokee-ness” of a person is not the tint of the skin, but the ways in which one chooses to live), white, and black is complex. The older characters walked the Trail of Tears from Georgia to Oklahoma, and some owned slaves before being relocated. Like every community, some come from money, and others not. This novel is picaresque, a year in the life of this community. However, with orphans, young love, a shooting in a whorehouse, the threat of the United States government, the novel isn’t lacking for action.

This novel is a slow burn, but a worthwhile one. Divided into three sections, the first is the longest in length, and the most convoluted. The second and third sections have clear plotlines that resolve. Verble also does an excellent job of spelling out how people communicated—telling the reader why the characters won’t ask a direct question. It isn’t a plot device in this novel; it’s local color. The style is full of abrupt sentence fragments, which is jarring to read, but part of the no-nonsense personality of Check. Another unusual aspect of this novel is the Cherokee text. There is no phonetic guide to the symbols, which serves as a reminder that this story isn’t set in the United States: we are in the Nation.