Friday, September 10, 2021

Freeform Friday: The Removed - Brandon Hobson

Summary: Steeped in Cherokee myths and history, a novel about a fractured family reckoning with the tragic death of their son long ago—from National Book Award finalist Brandon Hobson.

In the fifteen years since their teenage son, Ray-Ray, was killed in a police shooting, the Echota family has been suspended in private grief. The mother, Maria, increasingly struggles to manage the onset of Alzheimer’s in her husband, Ernest. Their adult daughter, Sonja, leads a life of solitude, punctuated only by spells of dizzying romantic obsession. And their son, Edgar, fled home long ago, turning to drugs to mute his feelings of alienation.

With the family’s annual bonfire approaching—an occasion marking both the Cherokee National Holiday and Ray-Ray’s death, and a rare moment in which they openly talk about his memory—Maria attempts to call the family together from their physical and emotional distances once more. But as the bonfire draws near, each of them feels a strange blurring of the boundary between normal life and the spirit world. Maria and Ernest take in a foster child who seems to almost miraculously keep Ernest’s mental fog at bay. Sonja becomes dangerously fixated on a man named Vin, despite—or perhaps because of—his ties to tragedy in her lifetime and lifetimes before. And in the wake of a suicide attempt, Edgar finds himself in the mysterious Darkening Land: a place between the living and the dead, where old atrocities echo.

Drawing deeply on Cherokee folklore, The Removed seamlessly blends the real and spiritual to excavate the deep reverberations of trauma—a meditation on family, grief, home, and the power of stories on both a personal and ancestral level. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: I have always enjoyed reading books that are deeply steeped in culture, and this was just such a book. I find Native American folklore to be fascinating, and so this book that discusses Cherokee myths and history was right up my alley. I really appreciate authors that are willing to share their personal cultures with the rest of us. I firmly believe that only by being exposed to others’ beliefs, culture, myths, folklore, etc., are we able to understand and empathize with one another. Not only is it important to learn about others to do this, but when we are exposed to other cultures and their lore, we are able to discover understanding about ourselves and happenings in our own life. So many times I read books with a lot of deep cultural discussion and I am better able to understand my own thoughts and experiences, and often it allows me to describe and give word to those things that before I felt my own experiences and knowledge were inadequate to describe. Some other books I’ve reviewed recently that fulfill this experience for me are Tommy Orange’s There There, David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s Winter Counts, Toni Jensen’s Carry: a Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land, and Stephen Graham Jones’ The Only Good Indians.

On the surface, this book is an interesting story about a Cherokee family with the terrible loss of a child. They are understandably upset, and it has affected each of the family members in different ways. The adult children have acted out and it has led to various troubles in their lives, and a lot of the story is based on following them around and seeing how they’ve dealt with the loss of their brother. The parents are also affected, but they are given a small miracle by virtue of a boy who comes back and reminds him of their lost son. The story at this point takes an interesting turn and goes from the reader following the lives of those left behind to the potential of being saved by a boy who has an unnerving likeness to the lost son.

One of the things that I liked most about this book was reading about modern day Cherokee people. I am very aware that the Native Americans in America didn’t just disappear once the days of yore were gone, but have evolved, adapted, and live in this world just like anyone else. I really appreciate understanding how they’ve adapted their cultural beliefs and practices to a modern world and am fascinated about how they walk that line of deep historical cultural practices but still must do normal everyday things of modern life. Learning about these cultural practices and adaptations brings vibrancy and depth to that important part of our society.

I would have liked for this book to have more storytelling. It is a fairly short book, and I would have liked for the story to be more fleshed out and even more cultural ties be formed. I feel like it was a missed opportunity that the reader couldn’t experience parts of the cultural ceremonies that were described as upcoming (such as the bonfire) and would have made the story feel more fleshed out. As it was, we skipped around to characters and there wasn’t a huge resolution made for any of them. I think there was a lot more to be explored. 

There has been some excellent Native American literature coming out of late, and if you have enjoyed those, you should definitely read this book as well.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language, drug use, and discussion of sex.

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