Neither Wolf nor Dog:
On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder
A review by Bert H. Hoff
Neither Wolf Nor Dog
by Kent Nerburn
Kent Nerburn is best-known for Letters to my Son, with praise reviews by Shepherd Bliss and again by me in past issues. Few know that he is a reverent chronicler of Native American traditions. So much so that the daughter of an elder on the Great Plains called him and told him he needed to come out and visit Dan. So unfolds the story, described as a cross between Jack Kerouac and Black Elk Speaks. The story unfolds like a Carlos Costenada Don Juan or Lynn Andrews Medicine Woman, but with a human, modern day authenticity that the other stories lack. He gets his car repaired. He visits the gravesite from Wounded Knee. Dan has an attic full of writings of wisdom, in old notebooks and scraps of paper in shoeboxes. He burns them, much to Kentís chagrin, because they portray the Native in the Anglo stereotype of the "wise Chief" speaking words of wisdom. How about words of wisdom interspersed with the troubles and travails of ordinary life, like the rest of us live?
He states in his introduction that there will be a great many Indian readers who will be skeptical about his decision to write the book. Indians have seen themselves misinterpreted, misrepresented and unconsciously exploited by white writers of both good and bad heart. He believes he will be seen neither a white exploiter who traffics in Indian themes because they are popular, not a blue-eyed wannabe who has mysteriously discovered a Cherokee grandmother somewhere in his distant past. Nor will he be seen as one of that most pernicious breed of white writer who claims to have met some wisdom-bearing elder who has unaccountably decided to share his or her innermost cultural secrets and teachings. If he has done his job well, you will see that he is simply a person of honest heart who has had the good fortune to know and value Indian people, and who has happened upon the opportunity to create a book that can give voice to the thoughts and feelings of a very special man.
I believe he has done his job well. The book reads like a very well-written novel, with a fascinating story. He brings heartfelt compassion and deep understanding to the story and he very effectively conveys the thoughts and heart-tears of this modern-day elder.
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