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15 Minute Pulitzer: 1969 and an effort to see the forest

by Craig B | Dec 16, 2016
House Made of DawnBook Review:  House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday

N. Scott Momaday delivers his story of Abel with such fragmentation in time and narration, it’s not always clear what’s going on.  In retrospect, I think that’s kind of the point.

The novel and 1969 Pulitzer Prize winner, House Made of Dawn, never strives too hard to explain everything that’s happening.  It is a bit obtuse in this way, but I think we also get a feel for how the main character, Abel, feels when he’s sent to fight in World War II, put in prison, and displaced to L.A.  The book might be easier for us to read if it filled in the gaps more, but I wonder if Momaday is seeking to avoid excessive explanation of the Native American experience in the U.S. in order to encourage the reader to come to grips with the difficulties of U.S. history and the foolhardy notion that there can really be an easily quantifiable reason for everything.  That, and the book started out as a set of poems.

Momaday wrote House Made of Dawn from many of his own experiences living for several years from the age of 12 in Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico.  His was, and is, a powerful voice that helped found the Native American Renaissance that began in the second half of the 20th century in the U.S. (something that only became apparent 15 years after the book’s original publication).  Momaday’s poems, plays, folklore, essays, and novels all strive to recollect a narrative tradition often inundated and misunderstood by a majority culture.  I’m glad that the Pulitzer Board, amid somewhat uncertain critical reaction at the time of the novel’s publication, saw fit to recognize Momaday’s achievement immediately, but I’m especially glad that Momaday, one poetic tree at a time, can now be seen to have achieved even more.

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