It’s probably a safe bet that most British readers won’t have encountered contemporary Native Americans in their leisure literature. With the recent publication of Sherman Alexie’s Ten Little Indians, this may well cease to be the case. Teeming with memorable characters and one-liners, Alexie’s sketches of Spokane Indians making their way through a white man’s world (or the Seattle part of it, at any rate) are by turns funny, sad and inspirational.The quality of what is on offer is unquestionably uneven. Perhaps the finest story – What You Pawn I Will Redeem — recounts the story of a homeless Native American on a mission to rescue a dance outfit stolen from his grandmother half a century earlier. Charting the character’s hourby- hour attempt to raise the required thousand dollars, Alexie manages both to defy stereotype and avoid the implausible. “I’m not going to tell you my particular reasons for being homeless,” we are told, “because it’s my secret story, and Indians have to work hard to keep secrets from hungry white folks.” Accordingly, much remains a mystery in this poignant but satisfying tale.Others are less rewarding. Do Not Go Gentle touches on issues of bereavement and parenthood but is ruined by a crass conclusion. The Life and Times of Estelle Walks Above also grates, despite its inventive structure and iconoclastic bent. Throughout the book, the humour, on occasion, seems contrived.But if one can look past these weaknesses, Ten Little Indiansproves itself to be a daring group. Alexie’s willingness to gore sacred cows is attractive, particularly when he gently mocks liberal Western attitudes to those of his race, and much of the comic writing is first-rate. The collection also contains a thought-provoking piece dealing with the effect of September 11th on Native Americans, inspired by Alexie’s reallife experience of being told to “go back to your own country.” If this kind of irony appeals to you, there is much in this slim volume to enjoy.
Secker and Warburg,
1st January 2004,

Hardback, £11.99Archive: 0th week HT 2004