The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The Man Who Killed the Deer, by Frank Waters

I have debated with myself whether or not to review this book. I was told about it while we vacationed in New Mexico last month, and was given to understand that the people of the Taos Pueblo objected to the book on the grounds that it revealed too much about them. Having now read the book, I can see what their objections are. However, the events of the book are based on an incident that led the US goverment to return Blue Lake, a sacred site, to the Taos Pueblo after many years of litigation and debate. In that regard, it recounts the events leading up to milestone legislation that finally took seriously and protected the rights of all Native Americans to practice their religions. I know this has not been a perfect solution — off the top of my head, I can think of several instances in which sacred sites remain violated and not protected. But it was a critical incident nonetheless. According to Wikipedia: “The Pueblo’s web site names the acquisition of the sacred Blue Lake as the most important event in its history due to the spiritual belief that the Taos natives originated from the lake itself.”

So how does all this tie into Waters’ novel? The story begins with protagonist Martiniano, who has killed a deer on Federal property and against the traditions of his people. As a child, Martiniano was yanked away from his people and taken to be educated in an Anglo boarding school; as an adult, he is neither fish nor fowl, not fitting in with any society. The Taos (who come across as quite inflexible) consider him a troublemaker. He is a de facto individualist with no particular skills and, at times, no allies. The killing of the deer is an introduction to all of this, while at the same time the initial event that opens the dialogue, such as it was, between the Taos and the government about who should possess Blue Lake.

Waters knew the Taos Pueblo people very well. They prefer to keep their language and their religion secret, however, and Waters revealed portions of the latter. I won’t specify anything here, but it was consistent with the kind of thinking I’ve encountered in other tribes.

So the story is about how Martiniano negotiates his way into adulthood. It’s not quite a coming-of-age novel, but only because he is too old.

As for animals, more than one deer dies. And there are horses, birds, dogs, mice, fish, rabbits, coyotes, and farm animals. Not all of these are treated kindly, but there are no animal characters to become attached to, so I am declaring this book Mostly Safe for animal lovers.

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December 22, 2009 - Posted by | animals, Book Reviews, historical fiction | , , ,

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