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The West has been vanishing almost since it was first inhabited by Europeans, and as a Native American writer, Hogan is devoted to the recovery of what has been nearly lost -- in particular, the culture and history of Native American tribes. This collection of personal essays, part memoir, argues that history lives, often unacknowledged, in our bodies. The catastrophe of shattered Indian cultures lives on, generations later, in the shattered lives of so many descendants of those tribes.
Hogan is of Chickasaw descent, her ancestors inhabitants of what is now Tennessee and Mississippi, forcibly relocated over 100 years ago to the "Indian Territory" of Oklahoma, a journey remembered as the Trail of Tears. Her father an Army sergeant, she spent her first years in Germany, and in later years lived in Colorado. It was a difficult childhood, including a teenage "marriage" to an older man, a silent mother terrified of other people, her father often absent. She writes of her own alcoholism and adoption of two Lakota sisters, both deeply scarred emotionally by a history of severe child abuse.
Hogan's book is an account of her emergence from the "dark underworld" of her early life and the discovery of her own humanity and capacity for love. There is the love for her troubled daughters and the love she learns to feel for her parents, in particular her father, who grew up as a cowboy and whose world forever made cowboys and horses appealing to her.
There is much about pain in Hogan's story -- physical, emotional, spiritual. There is the pain of cultural genocide, and its aftermath in the scourge of alcoholism, poverty, domestic violence, and child abuse. There is the pain of her own troubled life and that of her daughters. There is also the pain of a debilitating physical condition, fibromyalgia. Finally, there is a near fatal accident when she falls from a runaway horse, causing a head injury and fractured pelvis and requiring many months of recovery.
Besides her own story, there are illuminating ruminations in this book on memory, dreams, lost souls, horses, the body, landscapes, identity, and myth. You put the book down after the last page with a sense that you have been on a long, deeply experienced personal journey. Hogan makes reference to Andre Dubus, another writer whose life was abruptly changed by an accident. As a companion to this book, I'd recommend his collection of essays, "Broken Vessels."