*** About the Book ***
This is the story of the American West from the 1870s through the 1930s as seen by a Lakota Sioux named Paha Sapa. When Paha Sapa is ten years old he is present at the Battle of Little Big Horn where he meets George Armstrong Custer just before he dies. When he touches Custer, Paha Sapa is suddenly filled with Custer’s ghost; this ghost becomes his constant companion for the next 60+ years. The story jumps from present to past in a series of vignettes that cover such diverse topics as the Great Dust Bowl, the Chicago World’s Fair, World War I, the carving of Mount Rushmore, and the rise of Hitler.
Here's a video of Dan Simmons talking about this book:
*** Why I Read It ***
Amanda chose BLACK HILLS for the 20-Minute Book Club portion of her That’s How I Blog! Show. I was intrigued by the plot and decided to read the book and participate in the discussion.
*** My Thoughts ***
I have mixed feelings about this book. At first I really liked it. Then I hated it. Then I got bored by it. Then I fell in love with it. Then I wanted to throw it across the room. Then I got really confused. Finally – after over 2 months (including a 3 week break) – I read the final pages and closed the book. And I can’t make up my mind about this book!
It is impossible for me to review this without giving some minor plot spoilers, so consider yourself warned. Here are some things that I’m conflicted about:
- I love the concept of the book and the way that so many historical events are tied into Paha Sapa’s story. This is the greatest strength of the book and the reason that I didn’t quit reading it.
- This book would benefit greatly from a glossary of all the Indian words used. In addition, there was a term used by the author early in the story that is vitally important ... but the definition isn't given until halfway through the book. I can't be the only one who didn't know what "counting coup" means!
- I hated Custer’s ghost. In our discussion on the show Nicole referred to him as Custer the Horny Ghost, and that is the perfect description. Why the ghost felt the need to recall his sexual encounters with his wife in graphic detail is beyond me. It didn’t make any sense with the story. Jen said she didn’t feel the ghost was necessary to the story at all, and I have to say that I agree. [Jen had some serious issues with this book that she details in her review.]
- The remembered conversations between Paha Sapa and his son, Robert, were beautiful. I loved the way that Paha Sapa was conveying his people’s history to his son who had grown up mostly in the society of white people.
- The imagery of the Stone Giants in Paha Sapa’s visions was very well done and made a lot of sense. But the way that his actions played out in regard to his plan felt like a cop-out to me (Simmons wrote it all out one way then went back and said it was just a dream and wrote out what “really” happened); to me it was like he couldn’t decide which option to go with so he gave the reader both.
- I can’t decide if I like or dislike the ending and the epilogue. The World War II bits seem sort of tacked on and don’t have any real relevance to the rest of the book. It seems like Simmons wanted to include this part of history and had to figure out a way to get it in there.
*** Your Thoughts ***
If you’ve read Dan Simmons, does this sound like any of his other books? If you’ve read this book, do you agree/disagree with my opinions? Have you read any books that have left you this conflicted?