Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Navajo Writer that Wasn't

About five years ago, I read a wonderful memoir by a writer named Nasdijj called "The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams". It was poetic, and gorgeous in its description of the life of a half-Navajo man living on the reservation with his dog Wanda, mostly on the back of his pickup, who adopted a Navajo infant with fetal alcohol syndrome. The man loved his son who was doomed to die and spent many days fishing with him, always fearful of the seizure that would separate them forever. Then, a couple of days ago, I received an email from Sherman Alexie's website that really threw me for a loop. I discovered that Nasdijj was not a half-Navajo or any Navajo, that he was a middle-class guy who grew up in Lansing, Michigan, that he had never had a son with FAS and that, in essence, he is a fraud.

This kind of storytelling, and the name Frey comes to mind these days, is becoming something of an epidemic. I was always of the mindset that if you want to write a story that is not true, then call it for what it is, a short story, a novel, but not a memoir. I remember reading a non-fiction account by the late Edward Abbey of an exciting, dangerous adventure along the Colorado River and then finding out later that it never happened as he said. I felt cheated and angry, and even though some claim it is the intriguing storyline that really counts, and they've said this with Nasdijj's writings also, I really don't buy it.

Why in the world would anyone want to read a phony tale by a white man of alcoholism, abuse and extreme poverty on the Navajo reservation when there are so many budding Native writers out there that are begging to be noticed? Millions of books sitting in libraries and bookstores are so much more deserving of a read than the three published by a Mr. Barrus who called himself, until he was exposed, Nasdijj. Houghton Mifflin, the publisher of that first book "Blood" ought to take a hard look at this, and so should Ballantine, the follow up publisher. So many times, rejected novelists get a form letter in the mail with the old refrain, "Your book is not right for our list" or "Your characters do not ring true."

Talk about egg on their faces!