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Laughing Boy by Oliver La Farge
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Laughing Boy (1929)

by Oliver La Farge

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Gorgeous. Captures the essence of the spirit & language of the people of the time, both Navajo and American", as best as I can tell. My library had it shelved as 'Western' but that's like saying [b:The Old Man and the Sea|2165|The Old Man and the Sea|Ernest Hemingway|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1329189714s/2165.jpg|69741] is 'Aquatic.' It reveals universal truths about human nature through a lens that may help today's readers see them more clearly.

And to think it was an impulse grab, based on title, and on the fact that it's a slim book despite being in the large-print section. Um, well, slim it may be, but it was still a long slow meditative read.

A sample:

That evening was blissful, so harmonious that in the middle of it Jesting Squaw's Son excused himself, went down to the corral, and cried into the shoulder of the first available horse. A horse, warm and silky, is very nice to cry into when it stands still. The tears came readily. He had not cried before." ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
"Laughing Boy," published in 1929, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1930. Oliver La Farge 1901-1920 is the writer.

The story is a good depiction of Navajo life and the coming of age of "Laughing Boy," a young Navajo Indian who meets Slim Girl at a ceremonial Indian dance. They fall in love and marry against his family's wishes.

Laughing Boy is an innocent and loves horses, tribal dances and competition of all kinds. After he wins events at the ceremonial dance when he met Slim Girl, he is coerced into gambling the money and his horse away. When chided by Slim Girl, Laughing Boy tells her that it doesn't matter because winning and loosing were the source of his pleasure.

Slim Girl went to an American school and was given the school name, Lily. The central conflicts in the story deal with Laughing Boy and Slim Girl's dealing with American culture. At one point, Laughing Boy and his friends arrive at an Indian trading post. He brags to his friends that he could get the owner to give them free coffee. Then he pretends that he is going to make major purchases from the trader, who offers the coffee as he totals the bill. After getting the coffee, he smiles and tells the owner that he changed his mind, then wonders why the owner became angry.

What Laughing Boy doesn't realize is that Slim Girl is leading a double life. She spends time as the married wife of Laughing Boy and also with an American.

I found the story to be entertaining as depicting a segment of American life but never became too involved in the story. With the different ways that Indians behaved and lived their lives, it was difficult to empathise with their dilemma. Also, with all of the Indian names, there were times that I couldn't tell if the characters were members of Laughing Boy's clan and if the names were real names or nicknames. ( )
  mikedraper | Feb 26, 2015 |
This won the Pulitzer prize for fiction for 1930. I was reading all such winners so of course i read this, with appreciation. ( )
  Schmerguls | Jul 29, 2013 |
Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction in 1930.

Tony Hillerman’s books featuring the Navajo policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee certainly popularized Navajo culture, presenting it in a sympathetic light; Hillerman was formally made a Friend of the Navajo People by the tribe’s leaders. Almost unknown, as far as I can tell, is La Farge’s equally sympathetic book published at least 40 years before Hillerman came on the literary scene.

Laughing Boy, a young Navajo man in 1915, meets, during a religious healing dance, Slim Girl, who was taken from the reservation at a very young age to a school in California that did its best to erase her identity as a Navajo and make her into an American. However, she returns to the reservation, but is under a cloud as there are whispers about her conduct. Laughing Boy falls in love with her and the two move away from his area on the Northern Reservation to a small town in the southern section.

The story of Laughing Boy and Slim Girl and the life that they forge together is beautifully told in concise prose with a rhythm that may or may not reflect the Navajo language but certainly gives the appearance of authenticity. LaFarge weaves Navajo customs, activities, and religion into the story in a completely endemic way, all of it forming a complete whole, as is the ideal of Navajo life. LaFarge brings in US-Navojo relations in an objective way; his intent, as he says in the prologue, is not to criticize but to amuse. He more than succeeds, although “amuse” is not the word I would use for this tale, such as the Navajos themselves might tell for the edification of their children. It is short, it wastes no words, and stays in the memory, inviting reflection. White American he may have been, but LaFarge wrote with great sensitivity, especially for his time. Highly recommended. ( )
4 vote Joycepa | Jul 25, 2009 |
Laughing Boy was published in 1929, and is billed on the cover as "the first authentic novel of the Navajo Indians." Oliver LaFarge was something of an authority on Native Americans, working as an activist most of his life. So I expected an account of day-to-day Native American life, describing customs and rituals that are more widely understood today. LaFarge does this in a surprisingly eloquent, lyrical way, such as this passage describing the start of a horse race:

Arrows from the bow -- no other simile. At the tearing gallop, flat-stretched, backs are level, the animals race in a straight line; all life is motion; there is no body, only an ecstasy; one current between man and horse, and still embodied, a whip hand to pour in leather and a mouth to shout. Speed, speed, but the near goal is miles away, and other speed spirits on either side will not fall back. (p. 56)

But this book is much more than cultural education. It is also a beautiful love story. Laughing Boy, a Navajo brave, meets Slim Girl at a dance and is instantly taken with her. She was raised by whites, so their relationship is controversial within Laughing Boy's family & tribe. She also has a bit of a reputation that he is blissfully unaware of. He helps her reconnect to her roots and learn traditional crafts; she helps him discover the wider world beyond his tribe. Their relationship evolves as they come of age themselves. LaFarge is far less lyrical when writing about relationships, and yet he manages to convey each person's deepest feelings of love, and of fear of failing the other. This book gets a 3-star rating because while it was good, it lacked a certain depth. It almost earned another half or full star because of its very moving ending. Recommended. ( )
1 vote lauralkeet | May 5, 2009 |
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Gewidmet der einzigen schönen Squaw, die ich je in meinem Ldeben sah; ihren Namen habe ich vergessen.
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He was riding the hundred miles from T'o Tlakai to Tse Lani to attend a dance, or rather, for the horse-racing that would come afterwards.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0618446729, Paperback)

Capturing the essence of the Southwest in 1915, Oliver La Farge's Pulitzer Prize-winning first novel is an enduring American classic. At a ceremonial dance, the young, earnest silversmith Laughing Boy falls in love with Slim Girl, a beautiful but elusive "American"-educated Navajo. As they experience all of the joys and uncertainties of first love, the couple must face a changing way of life and its tragic consequences.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:59 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Capturing the essence of the Southwest in 1915, Oliver La Farge's Pulitzer Prize-winning first novel is an enduring American classic. At a ceremonial dance, the young, earnest silversmith Laughing Boy falls in love with Slim Girl, a beautiful but elusive "American"--Educated Navajo. As they experience all of the joys and uncertainties of first love, the couple must face a changing way of life and its tragic consequences.-publisher's description.… (more)

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