Review by: Moira Richards

12/15/02

Shell Shaker
ISBN: 1879960613
By LeAnne Howe

The copy that I own of Shell Shaker's cover boasts a beautiful gold label that announces it as a winner of the American Book Award. It is published by the Aunt Lute Foundation, a privately funded educational non-profit organization dedicated to bringing to the reading and writing public, the voices and issues of women who are not (yet) of the mainstream -- Chicana women, Native American women, women from countries in the Southern and Eastern hemispheres.

History is defined by whomever it is that gets to write it into the history books -- the conqueror. But histories can be re-written when the conquered at last manage to grab a pen too, and a rewriting of American history is some, although not all, of what LeAnne Howe accomplishes in Shell Shaker.

Her story spans a few centuries of American history. It stretches from the time of the Spanish, British, and French invasions of Native American country, to the present day invasions, of another kind, into the Native American reservations. It addresses indigenous issues in America, both old and new, and it explores the parallels between the events of the past and those of the present. It examines too, how power corrupted in years past, and how it still corrupts today.

Based loosely on a few historical figures, Choctaw history and Choctaw myth, as well as on two unsolved murders set 250 years apart, this fictional story moves effortlessly back and forth through time with an ease born of the conviction that the Choctaw nation is indestructible, that it is "life everlasting." Narrative transitions glide between the people who are living on the Earth, and those who bide their time elsewhere until they must return to this life. Some pivotal parts of the story are even narrated by the ageless spirit Shell Shaker, who was born to be a peacemaker, but who cannot resist going to meet her death dressed vengefully in red war paint!

Shell Shaker ranges from the chilling first person account of a woman who is clubbed to death to a unique and lovingly portrayed insight into the history, legends and customs of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. It is refreshing to read a work that is peopled by women who are strong, confident, know what they want, and what they must do to get it, and with a few men whose manhood is not threatened by such women.

Shell Shaker is well in keeping with the Aunt Lute Foundation's premise that literature is an important vehicle of cultural regeneration and growth for all communities, and its dedication to bring the literature that reflects the contemporary issues, lives and communities of minority women, to a large and international audience. View their complete catalogue at http://www.auntlute.com.

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