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The Toughest Indian in the World [Paperback]

Sherman Alexie
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 1 2001
A beloved American writer whose books are championed by critics and readers alike, Sherman Alexie has been hailed by Time as "one of the better new novelists, Indian or otherwise." Now his acclaimed new collection, 'The Toughest Indian in the World,' which received universal praise in hardcover, is available in paperback. In these stories, we meet the kind of American Indians we rarely see in literature - the kind who pay their bills, hold down jobs, fall in and out of love. A Spokane Indian journalist transplanted from the reservation to the city picks up a hitchhiker, a Lummi boxer looking to take on the toughest Indian in the world. A Spokane son waits for his diabetic father to come home from the hospital, tossing out the Hershey Kisses the father has hidden all over the house. An estranged interracial couple, separated in the midst of a traffic accident, rediscover their love for each other. A white drifter holds up an International House of Pancakes, demanding a dollar per customer and someone to love, and emerges with $42 and an overweight Indian he dubs Salmon Boy. Sherman Alexie's voice is one of remarkable passion, and these stories are love stories - between parents and children, white people and Indians, movie stars and ordinary people. Witty, tender, and fierce, 'The Toughest Indian in the World' is a virtuoso performance by one of the country's finest writers.

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Call Sherman Alexie any number of things--novelist, poet, filmmaker, thorn in the side of white liberalism--just don't call him "universal." Aside from his well-documented distaste for the word, its fuzziness misses the point. The Toughest Indian in the World, Alexie's second collection, succeeds as brilliantly as it does because of its particularity. These aren't stories about the Indian Condition; they're stories about Indians--urban and reservation, street fighters and yuppies, husbands and wives. "She understood that white people were eccentric and complicated and she only wanted to be understood as eccentric and complicated as well," thinks the Coeur d'Alene narrator of "Assimilation," who's married (unhappily) to a white man. And yet the issue of race has taken up permanent residence inside her house: the marriage survives, but it's love that's the most thorough assimilation of all.

Like The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, much of The Toughest Indian in the World combines deft psychological realism with the kind of narrative logic more commonly found in dreams. In "South by Southwest," a white drifter finds love on a "nonviolent killing spree" with an overweight Indian he calls Salmon Boy; in "Dear John Wayne," the cowboy actor falls in love with a young Spokane woman and proves himself a charmingly feminist hero. ("Oh, sons, you're just engaging in some harmless gender play," he tells his boys when he finds them trying on lipstick.) But for every bear hibernating on top of the Catholic church, there's also a GAP-wearing, Toyota-driving urban Indian on a quest for his roots. In both realist and surrealist modes, Alexie writes incantatory prose--as well as the kind of dialogue that makes even secondary characters leap into sudden focus: "'What?' asked Wonder Horse, as simple a question as could possibly be tendered, though he made it sound as if he'd asked Where's the tumor?"

Alexie is sometimes guilty of painting his white characters with too broad a brush. (Is any anthropologist truly as obtuse as the one in "Dear John Wayne"? Could any reader really want Mary Lynn, the narrator of "Assimilation," to stay with her boorish white husband?) Yet his kind of firebrand politics still has the power to shock. A harrowing fable about whites kidnapping Indians for the medical properties of their blood, "The Sin Eaters" could be dismissed as paranoid if it weren't so hauntingly written:

On that morning, the sun rose and bloomed like blood in a glass syringe. The entire Spokane Indian Reservation and all of its people and places were clean and scrubbed. The Spokane River rose up from its bed like a man who had been healed and joyously wept all the way down to its confluence with the Columbia River. There was water everywhere: a thousand streams interrupted by makeshift waterfalls; small ponds hidden beneath a mask of thick fronds and anonymous blossoms; blankets of dew draped over the shoulders of isolated knolls. An entire civilization of insects lived in the mud puddle formed by one truck tire and a recent rain storm. The blades of grass, the narrow pine needles, and the stalks of roadside wheat were as sharp and bright as surgical tools.
It's a hard story to read, and that's only right. The Toughest Indian in the World offers so many pleasures, who could deny it the power to disturb us as well? Funny, dreamlike, heartbreaking, angry--these are stories that could have been written by no one but Sherman Alexie. --Mary Park --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

A prolific novelist, poet and screenplay writer, Alexie (Indian Killer; Reservation Blues) has been hailed as one of the best young writers of his generation. This dexterous second collection of stories contains what may be one of the best short fiction pieces of the year. "The Toughest Indian in the World" follows a young Spokane Indian who works at an all-white newspaper in Seattle and, in a forlorn attempt to reconnect with his roots, has his first homosexual experience with a tough Lummi fighter. It's a moving story that skillfully employs symbolism and flashbacks to construct an ending that is both uplifting and sorrowful. Many of the eight other stories in this collection also deal with urban Indians who are straddling two worlds: an intimate but indigent life on the reservation and an affluent but strange and sometimes hostile white middle-class existence. Their solutions to this double bind are rarely ordinary. "Assimilation" tells of a Coeur d'Alene woman who deliberately cheats on her white husband, only to rediscover her affection for him in the middle of a traffic jam. "Class" features a Spokane who sometimes tells white women he's Aztec, because "there were aphrodisiacal benefits from claiming to be descended from ritual cannibals." In "South by Southwest" a white man and a fat Indian nicknamed Salmon Boy, who declares he's not homosexual but does believe in love, set off on a nonviolent killing spree. Two tales, "Saint Junior" and "A Good Man," deal with marriage and death on the rez. The anger in these narratives is leavened by Alexie's acerbic wit and his obvious belief in the redemptive power of love. One exception, however, is "The Sin Eaters," an apocalyptic tale in which America's Indians are rounded up into massive underground prisons where soldiers force them to breed and give up their blood. Humorous, disturbing, formally inventive and heartwarming, Alexie's stories continually surprise, revealing him once again as a master of his craft. Agent, Nancy Cahoon, N. Stauffer Assoc. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Meeting "The Toughest Indian in the World" July 12 2004
Format:Paperback
I'd been hearing a lot about Sherman Alexie prior to reading this. His work has been talked about frequently, and The New Yorker has selected him as one of the best American fiction writers under 40. As an aspiring writer myself, I decided to pick up one of his books to judge for myself. And I'm glad I did.
In Alexie's collection of short stories, The Toughest Indian in the World, he takes a look at the world from the perspectives of various Native American characters from all walks of life. From Assimilation, the story of an interracial couple, an Indian woman and a white man, trying to wade through societal pressures and cultural differences to rediscover their love for one another, to Dear John Wayne, the amusing and touching story of an elderly Native American woman recounting her alleged, brief love affair with the "real" John Wayne, these stories are about everyday people trying to find their place in this multicultural, yet divided world.
If you have fragile sensibilities, you may find this book a bit overwhelming at times. Many of the stories in this collection deal with controversial subjects such as race and sexuality with a bluntness that can be surprising to say the least. Mr. Alexie writes about these things with such frankness, never treating them with any hint of the shame or stigma often attached to them, that the reader is given the opportunity to explore them from a perspective he or she may not have considered before. Alexie treats them naturally, as normal aspects of our daily lives. And this is how it should be.
I noticed a surrealistic, sometimes tongue-in-cheek quality to Alexie's work. Some stories will leave you with a gentle smile, while others will linger in your mind long after, perhaps causing you to look at the world around you differently.
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5.0 out of 5 stars My new favorite writer Feb. 2 2004
Format:Paperback
I never used to like compilations of short stories, but Sherman Alexie has changed that. This is the second book I've read by him, and I'm infatuated with his writing. The Toughest Indian in the World is about Indians from all walks of life. A woman who is unhappy with her interracial marriage, a man who is madly in love with his wife, people who feel like they have to prove that they are Indian. Even though these stories are about Indian people, anybody of any race can relate to the characters in them. I would highly reccommend this book to everybody, no matter what you like to read, you will find something to relate to here.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A fine collection of short stories Dec 31 2003
Format:Paperback
Though admittedly inconsistent and often unfocused and needlessly labryrinthine, Alexie's collection of short stories never cease to provide surprise, insight and honest revelation into the search for identity, place and history.
The stories selected here all search for the answer to what makes "the toughest Indian" but also what makes the "toughest human". Alexie provides many possible answers for this universal theme throughout his printed song cycle. As with all of Alexie's work, THE TOUGHEST INDIAN IN THE WORLD resounds with humor, tragedy and tender hope.These stories bodly confront the conflict between tradition, assimilation and duty. With this collection he also adds a strain of homo-eroticism as well as a celebration of education (I find it fascinating that most of his protagonists are educated and literate).
Alexie stands as one of America's finest contemporary writers. While this may not serve as his greatest work (that may be yet to come), it does provide an excellent must read.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Half juvenilia / half mature July 6 2003
Format:Paperback
Though not without charm, the first 5 stories in this collection, from "Assimilation" to "The Sin Eaters", were simple-minded to the point of childishness, possibly written at an earlier stage of the writer's life before he became the mature author of stories as sensitive as some of the later ones in the same book. "The Toughest Indian in the World", the title story, was published in the New Yorker magazine in a slightly different form, and presented a more adult version of Alexie's theme of gender confusion, loneliness, and stereotypical behavior; we ARE surprised by the hitchhiker's opportunism, and although Alexie's depiction of events seems (maybe intentionally) distant and cold, the protagonist's reaction strikes a genuine note of reality. However, "The Sin Eaters" was incredibly paranoid and sci-fi, like a bad TV movie for teens...and so derivative as to be downright silly. Fortunately, 4 out of the 9 stories were at least grown-up enough to be well worth reading, and I'm glad I didn't just toss the book aside in favor of something with a little more substance, because I would have missed the pleasure of reading "Saint Junior" and "One Good Man", two stories which showed the author's wonderful ability to go straight to the heart of ordinary lives. "Dear John Wayne" is also especially tongue-in-cheek and clever, poking fun at everybody, as well as being a pleasure for the feminists amongst us! All in all, definitely a mixed-breed of a book; Mr. Alexie might do better to determine in a more careful manner which of his stories are really worth publishing, and stick to those which have really developed from child to adult fare. Read more ›
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars have bought over and over
I have purchased this book at least 4 times now. I love it, and all of Alexie's work, so much that I keep wanting to share it with others. Read more
Published on April 19 2004
1.0 out of 5 stars Lacks polish and vision
I first read "Lone Ranger" not long after it first came out and have read almost all of Alexie's books since, both fiction and poetry. Read more
Published on March 17 2003
1.0 out of 5 stars Vulgar and Offensive
I can't believe this - nor can I imagine anyone actually finish reading this drivel after getting past the first couple of chapters. Read more
Published on Oct. 1 2002 by Steve Miller
5.0 out of 5 stars well written
Sherman Alexie's book brings out many emotions...it's sad and funny and touching....it's a collection of stories about modern day Indians living in and out of the modern world.... Read more
Published on June 12 2002 by pdxbeautiful
5.0 out of 5 stars ALEXIE MOVES UP TO HEAVYWEIGHT (WRITING) CLASS
"Writin' is fightin'!" poet/novelist/essayist Ishmael Reed has declared. No doubt. Saying the pen (or the word processor) is mightier than the sword recognizes that literacy and... Read more
Published on May 21 2002 by Jomo Ray
5.0 out of 5 stars The Toughest Indian in the world
*****Sherman Alexie is funny, and can he write!
ï¿The Toughest Indian in the Worldï¿ is a good book. Read more
Published on May 15 2002 by "luke2004"
3.0 out of 5 stars Alienation
I was a little disappointed in this book. After reading the first essay I felt I gained a sense of the alienation Native Americans must feel when attempting to assimilate into... Read more
Published on March 13 2002
3.0 out of 5 stars kind of a mixed bag
this collection of stories contains some gems and some that are pretty bad. it's tough to judge sherman alexie on this collection. Read more
Published on Jan. 17 2002 by adead_poet@hotmail.com
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Splendid Sherman Alexie Short Story Collection
Sherman Alexie's short stories should be regarded as splendid examples of prose poetry that also tell engaging tales about contemporary American Indians trying to adjust to life... Read more
Published on Dec 26 2001 by John Kwok
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