Black Hills [With Headphones]
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PRAISE FOR THE CLUB DUMAS
"An intelligent and delightful novel." -THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
"A cross between Umberto Eco and Anne Rice . . . Think of The Club Dumas as a beach read for intellectuals."-THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Dan Simmons is an outstandingly creative and imaginative writer. He has won the Hugo award, the World Fantasy Award, the Locus award (three times) and the Bram Stoker award. He lives in Colorado. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Black Hills is the name of the Lakota protagonist as well as the area in South Dakota where much of the story is based. In 1876, Paha Sapa (Lakota for Black Hills) is an 11 year old boy. It is also the time of the Battle of Little Big Horn. Paha Sapa counts coup for the first time. The wasichu (white man) he chooses to touch just happens to be General Custer. Custer's ghost or spirit jumps to Paha Sapa where he stays for over 60 years.
Paha Sapa is able to see the future. What he sees is the construction of Mount Rushmore - a feat that will desecrate the sacred Black Hills. In 1936 Paha Sapa is a dynamite man on the construction site of Rushmore. He has devoted his life to reclaiming the Hills and intends to destroy the carvings on the day that Roosevelt visits the site.
Simmons' research skills are exceptional. His attention to detail is remarkable. When I was reading Drood, I went to the computer many times to look up a detailed event or scene. With an audio book, it's much harder to do that. I learned quite a bit of the history surrounding Crazy Horse, Custer and this time period through listening to Black Hills. On the flip side, sometimes the amount of detail bogged the story down for me. I found the main reader Erik Davies did an amazing job of relaying the Lakota/Sioux words. But again, I found myself not listening when the same word had been used repeatedly in a chapter. Davies did an excellent job of portraying an adult Paha Sapa with his voice. I found the child voice annoying, but that's just a small picky point.
Michael McConnohie provided the voice for Custer.Read more ›
Black Hills is not only a place in the Dakotas but also a person, Paha Sapa, a young Lakota boy growing into manhood who witnesses the changes to his home as North America moves inexorably into the twentieth century. Progress, which often doesn't translate into a good thing, can't be stopped. Black Hills, the place and the person, shows how a people cope and sometimes how they don't.
It took me about fifty pages before I started really getting into the story but after that the plot became very interesting. There is one scene where the characters are caught in a huge dust storm and the manner in which the author described it made me feel like I needed to spit grit out of my own mouth. The narrative is well-written (which is something I was taking for granted even before I started reading given how Drood was written) and the imagery breath-taking. The story goes back and forth in time following the main character's experiences with his tribe, General George Armstrong Custer and other military and native warriors, as well as at Chicago's World Fair in the late 1800's, and other settings. I'm amazed at the amount of research the author must have done to get just the right sense of authenticity to make the story work.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Black Hills comes from the vivid imagination of Dan Simmons, author of previous lengthy best-selling historical novels The Terror and Drood. The book is long, entertaining, and wonderfully descriptive, though it lapses into excessive wordiness at times. The epic story encompasses seven decades of Paha Sapa's life and treats the reader to diverse settings ranging from the Black Hills of South Dakota to the "White City" of the Chicago World's Fair. Told in a nonlinear fashion, much of it in present tense, the story can be difficult to follow, particularly toward the beginning of the book before the reader is accustomed to the back-and-forth, decade-skipping flow of the narrative.
The main plot centers around the construction of the Mount Rushmore memorial, carved into a mountain sacred to the Lakota tribe. Paha Sapa signs on as a powderman on the blasting crew, hoping to fulfill a destiny revealed to him as a child in a vision: to stop the wasicus--the white "fat takers"--from destroying the Black Hills. Other story lines include Paha Sapa's wonderful coming of age as a Lakota visionary, a too-brief romantic interlude in Chicago, and the underlying saga of America's growing-up years through the early twentieth century.
The book's key strength, aside from Simmons's often beautiful descriptions of vivid settings, is its imaginative retellings of actual events, most notably the construction of Mount Rushmore. Simmons tips his hat to other key historical events as well, including the building of the Brooklyn Bridge in a well-researched and fascinating chapter. Lakota culture, language, and spirituality is explored throughout.
The book contains a fair amount of language, though most of it fits the settings and characters. Less appropriate are a number of bizarrely and unnecessarily explicit accounts of marital intimacy from the point of view of Custer's ghost.
Unfortunately, like many long books, Black Hills fails to end when it should; the last fifty pages are a strange departure from the lyrical beauty of the rest of the book, as the author launches into a seemingly agenda-driven tirade against humanity's affects on nature.
Overall, however, the book is highly enjoyable and well worth the not inconsiderable time it takes to complete. Flawed yet replete with flashes of brilliance, the book will entertain, educate, and move readers as it delves into the always strained and occasionally beautiful relationship between a nation's past and its future.
Paha Sapa experiences this more than once with people. He has Custer's spirit in his head, but he also can see the pasts and futures of many people he meets, including Crazy Horse. During his initiation ceremony to become a man, Paha Sapa also experiences a terrible vision of the future; four large stone presidents of the United States careening across his beloved Black Hills, eating everything in their sight and leaving all behind them to waste. Paha Sapa grows up as his Lakota family and the other native tribes of the Great Plains die out. He comes to the decision that he must destroy these stone presidents before they destroy his land. So he sets out on a plan to blow up Mt. Rushmore before the monument is complete.
Paha Sapa is a wonderful character; he is so good and so kind and so aware of his culture disintegrating around him. He is a complicated person who hates what the white settlers have done to his land but who also respects and admires their ingenuity and passion. He is one of the most achingly lonely characters I have met in a very long time. He is kind to everyone, but is set apart by his race and by the ghost in his mind and by other people's memories crowding out his own memories. I fell in love with him and his quiet dignity.
I also enjoyed the story and Simmons' storytelling approach. There is a true sense of immediacy for the reader in each chapter. The narrative jumps around a lot, from the 1870s to the 1930s and between Paha Sapa and General Custer. One thing I found odd but eventually grew used to is that all dialogue is done in italics, with a dash in front. There is really never a "he said" in the whole book. This was confusing at first, especially when two characters were talking to each other, but eventually I got used to it. I also was initially confused by the jumping around in the dates, but eventually settled in. I think this book begs for a re-read so that I can appreciate all the subtleties in the writing when I go back, knowing the story's full arc.
Native American history is conveniently swept under the rug in history class; no one wants to hear about how their exalted country decimated an entire population. When Native American history is taught, the tribes are often grouped together as one people, which is unfair. And they are given these almost mystical qualities of defending the planet against the ravages of greedy white people. Simmons doesn't play this card in his novel and I'm happy for it. There are moments of idealism in the book, yes (particularly the last thirty pages or so), but his characters also acknowledge that the tribes of the Great Plains were not perfect. Simmons shows us the emotional toll that westward expansion had on one Lakota man, and how his life was affected by it. It's a very intimate and highly moving portrait. While I think the ending of the book was very protracted, it certainly gave me a lot to think about with regards to the future. And I enjoyed getting a sense of General Custer, though the first few chapters from his point of view were far more erotically charged than I'd ever have expected.
Custer comes alive in this book, and never more than when he speaks of his great love for his wife. And so I greatly appreciate Simmons' novel for reminding me, gently, that a person should not be defined by one battle, or one moment, even though history makes it so easy to do so. Black Hills is a good story, but I like the book because it reminded me that it is too easy to have a vague idea of history that can, quite frankly, be inaccurate. Or at the very least, only tell half the story. Simmons tells two sides of a story here- Paha Sapa's and Custer's, and he does so in a beautiful and empathizing manner. Highly recommended.
Each chapter in this book jumps back and forth to different years in Paha Sapa's life. The first starts in 1876 during the battle of Little Big Horn. Paha, a ten year old boy, counts "coup" (touching a enemy unarmed) on Gen. Custer just as the General is killed. Now the unbelievable happens - the General's ghost jumps into Paha's body. The ghost will talk to Paha throughout the book about many things, incuding his sexual escapades with his wife, Libbie. Later, Paha goes on a Hanbleceya, a vision quest , and sees the Wasichus (white men) as giants eating up the land of "The Six Grandfathers", the Black Hills. The struggles of the "natural free human beings" known as the Lakota or Sioux versus the Wasichus is a theme throughout the book.
The book skips to 1893 during the World's Fair in Chicago, back to 1876, and forward to 1936. In 1893 in Chicago, Paha is working in the Wild West show for Bill Cody, and meets his future wife, Rain de Plachette. During this chapter skipping, there is a interesting confrontation with Paha and the construction crew building the Brooklyn Bridge. This happens in 1933 when the ghost persuades Paha to visit Mrs. Custer on her 91st birthday so the General can see his wife for the last time. This is a very funny and also very sad meeting in N.Y.C.
The guts of the book has to do with the project in South Dakota known as Mount Rushmore. Paha gets hired as a powderman for the sculptor Borglum. As the years pass and Paha becomes a explosive expert - his real reason for being there becomes obvious. He wants to blow up the monument! He wants to do it during the unveiling of the Jefferson face, while Franklin D. Roosevelt is in attendance. In Paha's mind, this will stop the Wasichus from destroying the Black Hills and satisfy his vision quest.
Does he succeed? Does Paha Sapa (I love that name) survive? What happens to the President or Gutzon Borglum? Sorry, you will have to read 487 pages of this great novel to find out! I highly recommend this book.
The book starts out somewhere in the late 19th century with Paha Sapa still being a boy. In this part up to about a third of the book the reader gets confronted with numerous Sioux terms, which you can't spell or pronounce. There are some passages so overflowing with this very foreign language, that you would rather stop reading, bec. you get confused and have a hard time following, what it is all about. Custer's ghost keeps ranting about sexual encounters with his wife, which might be judged as inappropriate by some readers or just ridiculous and superfluous by others.
If I compare this book to 'The Terror', Black Hills entirely lacks tention and excitement. The story just drags on and on, like reading a history book. Nothing happens, or at least nothing happens that I could care about. The technique of switching the narrative between different times, sometimes telling about the boyhood past, sometimes present (being the 1930s), sometimes in between, does not really help. Also, Paha Sapa's supernatural ability to 'read' a persons memories and future does not help. Paha Sapa is just not a character, you would care about, whatever wonders he might perform. Back to 'The Terror': Here you find Captain Francis Crozier, whom you might not really like, but what a character! What a depth of feeling and thinking... You just want to follow him every step... Paha Sapa? Until the very end I expected there would be something more to this persona. Nothing.
Not wanting to follow the author's example and bore you to death, I conclude that this book is definitely a waste of time and money. Black Hills contains too little of history to be considered a historic novel, and the plot and characters are just too flat to qualify as a good work of fiction.