Neither Wolf nor Dog

Kent Nerborn, Neither Wolf nor Dog, (Novato, California: New World Library), 1994, 2nd Edition, 2002.

Nerborn - Neither Wolf nor Dog
Nerburn dedicates his book, "For the silent ones." I'm not sure who he means, but it is clear that he believes that he needs to tell stories for others. In speaking for others, however, the novel comes off as presumptuous.

First of all, he is not forthcoming with the simple fact that the book is a novel. He presents his characters (and he is the main character of the book) as if he were writing a memoir of his own experiences. His main character (himself) is portrayed as a writer with a tape recorder, taking down the quotes of two native elders. One might assume that the elders are Lakota, given his rough (and often inaccurate) descriptions of location, but this is not clear.

What is clear is that Nerburn believes in generic Indians - those who transcend tribal distinctions and are able to speak for all indigenous people. Only he doesn't trust them to speak for themselves, so he puts his own words into their mouths.

He is aware of how many times this has occurred in the past and is a bit defensive about it, referring to Dances with Wolves as a movie made by whites about Indians. Then he proceeds to do exactly the same thing. He writes a book about Indians. The problem is that they aren't real Indians. They are figments of Newborn's imagination.

Fiction and storytelling are great art forms, but they require more honesty than Nerburn manages in this book. I will concede that he does succeed in conveying some aspects of contemporary reservation life, but the story is, at best incomplete.

Worse yet, it is not and never has been Nerburn's story to tell.