This is an evocative novel written in a lyrical style with several sympathetic characters. I was particularly impressed with the fortitude of Mary, the reluctant frontier wife, and I identified with the Lakota Two Bulls.
Some would think that D.W. Boyd, a white country-western singer/songwriter, couldn’t possibly create an authentic Lakota protagonist. I am not one of those people. It has always seemed to me that an author from a different ethnic background than the protagonist of the book needs to do sufficient research and have the gift of empathy.
Boyd’s portrayal of Two Bulls often uses the stream of consciousness technique. This means that we are favored with every thought that wanders through his mind. I believe that the author’s intent is to immerse us in Two Bulls’ world. This is mostly a very effective approach. Yet I do believe that the depiction of Two Bulls is still not completely successful. Although Boyd provides this character with a distinctive voice, sometimes he gives Two Bulls thoughts that obviously couldn’t be what someone with his history and background would think. These occasional anachronistic slips were jarring to me even though they might seem minor to other readers. One example is “the war between them was more cultural than physical” (emphasis mine). In 1884, when Two Bulls takes place, the underpinnings of cultural anthropology as we know it today were just beginning to be articulated. For most Victorian whites, the word “culture” had a different connotation, and it isn’t likely to have been part of the vocabulary of a Lakota grandfather. Two Bulls would probably have thought of the conflict between white settlers and his people as one of different spirits rather than cultures.
Don’t get me wrong. I did like this book. The dilemmas of the characters were quite touching, and Boyd writes about the Western landscape with verve and genuine affection.
For those who want to find out more about D.W. Boyd, his website is at D. W. Boyd's Music and Fiction
My research on the word "culture" came from Wikipedia. I consulted the following articles:
Culture This article states that in the 18th and 19th centuries, "culture" was a term related to "cultivation". Cultivation of the mind involved reading books and exposing yourself to the arts. This sort of cultivation is a metaphor that originally referred to agriculture. The Lakota way of life focused on following the buffalo and hunting them. They did not engage in agriculture.
Matthew Arnold This is an article about the man who wrote Culture and Anarchy which popularized the term "philistine" to mean someone who has no interest in the arts or understanding of them. A "philistine's" mind is uncultivated. Those who've read the Bible are aware that the Philistines once populated the coast of Palestine. There were no Philistines in Victorian England to protest Matthew Arnold's portrayal of them. Arnold was a well-known essayist in Victorian times.
Edward Tylor This is an article about a man whose work led to the development of cultural anthropology. His book Primitive Culture did appear in 1870, but only scholars would have been likely to have read it.