By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
But Nasdijj hasn’t built his career purely through the tragic and sensational nature of his stories. His style is an artful blending of poetry and prose, and his work has met with nearly universal critical praise. The Blood “reminds us that brave and engaging writers lurk in the most forgotten corners of society,” wrote Ted Conover in The New York Times Book Review. Rick Bass called it “mesmerizing, apocalyptic, achingly beautiful and redemptive .?.?. a powerful American classic,” while Howard Frank Mosher said it was “the best memoir I have read about family love, particularly a father’s love for his son, since A River Runs Through It.”The Blood was a New York Times Notable Book, a finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award and winner of the Salon Book Award.
The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping was published to more glowing reviews — “vivid and immediate, crackling with anger, humor, and love” (The Washington Post) and “riveting .?.?. lyrical .?.?. a ragged wail of a song, an ancient song, where we learn what it is to truly be a parent and love a child” (USA Today).
Shortly after The Blood came out, Nasdijj writes, he moved back to the Navajo reservation, where word of his book and his compassion spread. One day while fishing, a Navajo man and his 10-year-old son approached him. The man took Nasdijj aside and explained that he, his wife and their son, Awee, had AIDS. “They were not terrific parents,” Nasdijj wrote, “but they wanted this child to have a chance at life.” Nasdijj was that chance. For the next two years Nasdijj cared for Awee until his death from AIDS-related illness.
The Boy won a 2004 PEN/Beyond Margins Award and helped solidify Nasdijj’s place as one of the most celebrated multicultural writers in American literature. But as his successes and literary credentials grew in number, so did his skeptics — particularly from within the Native American community. Sherman Alexie first heard of Nasdijj in 1999 after his former editor sent him a galley proof of The Blood for comment. At the time, Alexie, who is Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, was one of the hottest authors in America and was widely considered the most prominent voice in Native American literature. His novel Indian Killerwas a New York Times Notable Book, and his cinematic feature Smoke Signals was the previous year’s Sundance darling, nominated for the Grand Jury Prize and winner of the Audience Award. Alexie’s seal of approval would have provided The Blood with a virtual rubber stamp of Native authenticity. But it took Alexie only a few pages before he realized he couldn’t vouch for the work. It wasn’t just that similar writing style and cadence that bothered Alexie.
“The whole time I was reading I was thinking, this doesn’t just sound like me, this is me,” he says.
Alexie was born hydrocephalic, a life-threatening condition characterized by water on the brain. At the age of 6 months he underwent brain surgery that saved his life but left him, much like Tommy Nothing Fancy, prone to chronic seizures throughout his childhood. Instead of identifying with Nasdijj’s story, however, Alexie became suspicious.
“At first I was flattered, but as I kept reading I noticed he was borrowing from other Native writers too. I thought, this can’t be real.”
Indeed, Nasdijj’s stories also bear uncanny resemblance to the works of N. Scott Momaday, Leslie Silko and especially Michael Dorris, whose memoir The Broken Cord depicts his struggle to care for his adopted FAS-stricken Native Alaskan children. Although there was never more than ?a similar phrase here and there, Alexie was convinced that the work was fabricated. He ?wasn’t alone.
Shortly after his review of The Bloodcame out in The New York Times Book Review, Ted Conover received an Internet greeting card from Nasdijj chastising him for his piece. Conover, an award-winning journalist whose 2003 book Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, was taken aback. Not only is it highly unusual for an author to attack a reviewer, but it is especially unusual when the review in question was overwhelmingly positive — Conover’s flattering words would grace the paperback cover.
Conover’s main critique was that Nasdijj was “stingy with self-revelation.” He questioned certain inconsistencies in the author’s background, noting that Nasdijj sometimes said his mother was “with the Navajo,” sometimes she was “Navajo, or so she claimed,” and other times she was just “Navajo.” Conover never accused Nasdijj of lying, he merely suggested that the writer be more forthcoming. Nasdijj, however, rejected this suggestion and sent the angry letter, which Conover characterizes as a sprawling diatribe.
“The whole thing was just really bizarre,” Conover says.
Conover sent a copy of the card to Anton Mueller, Nasdijj’s editor at Houghton Mifflin and an acquaintance. “I wondered if he might shed a little light on this,” he says. Mueller, however, never responded, and the incident left Conover wondering whether he should have been more thorough in investigating Nasdijj before writing his review. It didn’t take him long to find an answer. Several weeks later, Conover was contacted by an expert in fetal alcohol syndrome who had read his review. She informed him that while she sympathized with the plight of Nasdijj and his son, the symptoms described in The Blood are not actually those of FAS.