Author: Jane Kirkpatrick
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: September 7, 2021
She came to the West for rest . . . what she found was a passion.
Classically trained pianist and singer Natalie Curtis can't seem to recapture the joy that music once brought her. In 1902, her brother invites her to join him in the West to search for healing. What she finds are songs she'd never before encountered--the haunting melodies, rhythms, and stories of Native Americans.
But their music is under attack. The US government's Code of Offenses prohibits America's Indigenous people from singing, dancing, or speaking their own languages. Natalie makes it her mission not only to document these songs before they disappear but to appeal to President Teddy Roosevelt himself, who is the only man with the power to repeal the unjust law.
Award-winning author Jane Kirkpatrick weaves a lyrical novel based on a true story that captivates to the very end.
Reviewer: Lori Parrish
This novel was pretty good, and I did learn some things. I did enjoy reading about the Indians. They are fascinating people who create beautiful artifacts and other things that we enjoy, just like Natalie did.
I can relate to Natalie through our love of music. In my opinion, I think it's the love of music that soothes the soul.
Natalie is a remarkable woman ahead of her time, which was why I liked her. You don't necessarily have to have anything in common with a character at all to like them.
Her brother George was another person that I liked greatly. Namely because of how he looked after his sister, and I really enjoyed his adventures in the West.
I felt like I was on an adventure with George and Natalie, even though some parts of the story were slow.
This book was provided courtesy of Revell through Interviews & Reviews.
Reviewer: Marie Edwards
This was the first book I read by the author, and I have to agree with some reviewers – it can be a tedious read despite having short chapters. There is a LOT of narrative detail. Given the novel's complexity and its ties to a historical figure, a review will be a bit on the lengthy side.
I chose this because the premise sounded interesting, and the cover is insanely gorgeous. Living in the Nevada desert, I can almost feel the scorching heat by looking at the cover. The rough texture of the cover is a reminder that while beautiful, things are rough and never as they appear, a metaphor for what is being told in this book by Kirkpatrick.
To be honest, I had never heard of Natalie Curtis (Burlin). As a result of reading the book and doing this review, I learned quite a bit. However, there is controversy in her work and her accomplishments. The author only covers 1902-1917 in this story, and it is mainly centered on Natalie’s research for The Indians’ Book.
The Healing of Natalie Curtis is compelling, gut-wrenching, poignant, devastating. Curtis’s desire to preserve the “culture” is beautiful and inspirational, reminding us that we can both be in and of when it comes to two separate worlds.
This has themes of racism (towards Native Americans), forms of cruelty, some questionable terms. It does have some political tones as well. The language and dialogue are for accuracy given the period.
Most of the characters here in this book are all real characters except for Mary Jo Brigand (Co-Owner of Bar X Ranch), Bonita (the burro), and Mina (Hopi girl at Oraibi).
Since this is based on actual events, spoilers are easy to find online. This is a fictionalized account of a real story. It is told over two parts with seven (7) interludes by some real and some fictional Native narrators in what appears to be second person format. The chapters are always from Natalie’s POV in the third person.
The story begins in 1902 as Natalie is “recovering.” Apparently, Natalie suffered a mental breakdown that severed her lifelong connection with performing, revealed in the author’s notes in the back. Readers will have to read the notes to get the entirety of the story.
After she reads a book by George Lummis, Natalie learns about the Code of Indian Offenses.
She and her brother stay with the Lummis’ and learn what is being done to the Indians. Howard and Gertrude Gates reveal the atrocities committed by Charles Burton, an Agent/Superintendent at one of the “villages.”
Gertrude reveals that the day school atrocities are unjust:
No Tribal Clothing
Most of this is committed by Christians who Howard claims are not professing the faith he was taught. And, it is the government’s desire to “assimilate” the Indians to be good Americans, though that means losing their culture in its entirety.
George and Natalie travel to Yuma and where Natalie meets Chiparoapi, a Yuma woman. She knows something is wrong with Natalie and would “sing” for her if it was allowed. It is here that Natalie runs afoul of Burton.
There is definite and noticeable hypocrisy about the businesses that exploit the culture while punishing those who wish to practice it as part of their identity.
There is an offensive part when Burton tells Natalie that her being at Oriabi as a convalescing woman is better than being a university student. As “they agitate the Indians, make them think their history is important, while we’re trying to wipe it away, encourage them to become good American citizens.”
Natalie learns there is a price to pay for disobedience – cut rations despite the people being barely given enough to eat.
In part two (2), Natalie puts into motion what she needs to do to perhaps get the Indians better treatment.
Using her connection to President Theodore Roosevelt, Natalie gets permission to record and preserve the songs, dance, and arts. She travels and gains extensive knowledge of the tribes and their customs.
Along her journey, she meets several influential people.
Between 1902 and 1906, Natalie gathered information from 18 tribes and compiled over 500+ pages of material for her book. Instead, as she puts it, it is the Indians’ book, and she is merely the pencil. It is her hope that by doing so, “the code” can be changed. Lummis is also hoping to dismantle the code as well.
In 1907, Natalie was able to publish the book. Though the code wasn’t muted until 1920/1921, shortly before/around the time of her death. It wasn’t until Franklin Roosevelt’s administration that the code was amended. The book and Teddy Roosevelt’s involvement merely reduced enforcement.
This book ends in 1917, just as Natalie meets Paul Burlin, who is 11 years younger than she was.
In the author’s 9-10 pages of notes at the end, she goes into more detail and explains certain parts of the book and more facts. I honestly feel that the best parts of the book were towards the end.
I enjoyed the story as I read it, but it was a bit bland for me. It prompted me to do some research, and I certainly appreciate Curtis’s work and perseverance to do what was right. And, according to the website in her honor, Curtis wasn’t an overwhelming figure as Kirkpatrick’s book would have had me believe. (http://www.nataliecurtis.org/)
I feel there was a lot of narrative that could’ve been left out. And, while I often enjoy some historical fiction based on actual life people/events, I feel this could’ve worked much better as a biography rather than a fictionalized novel. However, it does spark some interest. I think the author did a tremendous amount of research and found the book was mostly accurate.
Today Curtis’ book is still available. I found a version online at Amazon.
Despite being distributed by Revell, a primarily Christian/faith-themed publisher, there are few references to Christianity. There is mention of Jesus and a few bible quotes; they are not integral to the story’s main plot and are very minor. It is a clean read – no foul language, and since this isn’t a romance per se, there are no real intimate scenes.”
Thank you to Revell (a division of Baker Books), for providing a complimentary review copy of the book through Interviews & Reviews. A positive review was definitely not required or requested in any way; all words are my own.
Reviewer: June McCrary Jacobs
An early twentieth-century historical novel set in the Southwest . . .
The author performed a lot of detailed research to prepare for her composition of this account of the life of the musician, author, and Native American advocate, Natalie Curtis. The author's knowledge of the subject matter shines through in every chapter as Natalie travels from her family's comfortable New York home beginning in 1902 to California, New Mexico, and Arizona.
This book failed to engage me fully because it is written more like a biography or textbook than like a novel. Much of this story was heart-wrenching to read. The treatment of the native nations was atrocious, and many episodes in this book caused me great sorrow. However, the author did a fine job of dealing with many emotional, culturally-sensitive topics to illustrate, in plain terms, what exactly happened to the indigenous peoples of the area during this period.
The author gives readers a detailed account of Natalie's journey to becoming an author and an advocate of the Native American cultures of the Southwest by painting a picture of the landscape, the people, their music, and their customs and traditions that are unforgettable.
As a fan of historical fiction, I enjoyed learning how these indigenous peoples survived in their harsh desert homes and built a community of caring, hard-working families who stood up against the unfair rules and regulations imposed by the American government as best they could.
In my opinion, the faith thread in this book was nearly non-existent. I enjoy Revell's historical fiction especially because of the strong faith elements woven into the stories they publish. However, I felt that this particular novel did not focus on faith.
I received a paperback copy of this book from Revell through Interviews & Reviews. My thoughts and opinions expressed here are solely my own.
Your donation helps keep Interviews & Reviews running. Thank you!
We are listed in The Book Reviewers Directory!