Voices in the Stones makes its first steps into the world

When you work for one of the big publishers, they throw hard money at the promotion of a book when it is launched.  Smaller publishers rely on word of mouth and favorable winds at the book’s back.  Those favorable winds blow warm when reviews are good.

I was quite unsure of Voices in the Stones when I wrote it.  It had multiple voices and I integrated some of my own experiences into it in a more overt way than I usually do, drawing conclusions and pointing directions in the stories I told.

As someone whose personal predilection is to be the man behind the curtain, this was slightly uncomfortable.  I am used to telling stories only as a fellow learner, finding and revealing events that illustrate knowledge and wisdom we can partake of together. But I wanted to reach out in this book, giving you the benefit of my time drinking in the reality of Native experience.

This review gratifies me.  It indicates that I did my job as well as I had hoped, not as poorly as I had feared.


Voices in the Stones

Life Lessons from the Native Way

Reviewed by Amy O’Loughlin

Lessons are drawn from Native American tradition, highlighting what can be gained from a focus on harmony.

Kent Nerburn’s Voices in the Stones is a gorgeous meditation on the Native American way of being and of interacting with the world, with cultural wisdom that recognizes the interconnectedness of all things and the inherent value of living humbly. With the clear and patient voice of a teacher and spiritual guide, Nerburn juxtaposes the fundamental contrast between Native American traditions and the modern American way of life, and urges contemporary society to embrace their teachings.

For nearly thirty years, Nerburn lived and worked among the First Peoples of South Dakota, Montana, Oregon, and Minnesota. He terms his masterwork of storytelling a “sketchbook of reflections gained from … living near to the heartbeat of Native America,” and it’s unmistakable that this world and its people have enriched his core being and taught him what it means to “look upon life as a mystery to be honored, not a puzzle to be solved.”

The book begins with a prologue entitled “The Unseen Journey,” a doleful and intense recitation of the systematic subjugation of native culture. Written in second-person point of view, the trauma is universalized to impeccable effect.

In the four themed sections that follow, vivid, economical prose articulates the sagacity of spiritual customs that include respect for nature as a voice to heed, not a force to manipulate; honor for the old and young because they are closest to the creator; and veneration of the past as something to inherit, not to transcend. Prescient quotes from renowned Native American leaders and Nerburn’s personal anecdotes are layered throughout, giving the stories added perspective.

Not necessarily a cautionary tale to chastise modern America, Voices in the Stones asserts that our national advancement has “left us bereft of humility in the face of our human limitations.” The lessons it presents, however, exemplify what present-day humanity can gain from understanding harmony.

19 thoughts on “Voices in the Stones makes its first steps into the world”

  1. It sounds lovely and I look forward to reading it. Your books have always resonated with my heart. Thank You

  2. I loved this book. Kent Nerburn is both wise and humble. He shares the wisdom he has gained from really listening and seeing while interacting for many years with native peoples. He admits his mistakes and writes truth with appreciation and love. He honors the wise persons he meets and shares with the dominant culture (his own) ways that we, too, can learn to live in harmony with all creation and with all peoples.

  3. My fourteen year old daughter and I are reading this book together. Thank you for sharing it!

  4. I read the book and just loved it, as I do all of your books Mr. Nerburn. Great review of your very enjoyable new book !!

  5. Mr. Nerburn, as a Funeral Celebrant and a non-denomination Chaplain, your books have been an inspiration and helpmate of mine for many years. I look forward to your new book.
    Thank you,
    Bob Kirk

  6. Thank you for writing this wonderful book! It’s full of many important messages that we can all learn from. I met you a few years ago when you visited the Jeffers Petroglyphs with Martin and Raymond. When I saw the title of your new book – I was hoping you wrote about this sacred place and was thrilled that you did. Let us know when you’re in MN – maybe we could set up a book signing event.

  7. I’m the Site Supervisor at the Jeffers Petroglyphs. If you have time to schedule a visit to the site while you’re in MN – send me an email and we’ll work out the details. Thank you!

  8. Dear Kent, just finished reading this book. Sensitive and beautifully written. Just what we need in these ‘troubled times’. Having now also recently read the Neither Wolf nor Dog trilogy and Chief Joseph, you have rapidly become my favourite writer (no question!). An English poet said to me recently that the definition of a true artist is a person who is a ‘creative truth seeker’. I think that description wholly applies to you. With best wishes, Mick. PS: be great to see you at one of the literature festivals in the U.K. sometime soon?

  9. VOICES IN THE STONES is right up there among my favorite books of all time… and the list also includes Kent’s trilogy: NEITHER WOLF NOR DOG, THE WOLF AT TWILIGHT, and THE GIRL WHO SANG TO THE BUFFALO. Kent Nerburn is a great writer who will be remembered and cherished.
    As the publisher of many of your books, Kent, I have to comment on your first sentence: “When you work for one of the big publishers, they throw hard money at the promotion of a book when it is launched.” Here’s the reality of the situation: When you work for one of the big publishers, you are classified as an A, B, or C author. The A-list authors are the already established writers. They get the big bucks thrown into the promotion of their work. B-list authors get a bit of money; C-list authors get nothing at all: One big publisher actually said this: “We just throw those books against the wall and see if they stick.”
    And I have to add: With the big publishers, you have no input into the marketing of your book; you have no input into the cover or the all-important back cover copy. Or the design of your work. With the smaller publishers, you’re working with a partner every step of the way; with the bigger publishers, you’re on an assembly line with another 300 titles they put out each season.
    I just had to add that. Forgive my little rant — but I’ve worked with far too many authors who have been extremely disappointed with their experience with the big publishers.

  10. Paul Siddoway, M.D,

    Kent, VOICES IN THE STONE, is undoubtedly one of the most powerful and important books in the past 100 years. It is amazing to me that it can be so challenging to see the truth clearly in our culture and society in general. This book clears the way for more healing and more opportunities to become connected with the native culture and their expansive spirituality. The stories gave wonderful examples of our need to expand on our sense of all things being interconnected, as this naturally invites compassion and kindness. Thanks for your special contribution towards helping all of us face the truths of our past and allowing us to be more fully human and alive. This book may not have changed my life, but it damn well made me a better person. Keep up the great work. Paul S.

  11. Thanks so much, Paul. I was really uncertain about this little book. I thought that the multiple voices might make it too fragmented. I’m glad to hear your kind words. It gives me faith that I did something good. I guess it just goes to show, the author is often the last to know.

  12. Kent,

    A very special book to both me and my father of 86. I bought and sent to him east of where you watched the man fly a kite Gallup NM long ago. My childhood on the Atlantic ocean, the waves and stones they run over have messages as you stated in this book! Last to know great ending to your response – Brought me back a few years too “The (Fleetwoods – The Last One To Know 1960)”

    Keep writing and sharing! 🙂

    Dave 🙂

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