William Vollmann’s “The Dying Grass” and my book on Chief Joseph
I am not good at self-promotion — perhaps the greatest affliction a contemporary author can possess. To me, the book is the thing, not the person who wrote it. Far better to be the man behind the curtain than the prancing duke and dauphin, but the world is what it is.
Having said that, I want to put in a word for my book, Chief Joseph and the Flight of the Nez Perce. I am doing this because a gigantic novel on the Nez Perce, The Dying Grass (1300 pages) by William Vollmann has just been published by Viking/Penguin. I have not read it, but from what I have seen and heard of it, it sounds fascinating, albeit a bit long for my tastes.
And there’s the rub. Viking, with a difficult-to-sell, highly priced book is bringing out all the artillery to promote it. Independent of any success it has — and I wish the author well — it has the supremely beneficial effect of bringing attention to the story of the Nez Perce and their tragic exodus across the northwest while being pursued by the U.S. Army.
If you look at the reviews of my book on the same subject, you will quickly realize that though many people have heard of Chief Joseph, few even know of the Nez Perce tribe. Vollmann’s book and the attendant publicity will go a long way toward changing that.
This seems like a propitious moment to suggest my book as a default read for those who either by temperament or economics will not read a $55, 1300 page book. My work, Chief Joseph and the Flight of the Nez Perce, is, in many ways, the book of which I am most proud. I used all my skills of description and empathy to bring you along on the journey of these amazing people, and to illuminate the character of Chief Joseph, with whom the journey is — wrongly, I believe — most closely associated.
My virtue is that I know the Native people and they know me. I am not a “parachute” historian or novelist. I think I can go further into their world while keeping a respectful distance than any other writer. And in this book, that’s what I did. I wrote it with the tools of the novelist — trying to make you present on their journey — while keeping the fidelity of the historian. Judging from the reviews on Amazon, I was successful.
The story of the Nez Perce needs to be told. Their journey is the shadow side of the journey of Lewis and Clark and a signature event in understanding the history and character of this country. And Chief Joseph is a man to whom I would have entrusted my son (which, by the way, is exactly what Charles Erskine Scott Wood, a soldier present at the Nez Perce surrender who wrote down Joseph’s famous speech, did, several years later).
I believe I have done this story justice in a very different way than Mr. Vollmann. But this is a story that needs to be told in as many ways and as many voices as it can. If your interest is piqued, but Mr. Vollmann’s work seems more than you wish to take on, or if you have read his work and wish to see the story through different set of eyes and with a different cast of heart, I hope you will consider my book on the subject. Take a look at what the readers on Amazon have to say: http://www.amazon.com/Chief-Joseph-Flight-Nez-Perce/dp/0061136085/ref=pd_sim_14_3?ie=UTF8&refRID=093VCZQN400SMVB1QVF5.
I think you will find that this is a journey worth taking.Posted on: August 6, 2015knerburn